Sportscar Wars


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Gordon Kirby's "The Way It Is" #270: Chasing History
SpeedTV Forums: Grand-Am/FIA Cospiracy vs. ACO-LMS-ALMS?

The more I think about it, after reading what was in Kirby's column this week and the SpeedTV Forum thread, the more I'm almost convinced there's a power struggle of sorts between La Sarthe and the FIA over the direction of sports-car racing(wouldn't this be a topic worth pursuing on its' own?)...........

It might be, Matthew, it might be...

Kirby is wrong - philosophically, the ACO and FIA are diametrically opposed on the future for sportscar racing (at least in the GT arena) and the argument is one that cuts through most categories of motorsport - to attract big-spending manufacturers and run the risk of them all arriving and departing when they feel like it, or build something less glamorous, perhaps, but based on a more solid foundation on privateers, customer cars and the like.

The FIA have thrown their lot in with Stephane Ratel, who last year launched the FIA GT1 World Championship to a considerable fanfare. This has been branded in some quarters as a renaissance of the old WSC, but with two one-hour races per weekend, and manufacturers specifically excluded, its endurance credentials are pretty weak, IMO.

It undoubtedly produced some great racing, with twelve two-car teams representing six different manufacturers (Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati and Nissan), though there was probably a bit more contact than in most GT races. Each team is independent from their parent manufacturer- they buy the car and then it's all down to them - so there are no factory teams.

The problem for GT1 going forward is that it's a dying category - nobody is building GT1 cars any more. The Maserati MC12 is already a seven year-old design, while Aston and Corvette have moved to GT2.

The ACO on the other hand have continued to actively attract manufacturers, changing the regulations as necessary to try to ensure some competition. This hasn't always been successful, and in the early 2000s nobody was seriously able or willing to challenge the Audi R8 steamroller at Le Mans (least said about Cadillac the better). But changing the regulations to allow the diesels to compete on an unequal footing encouraged Peugeot to have a go, while in the meantime customer chassis from the likes of Lola and Courage kept prototype grid sizes up.

For many years a furiously intense rivalry raged in the GT1 category between Aston Martin and Corvette, and in GT2 between the stalwart Porsches and Ferraris - but in the end it made more sense for all parties to come together into a single GT2 class to make it a four-way battle. Given that rival manufacturers, starting with BMW, have tripped over themselves to join in, suggests that this was the right move, and at Le Mans 2011 there will only be GT2 cars.

What matters to GT manufacturers more than anything, I suspect, is victory at La Sarthe, and if that applies more to Aston and Porsche than GM and Ford, still I think it is perceived internationally as 'the big one'. So manufacturers are going to want to build cars that can win at Le Mans, full stop. Ratel might get a steady flow of home-brewed specials, specialist tuned cars and reconditioned antiques to keep his world championship going, but I wouldn't necessarily bet on it.

Here is the man himself, however, to provide the alternative view:
Brilliant work as usual, Galahad.

I have always been an ardent follower of sports cars, dating all the way back to the Ford-Ferrari battles.

In this instance, I would say that the ACO, and the ALMS which mirrors it, using virtually all of its rules, have the right idea. The FIA should keep their hands off. No championship in sports cars means anything to the manufacturers if Le Mans wasn't among their victories (see Porsche in 1968, when Ford won Le Mans and only one other race and were fully satisfied with their season!)
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