Ahead of the resumption of motorsport worldwide, we have decided to look back at the rich history of Sports Car Racing. Part 2 of this short series will look at top-level Sports Car Racing in the 21st Century.
A new dawn – 2000s
The Rebirth of American & European Sports Car Racing (2000-2005)
The success of the inaugural American Le Mans Series in 1999 saw the series expand, adding flyaway rounds to its 2000 schedule, with 2 rounds in Europe and a lone Australian round. These European rounds served as a precursor to the inaugural European Le Mans series in 2001. The ACO made a series of changes to its prototype class structure once more, with the open-cockpit LMP class being split into 2 classes. The class became LMP900 & LMP675; the numbers denoted the minimum weight requirements (in kilograms) for each class. Both classes were intended to be capable of competing for the overall victory, alongside the LMGTP class and the changes had significant implications – The SR2 class no longer aligned perfectly with the new LMP675 class, due to differences in engine regulations and while both SR1 and LMP900 utilised similar engines, the rules differed, meaning that teams wishing to compete in both categories would need to modify their cars to suit the regulations.
2000 also saw the running of the inaugural Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series (RSCS), succeeding the failed United States Road Racing Championship, with the SCCA handing over sanctioning duties to the Grand American Road Racing Association (Grand-Am), continuing the American Sports Car Racing split. The Rolex Sports Car Series utilised the SR1 & SR2 Prototype classes seen in the FIA Sports Car Championship.
2001 saw the introduction of the IMSA European Le Mans series, in what would be it’s only season, owing to a lack of interest from European teams, alongside competition with the FIA Sports Car Championship. Part of the reason for the lack of interest from European teams was due to the differing regulations in the prototype classes between the ELMS and FIA Sports Car Championship, which would have required the purchase of new cars or the modification of existing cars. The ALMS and ELMS would share several races, with the exception of 3 rounds in the ELMS and 6 rounds in the ALMS.
2002 saw the ALMS return to running exclusively on North American soil, while in January at the Rolex 24, an announcement was made that Grand-Am was seeking to replace both their prototype classes in the RSCS with the new Daytona Prototype (DP) regulations. According to GARRA, this was done due to cost concerns, alongside safety concerns regarding the speed of the SRP1 class on the Rovals and Speedways that were a major part of the RSCS calendar.
Despite the initial scepticism during the announcement, 6 DPs showed up on the grid for the 2003 Rolex 24, where the RSCS’ new top class failed to shine, with only 3 of the cars making it to the finish and none making it to the overall podium, which was occupied by GT teams. In November 2003, the ACO held the one-off 2003 1000km of Le Mans, held on the shorter, permanent Bugatti Circuit. This race would serve as a precursor to the Le Mans Endurance Series (LMES), which eventually became the European Le Mans Series.
2004 saw the FIA Sports Car Championship discontinued, after a dismal 2003 season with low car counts. Prototype racing in Europe continued however, with the new Le Mans Endurance Series, organised by the ACO.
After the 1999 season of the FIA GT Championship saw a single-class grid following the discontinuation of the GT1 category, the 2000 season saw return to the 2-class structure in the FIA GT Championship. The N-GT Category was introduced, sitting below the former GT2 class, now simply known as GT and was awarded an FIA Cup, as opposed to a full championship. The GT category was similar to the GTS category in the ALMS & LMES, while N-GT was similar to the GT category in the ALMS & ELMS. However, it should be noted that while the classes were similar, they had rule differences, which prevented certain cars from competing in both series.
2004 would see the introduction of the most dominant GT1 car in the decade, the Maserati MC12. The car was entered mid-way through the season, and owing to it being wider than allowed in the regulations, the FIA had refused homologation and consequently it ran as a non-classified entrant in a non-homologated form for it’s first 3 races. The cars had run after unanimous agreement from the other FIA GT teams, and had revised bodywork, including a narrower rear wing. 2 cars finished on the podium on its debut at Imola and the car won on its second race at the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben. By the end of the season, the FIA approved the car for homologation, allowing it to score points and at the final round of the season, the cars secured a 1-2 finish at the Zhuhai International Circuit.
