We’ve crunched some numbers to reveal why a Ford saloon could justifiably stake a claim to the title
What is the greatest racing car of all time? It’s a simple question but the answer is anything but easy: ask it around a pub table and the argument might rage until well after closing time. One man’s D-type is another man’s GT40. And how do you compare a Porsche 917 with the Alfa Tipo B? Or a Lotus 72 with the Mercedes W154?
But what if you narrowed your search down to a prosaic statistical analysis of results, then added rules to ensure that you were comparing like with like? Suddenly the answer to the question ‘what is the greatest racing car of all time’ isn’t so difficult after all. In fact it might be considered quite simple. The answer is the Ford RS500.
Bear with us…
We set out to determine the greatest car using a set of criteria to level the playing field and used win percentages as a fair determinant of statistical greatness. This would account for the different lengths of time that our eligible cars had competed.
To be considered, a car had to compete for at least three seasons. It had to have competed a significant national or international championship – although blue riband races such as the Bathurst 1000 were factored into the equation. Finally, cars had to be essentially the same model throughout their competitive existence – not dramatic evolutions of a previous car so the Porsche 911, for example, was not considered.
Wins tallied, the results were a surprise.
Perhaps most remarkable of all was how dominant the greatest touring cars have been over the years. For a discipline famed for a level playing field and intense racing, touring car racing has produced some of the sport’s most one-sided competition.
The Ford RS500 won an astonishing 84.6 per cent of the races it entered; no other car scored an outright win in the British Touring Car Championship for three years. The RS500 was so fast that for a while the championship took on the guise of a one-make series, as the RS500 became the only competitive car to run in its class, no doubt making its win tally all the more impressive.
On seven occasions the RS500 locked out the top 10 race positions in the BTCC, and it won the Bathurst 1000 (on the road) in three of four attempts. In the one-off World Touring Car Championship of 1987, it won four out of the six races it entered, proving its credentials against the world’s very best. Has another car ever been so comprehensively dominant?
And while we’re not about to suggest that the Vauxhall Astra was in any way a better racing proposition than a Lotus 25, its BTCC dominance during the early 2000s does elevate it to second on this list. The Astra capitalised on scant period opposition to sweep the floor in 2001, with a 100 per cent win rate, and delivered four successive driver and manufacturer titles from 2001 to 2004 with Jason Plato, James Thompson and Yvan Muller. And anyone who saw Muller taking one by the scruff of the neck must surely concede that it was at least great to watch.
Next were two sports cars: Porsche’s 956 and 917. At its peak, the Porsche 956 was as dominant as the RS500, winning every race in the 1983 World Endurance Championship and claiming an astonishing nine of the top 10 positions at Le Mans that year. Similarly impressive was the 917, winning more than half the races it entered and delivering Porsche’s first overall victories at Le Mans in 1970 and 1971.
When the most dominant Formula 1 car of all time is considered, McLaren’s MP4/4 first comes to mind. However, competing only in the 1988 world championship it doesn’t fulfil our criteria – unlike the Lotus 25 and McLaren M23. Dominant at its time, the Lotus 25 led Jim Clark to the F1 crown in 1963 with an astonishing 70 per cent win rate and, while not as dominant, McLaren’s M23 won more than one in five races it entered across four seasons.
So next time someone asks about the world’s greatest racing car, you’ll know the answer. Statistically speaking, of course. Michael Thorogood