Sportscar Racing in the 90s

The 1990s started with the glory days of Group C and are ending with the glory days of GT racing. At first sight all would seem well, but, in fact, the switch from Group C to GT racing was painful.

In 1990, Mercedes, Porsche and Jaguar were battling for Group C supremacy, with Mercedes holding the upper hand against Jaguar's fragile V6 powered XJR11 and Porsche's aging 962.

Jaguar wheeled out their trusty V12s to win Le Mans in 90 (which was not part of the championship), whilst Mazda delighted Japan (and probably most of the spectators) by taking a popular win for Wendlinger, Herbert and Gachot in 1991. Probably running with the smallest budget of the Japanese marques, the 3 F1 drivers were expected to be too hard on their car, but managed to shade out the Jaguars, which took 2nd and 3rd. Despite the best efforts of Toyota and Nissan, Mazda remain the only Japanese winners of Le Mans.

Despite the success of Group C, there was a feeling (mainly amongst people keen to make money from it) that sportscar racing "couldn't be understood by race fans". This led to a drop in race length, the scrapping of the fuel economy nature of the class and, finally, to an inexplicable switch to a 3.5 litre, F1 powered class in 1991.

This proved catastrophic for Group C as costs escalated and Jaguar (after winning in 1991 with the great XJR-14, almost an F1 car with a roof) and Mercedes soon departed the scene, leaving only Toyota and Peugeot (who dominated the final years with their 905B) to hold the fort in its final death throes.

The switch to an F1 powered class was all the more reprehensible as it had failed in the 70s and failed again in the 90s. Some say it Group C was getting too popular for F1-goblin, Bernie Ecclestone, and he wanted to get Peugeot and Mercedes to spend their budget in his shop, F1.

The next couple of years were a dead spell for sportscars, only alleviated by Le Mans, which survived only as a pale shadow of the great Group C years.

Thankfully, a group of French drivers, keen to run their Venturis on the track, gave rise to a multi-marque GT series organised by the BPR Organisation. Run by Ratel, Peter and Porsche's Juergen Barth, this series grew rapidly through 1994 and 1995 to see some great McLaren F1 vs Ferrari F40 battles.

In 1995 and 1996, the (slightly) modified McLaren F1 was dominant, with Nielsen/Bscher winning the championship in 1995 and Bellm/Weaver in 1996.

At first, Porsche, stalwarts of GT racing since their first appearances in the late 40s, were slow to react to the supercar element of the series, only fielding modifed GT2 cars against the V12 wonder cars from Woking and Ferraris 80s supercar.

However, it was only a matter of time before Porsche raised the game and it came at Le Mans in 1996 with the unveiling of the Porsche GT1. An unashamed homologation special, with more in common with the 962 series than the 911 it was supposedly based upon, the car swept to second in the 24 Hours and victory in all of the BPR round it participated in. The regular BPR runners came to refer to it as the only runner in 'GT0', although it was ineligible for points in 1996.

1996 proved a turning point for the BPR and sportscar racing as it's increasing popularity saw the FIA step in, after their baby, the technically complicated and near F1 expensive, ITC died with Opel and Alfa’s withdrawal.

1997 started with the unhomologated Mercedes CLK driving a coach & horses through the regulations. The BPR started the slippery slope by allowing the Porsche to race, but the CLK is a travesty, with no road cars built and seemingly no intention of ever building any.

The future of sportscar racing seems unclear. On one hand there are big fields with 20-30 GT1 cars in each race and manufacturer involvement from Mercedes, BMW (McLaren), Porsche and teams like Panoz and Lister making up the numbers impressively. GT2 is healthy, with the front engined Vipers and Marcii up against the ever swift Porsches.

However, there are specials everywhere. The Mercedes are almost as quick as a 3.5 litre Group C car and Nissan and Toyota have GT1 cars ready to race, which are in the same vein.

Recent attempts by Mercedes to switch to sprint race formats was, thankfully, rejected by the other teams (I'd suggest they stick to F1 or go to the STW, if they want sprint racing), but there is the danger of it being too expensive to run competitively, and BMW and Mercedes will only stay involved as long as there is PR to be reaped.

