Sports car racing? What on earth’s happened to it?” The question has been asked a thousand times in the past few months, and it’s difficult to answer. “Not a lot,” is the brief response, but there are undercurrents of movement which will give would-be competitors the choice of following the FIA’s line, or the ACO’s, in 1994. Le Mans is the engine of endurance racing, and always has been despite the preferences of the HA chiefs in Paris. On September 22, after this column was written (and while the magazine was being printed), ACO president Michel Cosson announced the regulations in detail for the classic 24-hour race to be held on lune 18/19 1994. In final draft form, probably an accurate indicator, the regulations proposed a number of ‘prototype’ and Grand Touring categories embracing everything from the McLaren F1 supercar to the Schuppan 962CR, and down to the ubiquitous Porsche 911 Carrera.
In Paris on October 5, the FlA’s World Council should agree regulations for the ‘official’ CT category, a full year after they were originally promised. With a few weeks to go, however, nobody had got around to preparing a calendar. And without a calendar, unfortunately, the HA class will lack credibility, so confusion will continue to prevail. We will have ‘twin track’ regulations in 1994, but these will at least be better than the mish-mash of local rules competitors have had to contend with this year. So ill-defined were they that Alain Bertaut was able to deprive 11VR Racing’s Jaguar X1220Cs of their GT class victory last June, with hardly a murmur from Britain. And no wonder, because nobody had the slightest idea of what regulation Tom Walkinshaw’s team was supposed to have contravened!
Organisers will in future have the choice of regulations to adopt, or they may take the easy way out and invite all the eligible cars.
What will these be? The ACO is expected to have three categories: GT Prototypes (900 kg/560 bhp), GTI (1000 kg/650 bhp) and GT-2 (1050 kg/400 bhp). The FIA’s World Council is likely to ratify a set of regulations very close to those discussed at Daytona in January, with a 1100 kg standard weight and air restrictors capping the output at around 500 bhp.
The Le Mans cars will, clearly, have superior power-to-weight ratios, and will inevitably be more expensive (this despite a professed wish to keep costs down, in order to encourage the private owners).
Another factor in this rather complicated equation is IMSA’s World Sports Car concept, which the Florida based organisation would dearly love to export to Europe and Japan. The existing Camel GT championship, dominated for so long by Nissan and Toyota, expires on October 2. The turbocharged cars will race for the last time, and perhaps it’s appropriate that this happens in Phoenix because out of the ashes will arise a new sports car formula for open-top, naturally aspirated cars with a five-litre capacity ceiling. Think of a topless, flat-bottomed Spice with a five-litre Chevrolet engine, weighing 930 kg, with a 70-litre fuel tank installed, and you have the general idea.
The ACO is in sympathy, but doesn’t want to be so strict with engines or weight. We expect to see a i.e Mans variation with similar (non-exotic) chassis made of aluminium, weighing at least 800 kg, with any type of engine limited by restrictors to 500 bhp.
We could think again of the Spice with any Group C engine (Nissan, Toyota or Porsche turbo), or more likely, of the Kremer Porsche CK7 which is currently dominating the Interserie Cup. An 80-litre fuel tank will be a limiting factor, dictating a pit stop within each hour.
IMSA does not have any strong views on Grand Touring racing, having no indigenous ‘exotic’ product other than the Chevrolet Camaro Z1, and will be happy to accept the RA’s category.
So too will the ADAC in Germany, where the power-to-weight GT class introduced this year has proved unpopular. Owners of Porsche 911s do not like running with 200 kg of ballast, and they do not like having 40 litres of fuel allocated for 100 kilometre races.
Let us stop for a moment and look at a resume of the types of sports car that will be racing in 1994.
You can deduce from the tabulation that a wide variety of cars will be catered for next year, and presumably some types will be more popular than others. The McLaren F1, for instance, could be considered a potential winner at Le Mans but, at £550,000 pre-tax, it is far more expensive than a Porsche 962C.
Unless Mansour Ojjeh and Ron Dennis decide that Le Mans is a nice place to be in the middle of June, it seems unlikely that any team would find the resources to take this project on.
