Sports car racing back where it belongs


How fitting that we should celebrate the 30th anniversary of Group C in the same month the FIA World Endurance Championship should take its bow in Europe.

It wouldn’t be fair to say the monsters of the 1980s provided the last great era of sports car racing – the FIA GT Championship spawned a mini period to relish in the late 1990s, the birth of the American Le Mans Series was another high point, and we will never forget the Audi vs Peugeot duels of the past five years, which can legitimately be described as some of the best Le Mans has ever seen.

But for the past 20 years there’s been a gaping hole in the long-distance sport that has been keenly felt by the modern generations of great drivers and teams: for all the variations of series we’ve seen in Europe and the States, the lack of a genuine world championship has been the big missing ingredient.

Now, all these years after the FIA destroyed Group C, the governing body has made its peace with Le Mans’ powerful organising body, the ACO, and has launched a true successor to the old World Sportscar Championship that had given endurance racing a global focus since the 1950s.

So the Spa Six Hours, held in early May, was of great significance to anyone with a heightened sense of motor racing history, and I’ll admit to a shiver of excitement as I headed across the channel to witness the European debut of the WEC (following the first round at Sebring in March).

The significance of the Spa race was heightened further as Audi gave its new hybrid version of the R18 a much-anticipated debut. As we reflect in the July issue, Toyota missing its cue with its rival hybrid took a bit of the shine off the Belgian race, but as we prepare for Le Mans these are the early steps in what could be a great new era for world sports car racing.

In truth, it wasn’t the greatest race I’ve ever seen, but that’s missing the point. The promise of what’s to come is of more relevance right now. The Group C era finally has a genuine successor for us to look forward to.

The cover shoot for our July issue celebration took place at Donington Park on the very day I was heading to Spa. I was nervous about this one. Our team at Donington would have the challenge of marshalling five cars and their owners into position during a busy test day for the burgeoning historic series – and to make matters worse, it was raining.

I needn’t have worried. Photographer Matt Howell has, I’m sure, enjoyed easier shoots, but as usual he came up with the goods. Much credit should also go to Group C Historic Series organiser Bob Berridge, who rounded up our spectacular quintet of cars. Bob, who has much in common with the blunt and intimidating giant of a headmaster from The Inbetweeners, is a bloke who tends to get things done, and I’m grateful for his help as he prepares for the Motor Racing Legends-run Group C support race at Le Mans. It’ll be the perfect curtain-raiser to another memorable weekend in the north-west of France.

With Le Mans in mind, Henri Pescarolo was a perfect lunch guest for Simon Taylor this month, and we knew the French legend would be a big name to add to our growing roster of greats in this popular series of interviews. ‘Pesca’ didn’t disappoint, and the tales of his less well-known exploits in aviation left us gasping.

As ever, Nigel Roebuck features heavily in our new issue, reflecting on Pastor Maldonado’s incredible win for Williams in Spain and an incredible road trip he took to Modena to mark the recent Gilles Villeneuve anniversary. And he also offers a brilliant piece on Alberto Ascari, Italy’s last great Grand Prix star, complemented by Ed Foster’s presentation of an incredible collection of personal artefacts that belonged to the man who remained unbeaten for a whole calendar year through 1952-53.

I’d also like to call on your help this month. We’re currently undertaking a reader survey to help us understand more about what you want from Motor Sport, whether it be in print, online or via the iPad. The survey, which offers you the chance to have your say on what you like (and don’t like) about what we do, only takes about 10 minutes to complete, and there’s a great competition for you to enter if you can take the time to do so.

Your opinions matter a great deal to us here at Motor Sport. Please help us by taking part. I’d be delighted to hear what you think (click here to begin).

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