Introduction of Diesel Prototypes & The Golden age of International GT Racing (2005-2009)
2005 was a historical year in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the Pescarolo Sport entered Pescarolo-Judd scoring pole position, being the last privateer to do so to date. 2006 proved to be a revolutionary year in the history of Prototype Racing, with the introduction of the Diesel-powered Audi R10 TDI. The R10 was the first ever diesel powered vehicle to win the 24 Hours of Le mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring, winning both races on it’s debut entry.
2008 saw the introduction of the second generation Daytona Prototypes (DP) in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series.
2005 saw the renaming of the GT classes in the major championships. In the FIA GT Championship, the GT & N-GT classes became the GT1 & GT2 classes. The GTS & GT classes of the ALMS & LMES similarly became the GT1 & GT2 classes. While the MC12 was now fully homologated by the FIA, the MC12 was not homologated by the ACO for use in the GT1 classes of the ALMS & LMES.
However, IMSA who ran the ALMS, allowed the MC12 to participate in the series as a guest entry for 2005, ineligible to score championship points and running with a weight penalty. For 2006, no MC12 was entered, but in 2007, Doran Racing ran an MC12 for 2 rounds of the ALMS and was allowed to score points, while using the original rear wing of the car, albeit reduced in height. The ACO however, remained firm on its decision and did not allow the car to compete at Le Mans or in the LMES.
In 2009, following a sole 2 car entry by Corvette Racing, the GT1 class of the ALMS was shelved after Long Beach, when Corvette opted to run in the GT2 class, which was then renamed as GT.
A Turbulent decade – 2010s
A new Golden Age of Prototype Racing in Europe & GT Divergence (2010-2014)
2010 saw the #9 Audi R15+ set the distance record for the race, with a distance of 5410.713 km.
2011 saw large scale changes in the regulations for the Le Mans Prototypes, with the rules effectively making previous generation prototypes obsolete, although provisions were made to allow for the grandfathering of cars built to the previous regulation set.
In the LMP1 class, engine sizes were reduced, becoming similar to those used in the previous LMP2 car, with the following size limits: (3.4 L (3400 cc) for naturally aspirated engines, 2.0 L (2000 cc) for turbocharged petrol engines & 3.7 L (3700 cc) for turbocharged diesel engines). For 2011, cars raced during the 2010 season in an ACO-sanctioned event could participate, but would receive smaller air restrictors, reduced boost pressure (turbo and turbo diesel), and reduced fuel capacity. The new regulations also allowed for Hybrid drivetrain systems, including Kinetic-Energy Recovery Systems (KERS) without Push-to-pass capability, as well as four-wheel drive (non-hybrid vehicles would still remain two-wheel drive)
LMP2 cars became cost-capped, with the ACO setting a maximum cost of €400,000 (€325,000 for chassis, €75,000 for engine) LMP2 also saw changes to engine regulations. The engines would be production-based, with a size limit of the following: 5.0 L (5000 cc) for normally aspirated engines (Max 8 cylinders), 3.2 L (3200 cc) for turbocharged engines (Max 6 cylinders), while diesel engines were outlawed.
The new regulations also specified that LMP cars were to weigh in at 900 kg (2,000 lb), and bodywork was to include a vertical fin on the top of the engine cover in order to reduce lift tendency and airborne crashes. The regulations were altered in 2012, with the introduction of mandatory air extractor holes located at the front and rear wheel wells, as well as a larger shark fin.
2012 saw a series of historic moments in Sports Car Racing. First came the return of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), replacing the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The new Championship had its inaugural round at the 2012 12 Hours of Sebring. 2012 also saw the first Hybrid powered vehicle to secure victory at Le Mans, with the #1 Audi R18 e-tron Quattro Diesel-Hybrid securing victory after completing 378 laps. LMP1 saw the last-minute departure of Peugeot, but also the arrival of Toyota. The year ended with the major announcement of merger between the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series from 2014, ending the American Sports Car Racing “split”.
2014 saw the reunification of American sports car racing with the inaugural TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, with all classes, barring LMP1 being carried over to the new championship (GX was folded into GTD). 2014 also saw a swathe of changes for the WEC’s LMP1 class. New technical regulations banned open-cockpit cars, while the class became split into 2 different classes: LMP1-H (Le Mans Prototype 1 Hybrid) & LMP1-L (Le Mans Prototype 1-Lightweight). 2014 also saw the return of Porsche to top-flight prototype racing, with Porsche debuting it’s 919 Hybrid during the 2014 WEC season.