Similarly, Vem Schuppan would need substantial backing to take his 962CR to Le Mans as a potential winner, and the big spenders like Silk Cut Jaguar, Rothmans-Porsche, Mercedes, Nissan and Toyota are in recession right now. Everything, inevitably, will be done on a lower scale next year. The IMSA Camel WSC Championship may be won by a Spice-Chevrolet and Le Mans by a Kremer Porsche K7. There is much to be said for capping expenditures in such a way, but IMSA and the ACO would be foolish to ignore the need for appeal.
Will the public travel far to see these cars in action? The organisations should cast their minds back two decades, to the dark years of 1974 and 1975, when determining the extent of the scaling-down operation.
There is an ever-present fear that GT racing will again become the domain of Porsche, with the 30 year-old 911 model. Good luck to the old girl, the Germans will say, but the public at large will turn its back on the category for good and all. Following the disgraceful disqualification of the Jaguar at Le Mans, Porsche 911s claimed the top seven places in the GT class. A few weeks later the same squadron of 911s claimed the top six places in the Spa 24 Hours, and 10 of the top 12 positions. This, if you please, is supposed to be a touring car race, renounced by Porsche’s Huschke von Hanstein as far back as 1969!
Core events next year will be the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans plus, it seems likely, another in Japan. Both Suzuka and Fuji are in the running for such an event, and it’s not inconceivable that they might both undertake a 24-hour event at opposite ends of the calendar.
Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan and Honda all make superb GT-2 type cars, and meanwhile the IAF is considering the possibility of adopting the World Sports Car formula with domestic engines, of which there is a wide variety.
A series of supporting races must be devised if any of the categories are to have a long-term future. Only with a decent calendar, or at least a proper programme, can a team be formed with contracted drivers, personnel, sponsors and so on. America has the Sebring 12 Hours and some ‘classic circuit venues such as Watkins Glen. Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta. The Japanese now have a variety of excellent circuits such as Fuji, Suzuka and, if its recent financial problems have been rectified, Autopolls.
How about Europe? Endurance racing, as it was, had natural homes at places like Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Spa-Francorchamps, the Nurburgring, Monza and Le Mans. We need to see the new cars racing at these circuits, and at such venues as ‘amnia, Paul Ricard and Imola.
Traditional 24-hour races can survive on their own, but we don’t need too many of them. A leavening of 1000 km and 3-4 hour races would suit the professional teams and should please the crowds, too, if there is a nice variety of cars. A few months ago Brands Hatch supremo Nicola Foulston announced a concord agreement with the Nurburgring management and the ACO. establishing the European Motorsports Association with the aims of raising and promoting events other than those directly controlled by the FIA, and controlling the commercial rights.
All well and good. Endurance racing needs a boost and must have been first on their list. They are not beholden to the F1A for Formula 1 races, the loss of which is always the FIA’s ultimate sanction, and it’s possible to imagine that other circuits will join EMA, as soon as they see the way clear.
We haven’t yet come to the crunch, though. As soon as EMA announces an independent calendar of events, such as a championship of sports cars, it will contravene the FIA’s own regulation preventing any national championship from being ‘exported’ to other countries, unless with the FIA’s sanction. “As far as the EMA is concerned.” said Miss Foulston back in May, “we recognise European law, which allows us to compete and commercially organise amongst ourselves. Therefore we don’t recognise this particular rule within FISA. We do not wish to rival the existing championships, but to create more products, more championships, for offer to our spectators.”
So two cheers for EMA, with a third one pending if they manage to establish a series of sports car races without being crushed by the FIA. Regrettably we have to sit on the fence on this issue, because if there is a showdown neither the FIA nor EMA will suffer any lasting harm. The victim will be a racing category, probably sports cars. What could be worse for endurance racing? To be nurtured by the successor to FISA, perhaps to be coupled with Formula 3000 and banished to eternal darkness . . . or to be adopted by the European Motorsports Association, to be damned and crushed by the FIA? Some choice! Let us hope that sports car racing’s needs will not be forgotten in the coming year. M L C