A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Cars, which is available to buy here
From the editor Damien Smith
How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.
But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.
Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.
As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.
Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.
Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.
Four-time Indycar champion from 2004–07
I think my sweetest moment in a race car was probably in the Panoz DP01 Champ Car at Road America in 2007. It was magical! You dream of driving a car that is perfectly balanced and for me that was the moment, to the point that the car was so embarrassingly quick I had to fake a problem inside the car to make sure they weren’t going to throw a yellow flag at us and let the field close up to us. The car was so strong that day and responded to whatever I wanted it to do.
“Whenever you get a good qualifying lap at Road America it’s a very sweet moment and that was definitely one of the sweetest moments I’ve enjoyed in my career. We were 20 seconds quicker than a Daytona Prototype around Elkhart that year! A Daytona Prototype is not the quickest car in the world, but it’s not slow either. I was only a second off the fastest time they had done a few years earlier in CART with a thousand horsepower. That was just mega. It was probably my finest moment behind the wheel of a race car.
That car was really strong on all the road courses. It was close to making 6000 pounds of downforce and was the right tyre combination for the right downforce, and on that given day it had just the right balance. It was one of these very rare moments when the car was just perfect. You just put the cherry on the cake and took a picture.
From the Archive: “Downward spiral” by Gordon Kirby (December 2007)
One thing that is clear is that the IRL has pretty well won the war of attrition for dominance of American open-wheel racing. In the past few years, Champ Car’s TV ratings and overall media coverage have dwindled to barely measurable numbers. The IRL’s ratings are hanging in there, but there’s nothing to be proud of in its poor overall media numbers either.
At least the IRL enjoyed an exciting and compelling championship battle this year with a great grandstand finish, but both series face serious problems in attracting more media coverage, and also in rebuilding and retaining their fan bases. The loss of some of their biggest stars will compound this problem.
In Champ Car, the big question is who will replace Sébastien Bourdais at Newman/Haas. Justin Wilson was the team’s first choice but he and sponsor CDW are departing the beleaguered Champ Car series for the IRL and/or the ALMS, where Wilson will drive for Andretti-Green next year. There are no other obvious star drivers available for Newman/Haas and certainly none to spark the interest of sponsors, the public or the media. If Paul Tracy and the Forsythe team continue to struggle into next year and the ageing Canadian is no longer a front-runner, who will become Champ Car’s star attraction? It’s a little too much to expect it all to fall on the shoulders of young Graham Rahal.
Another thing that’s occurred over the last two years is that Champ Car has lost the last of its oval races and now runs only on road and street circuits. Yet while Champ Car has walked away from the ovals, the IRL has taken on enough road and temporary circuits to make it much closer to the broad-based challenge of the old CART Indy Car World Series than today’s Champ Car series.
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