In 2010, the FIA GT Championship and the FIA GT3 European Championships were split and reorganised into 3 championships, with independent teams running all cars. The FIA GT1 class would run in the GT1 World Championship, intended for professional drivers, GT2 would run in the FIA GT2 European Championship, intended for pro-am driver crews, while GT3 would run in the FIA GT3 European Championship, intended for non-professional drivers.
However, this arrangement was ultimately unsuccessful. The GT2 European Championship was postponed, and was run as the GT2 European Cup in 2010, with a single round, the 24 Hours of Spa. After a single run in 2010, the GT2 European Cup did not return, and the class would effectively disappear from competition sanctioned by the SRO. In June 2010, ahead of the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ACO made the announcement that it would axe the GT1 class from its sanctioned series from 2011, replacing it with a GT2 based category, which would become known as LM GTE.
2011 saw the return of the GT1 World Championship and while LM GTE became the main GT category in ACO sanctioned competition, GT1 spec cars were allowed to be entered in the GTE-Am class. Compared to its inaugural season in 2010, the GT1 World Championship saw a drop in car counts, and after a mere 14 cars ran in the mid-season RAC Tourist Trophy, a “GT World class” was planned for 2012. It was planned to feature performance-balanced 2011 GT1 cars, 2009 GT2 cars and 2011 GT3 cars, competing in a single FIA GT World Championship.
2012 saw the FIA GT1 World Championship return for its final season and the championship saw many calendar changes ahead of the season, with several cancelled and added races. The 2011 “GT World Class” plan failed to materialise and despite carrying the GT1 title, the championship was run solely with GT3 cars, as the existing field of GT1 cars was found to no longer be sufficient.
2013, saw the GT1 World Championship morph into the FIA GT Series, while the European Le Mans series cut the GTE-Pro class from its lineup of classes.
2014 saw the commencement of GT Convergence talks between GTE and GT3, talks which ultimately stalled and failed. Initial proposals had centred on the creating a single GT class, before discussions shifted to each manufacturer having a base car, which could be modified to fit two different classes, which would be known as GT and GT+. The FIA had sought to utilise a common engine for the categories, which would see manufacturers developing both factory and customer-based car packages atop a common platform. While the manufacturers agreed on the chassis concept, they were unable to find common ground regarding the engine, which ultimately led to the talks failing. The failure of the talks led to Le Mans losing McLaren as an entrant; according to Racecar Engineering, McLaren had actually constructed a GTE specification MP4-12C to contest series using the ACO GT rules, but the GT convergence talks saw the company scrap the project, reportedly after receiving 10 orders for the car.
LMP1 manufacturer exodus, Privateer Influx, GTE’s false dawn (2015-2019)
2015 saw the reunification of LMP1 to a single class, directly pitting Privateers against the LMP1 factory teams once more. 2015 also saw the return of Nissan to top-flight sports car racing, with the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO, featuring a unique front-engined front wheel drive layout, paired with mechanical Hybrid ERS system supplied by Torotrak, which directed power to the rear wheels. Regrettably, the GT-R LM NISMO programme struggled with technical problems, with the car only running a single race, the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, before never being raced again.
2016 saw the return of Toyota, Audi and Porsche as the manufacturers in the LMP1 class fielding a combined 6 full-season entries, with no additional cars for Audi & Porsche at Le Mans in the wake of cost-cutting measures implemented at the Volkswagen Group. Both Privateer teams from the 2015 season, ByKolles and Rebellion Racing returned with their single and 2 car programmes, both teams continuing their engine supply with AER. ByKolles returned with an altered Aerodynamic Package for its CLM P1/01, while Rebellion Racing returned with suspension updates and most noticeably, updated headlamps with its Oreca-designed Rebellion R-One. For the first 2 rounds of the season, the #13 Rebellion R-One finished 3rd overall, benefiting from the disqualification of the winning #7 Audi R18 in Silverstone, before benefitting from the various troubles that plagued the manufacturer LMP1s at Spa.