In addition, the Ecclestone threat is ever present, as GT popularity rises. Anything which challenges F1 in the public eye is to be actively disuaded.

Already there is talk of a privateer only series next year, as BMW are withdrawing to concentrate on a Williams built open top Le Mans challenger and Mercedes are thought unlikely to compete, as a works team, without the target of BMW to beat. This will probably be a good thing, as budgets are likely to, at least, stabilise without the factory might behind the programmes.

World Sportsprototype Championship 1990
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Fuji 480KmsSchlesser/BaldiSauber-Mercedes C9
Monza 480KmsSchlesser/BaldiSauber-Mercedes C11
Silverstone 480KmsBrundle/FerteJaguar XJR-11
Le Mans 24 HoursBrundle/Nielsen/CobbJaguar XJR-12
Spa 480KmsMass/WendlingerSauber-Mercedes C11
Dijon 480KmsSchlesser/BaldiSauber-Mercedes C11
Nurburgring 480KmsSchlesser/BaldiSauber-Mercedes C11
Donnington 480KmsSchlesser/BaldiSauber-Mercedes C11
Montreal 480KmsSchlesser/BaldiSauber-Mercedes C11
Mexico 480KmsMass/SchumacherSauber-Mercedes C11

Overall Positions
Sauber Mercedes67.5

World Sportsprototype Championship 1991
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
FujiAlliot/BaldiPeugeot 905
MonzaBrundle/WarwickJaguar XJR-14
SilverstoneFabi/WarwickJaguar XJR-14
Le Mans 24 HoursWeidler/Herbert/GachotMazda 787B
NurburgringBrabham/WarwickJaguar XJR-14
Magny-CoursDalmas/RosbergPeugeot 905B
MexicoDalmas/RosbergPeugeot 905B
JapanWendlinger/SchumacherMercedes C291

Overall Positions
Euroracing Spice54

World Sportsprototype Championship 1992
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Monza 500KmsLees/OgawaToyota TS010
Silverstone 500KmsWarwick/DalmasPeugeot 905
Le Mans 24 HoursWarwick/Dalmas/BlundellPeugeot 905
Donnington 500KmsBaldi/AlliotPeugeot 905
Japan 500KmsWarwick/DalmasPeugeot 905
Magny-Cours 500KmsAlliot/BaldiPeugeot 905

Overall Positions
Euro Racing26
Team SCI17

Le Mans
YearWinning DriversWinning Car
1993Helary/Bouchut/BrabhamPeugeot 905
1994Dalmas/Haywood/BaldiDauer-Porsche 962LM
1995Dalmas/Llehto/SekiyaMcLaren F1 GT
1996Reuter/Jones/WurzJoest Porsche TWR
1997Alboreto/Johansson/KristensenJoest Porsche TWR

BPR GT Series 1994
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Le Castellet, France - 4 hoursWollek/Pareja/Jarier Porsche 911 Turbo LM
Jarama, Spain - 4 hoursJarier/Pareja/Dupuy Porsche 911 Turbo LM
Dijon, France - 4 hoursFerté/NeugartenVenturi 600 LM
Paris, France - 1000kmsPescarolo/BassoVenturi 600 LM
Vallelunga, Italy - 4 hoursOlofsson/Della NoceFerrari F40
Spa, Belgium - 4 hoursFerté/NeugartenVenturi 600 LM
Zhuhai, China - 3 hoursJarier/LaffitePorsche 911 Turbo S LM
Suzuka, Japan - 500kmsOlofsson/Della NoceFerrari F40

McLaren F1 GTR
BPR GT Series 1995
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Jerez, Spain - 4 hours Bellm /Sala
Le Castellet, France - 4 hours Bellm /Sala McLaren F1 GTR
Monza, Italy - 4 hours Nielsen/Bscher McLaren F1 GTR
Jarama, Spain - 4 hours Bellm /Sala McLaren F1 GTR
Nurburgring, Germany - 4 hours Bellm /Sala McLaren F1 GTR
Donnington, GB - 4 hours John Nielsen/Thomas Bscher McLaren F1 GTR
Paris, France - 1000KMS Oberndorfer /Hübner Porsche 911 GT2
Anderstorp, Sweden - 4 hours Ferté/Thévenin Ferrari F-40 LM
Suzuka, Japan - 1000kms Bellm /Sala /Sekiya McLaren F1 GTR
Silverstone, GB - 4 hours Wallace/Grouillard McLaren F1 GTR
Nogaro, France - 4 hours Wallace/ Grouillard McLaren F1 GTR
Zhuhai, China - 3 hours Wallace/ Grouillard McLaren F1 GTR

BPR GT Series 1996
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Paul RicardBellm/Weaver Mclaren F1
MonzaNielsen/BscherMclaren F1
JaramaBellm/WeaverMclaren F1
SilverstoneWallace/GrouillardMclaren F1
NurbrgKox/BscherMclaren F1
AnderstorpDellla Noce/OlofssonFerrari F40
Suzuka 1000kmLlehto/Bellm/WeaverMclaren F1
BrandsStuck/BoutsenPorsche GT1
SpaStuck/BoutsenPorsche GT1
NogaroBellm/WeaverMclaren F1
ZuhaiCollard/KellenersPorsche GT1

Overall Positions
Bellm/Weaver - Gulf McLaren

FIA GT Series 1997
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Hockenheim, Germany - 4 HoursLlheto/SoperMcLaren F1 GTR
Silverstone, UK - 4 HoursLlheto/SoperMcLaren F1 GTR
Helsinki, Finland - 3 HoursLlheto/SoperMcLaren F1 GTR
Nurburgring, Germany - 4 HoursSchneider/LudwigMercedes CLK GTR
Spa, Belgium - 4 HoursLlheto/SoperMcLaren F1 GTR
Zeltweg, Austria - 4 HoursSchneider/Ludwig/MaylanderMercedes CLK GTR
Suzuka, Japan - 1000kmsNannini/Tieman/SchneiderMercedes CLK GTR
Donnington, UK - 4 HoursSchneider/WurzMerceds CLK GTR
Mugello, Italy - 4 HoursLlheto/SoperMcLaren F1 GTR
Sebring, USA - 3 HoursSchneider/LudwigMercedes CLK GTR
Laguna Seca, USA - 3 HoursSchneider/LudwigMercedes CLK GTR

Overall Positions
Schneider - Mercedes
Soper/Llheto - McLaren BMW
FIA GT Series 1998
April 12OscherslebenGT1 - Ludwig/Zonta - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Beretta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS
May 17SilverstoneGT1 - Schneider/Webber - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Beretta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
June6-7Le Mans 24 Hours - Non Championship GT1 & Overall -McNish/Ortelli/Aiello - Porsche 911 GT1-98
GT2 - Bell/Donohue/Drudi - Dodge Viper GTS - R
LMP - Taylor/van de Poele/Velez - Ferrari 333SP
June 28HockenheimGT1 - Schneider/Webber - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Beretta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
July 5Dijon-PrenoisGT1 - Ludwig/Zonta - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Beretta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
July 19HungaroringGT1 - Schneider/Webber - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Eichmann/Maasen - Porsche 911 GT2
August 23SuzukaGT1 - Schneider/Webber - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Beretta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
September 6Donington ParkGT1 -Schneider/Webber - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Berreta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
September 20A-1 RingGT1 - Ludwig/Zonta - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Wendlinger/Bell - Dodge Viper GTS-R
October 2HomesteadGT1 - Ludwig/Zonta - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Berreta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
October 18Laguna SecaGT1 - Ludwig/Zonta - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 - Berreta/Lamy - Dodge Viper GTS-R
ChampionshipGT1 - Ludwig/Zonta - Mercedes CLK GTR
GT2 & Overall - Beretta/Lamy - Chrysler Viper GTS-R

Other 1998 results can be found at this link.

Back To The Sportscar Racing Page