Despite success in the early part of the season, Rebellion announced that it would withdraw the #12 car following the 6 Hours of the Nurburgring, to concentrate its resources on updating the R-One for the 2017 season. However, due to Rebellion opting to step down to the LMP2 class for 2017 in early October 2016, citing the projected pace of the new 2017 LMP2 cars, alongside a desire to face a higher level of opposition than in the LMP1 Privateer subclass, the planned updates never materialised. Rebellion’s LMP1 exit was followed by Audi’s announcement later that month, that it would terminate it’s LMP1 programme at the end of the season, shifting its focus to the FIA Formula E Championship.
2016 saw the final year of the Gen 3 Daytona Prototypes, which were retired following the 2016 Petit Le Mans, in favour of the new-for-2017 Daytona Prototype International Class
The 2017 WEC Season saw the return of Toyota and Porsche, alongside a single car for ByKolles in the LMP1 class. The 2017 LMP2s were introduced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the opening round of the 2017 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and during the 6 Hours of Silverstone, the uptick in pace compared to their predecessors was noticeable. Following the 2017 6 Hours of Nurburgring, the team discontinued its campaign to further develop and test the car, amid increased Privateer competition for the next season, with cars from Ginetta, BR Engineering and Perrin (which ultimately did not race). At the end of July 2017, Porsche announced it would follow Audi into Formula E, axing it’s LMP1 Programme. Following the 2017 WEC season, the WEC would move to a winter-based calendar and a superseason was announced to facilitate the transition.
The 2018-19 “Superseason” saw a spike in entries from Privateers, with the new Equivalence of Technology countering the advantages of the four-wheel drive Toyota. The Toyotas would always be more efficient in wet weather conditions, and at bumpy circuits like Sebring, owing to complex suspension systems. Unlike previous years, where only 3-2 privateers would appear in LMP1 entry lists, 2018-19 season featured 8 privateers. ByKolles and Dragonspeed would field a single car, while SMP Racing, Rebellion Racing and CEFC TRSM (Manor Motorsport) would field 2 cars each. Of the 8 privateer entries, CEFC TRSM was the only team to fail to attend the majority of the races, having only raced in Le Mans 2018. Financial issues caused by a non-paying sponsor led to Ginetta refusing to allow the cars to race in Spa in 2018, despite being at the track, before racing at Le Mans and falling off the entry list at Silverstone following an engine supplier change to AER amid a dispute with original engine supplier Mecachrome. Subsequently, Manor Motorsport departed the programme, and the cars did not appear on the entry list for any other races. Ginetta chairman Lawrence Tomlinson lodged an entry for Le Mans, but was rejected owing to unpaid fines due to the non-appearance of the cars, which had been lodged as full-season entries at several rounds of the championship.
2015 saw the introduction of the Macau GT World Cup, consisting of 2 races held over the Macau Grand Prix weekend, a Qualifying Race and a Main Race.
2016 saw the introduction of a new GTE rules package, with a move into a new performance window, allowing for an increase in power and reduction in weight, with most cars receiving a 20 horsepower increase and 15 kg weight reduction, roughly equating to a two-second per lap decrease in times at Le Mans. In addition, the GTE cars also gained a larger tunneled diffuser. For this season Ford introduced the GT into GTE competition, in both the WEC and the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship (WTSC). This brought the WTSC to 5 manufacturers in the GTLM class (BMW/Ford/Corvette/Ferrari/Porsche), although it should be noted BMW was utilising the M6 GTLM during this period, which had been based upon the M6 GT3. In the WEC, this brought the manufacturer numbers to 4 in the GTE-Pro class (Aston-Martin/Ford/Ferrari/Porsche).
2018 saw BMW introduce the BMW M8 GTE, being built to ACO/FIA GTE regulations, in both the FIA WEC & IMSA WTSC. This brought WEC to 5 manufacturers in the GTE-Pro class, while owing to Risi Competizione’s withdrawal from full-time competition, it left the WTSC with 4 manufacturers. However, by the end of the 2018-19 season, both BMW and Ford had announced their withdrawals, with Ford completely withdrawing from both, while BMW withdrew solely from the WEC. This brought the number of manufacturers in both championships down to 3.