The term ‘grand touring’ was coined in Italy in the 1920s. It was used to describe cars designed to cover large distances, often at speed but with a comfortable ride and a degree of luxury. Over time, the grand touring/grand tourer – GT – concept carried over into racing (minus the comfort) and allowed manufacturers to demonstrate the reliability and performance of their sports cars.
Fast forward to the late ’90s and early 2000s; GT racers had evolved with large capacity, naturally aspirated engines and high downforce, and they ruled the endurance racing classes of the era. These GT cars found fans in the youth of the time through video games and became the poster cars of the generation. The recent Goodwood Members’ Meeting provided an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of these motorsport heroes.
The GT1-spec Dodge (or Chrysler, depending on the region) Viper was incredibly successful in period. A collaboration between Oreca in France and Reynard in the UK, the Viper GTS-R combined a large but under-stressed engine and a decent handling package to net dozens of victories.
In fact, so effective was the Viper GTS-R at the Nürburgring 24 Hour race that there were constant attempts to decrease its performance through new regulations.
The first was by limiting fuel loads, but the workaround that Zakspeed – who were now running Vipers – came up with was a quick-change fuel tank, which meant the more frequently-required stops could be performed quicker. With the rear bodywork swung open, the near empty tank could be removed via dry break connectors and a full fuel tank was fitted in its place, saving valuable seconds.
The second new regulation challenge was a lowering of the maximum engine capacity to 6.2L. Given the Viper came with an 8.0-litre V10 engine, Zakspeed had to think creatively. The new rule stated that the original engine block had to be retained, but it didn’t mention whether all cylinders had to be used. By plugging the V10’s first two cylinders and removing the corresponding rotating assembly, the Viper engine essentially became a 6.2-litre V8.
Limited success followed with this setup though, as the GT field had advanced considerably. The Viper was retired, but by this point it had proven itself with accolades all over the world – IMSA in America, JGTC in Japan, the FIA GT Championship in Europe and the British GT Championship.
The Corvette C5-R was General Motors’ response to the Viper GTS-R, and going by the number of podiums it achieved, it was a hugely successful rebuttal. That success has continued to this day, with each passing generation of Corvette collecting GT race silverware. Both C5-R and C6-R variants took to the track during the Members’ Meeting, and while the visual differences between the models was apparent, under the skin they’re mechanically similar.
The C5-R came into the competitive fold late into the production car’s lifecycle, meaning the C5R and C6-R were developed alongside one another. This in turn meant that many of the motorsport changes trickled down to the road cars very quickly upon the C6’s release.
Prodrive was heavily involved with not just one, but two manufacturers participating in GT racing. The first, and arguably one of the best-looking GT cars, was the the Ferrari 550 GT1. Care Racing Development commissioned Prodrive (who we’ve visited before) to turn the 550 Maranello into a car that could compete in the American Le Mans Series, the FIA GT Championship, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 5,500cc engine was enlarged to 6,000cc and over 550kg (1,212lb) of weight reduction carried out, along with a plethora of other chassis and body changes. The efforts paid off, with over 50 wins (overall or in class), including a Le Mans GT class win in 2003 and an outright win at the 2004 Spa 24 Hours. The 12 Ferrari 550 GT1s that Prodrive produced competed in a total of 343 races between 2001 and 2008 and achieved 60 pole positions, 69 victories and 151 podium finishes, further cementing Prodrive’s reputation of producing world-class race cars.
If Prodrive could achieve all that from a meagre 16 weeks of development, what could they do with nine months? The Aston Martin DB9R is the answer.
Given the similarities in chassis and engine, lessons learnt with the 550 were applied to the DB9, but given that the Aston Martin would not only exist as a factory car but also be sold to privateers, a lot of it was simplified in the interest of cost and ease of maintenance. The quality of build can be measured by the fact the DB9 won the 24 Hours of Sebring on its very first outing.
600hp paired with 1,100kg and ‘old school’ handling less encumbered with electronics gave the Corvettes a hard time.
By the time the DB9R retired, it had won 28 of the 199 events it entered, including the Le Mans 24 Hour twice.
The last three cars that rounded out the GT1 run group at the Members’ Meeting are lesser known but no less interesting.
Saleen Automotive is more commonly associated with Ford performance tuning in the US, but when the company’s owner Steve Saleen wanted to go racing, he gathered an ensemble of experts in their respective fields and the S7 was the result. This was the first original Saleen car.
The S7R racing variant came soon after, and with it some sporadic podium finishes. The most notable performance was beating an overly-confident Ferrari on their home turf at Imola against the freshly released Maserati MC12 GT1, in front of various VIPs and press.
Marcos first competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 with the Mini Marcos, but it wasn’t until 1992 that the Mantara was released. Through a series of evolutions this became became the Marcos Mantara LM600, which is what was seen at the Members’ Meeting.
From humble beginnings in North Wales, the LM600 with its bulbous bodywork and front-mid mounted engine won the British GT Championship three times. Sadly though, success didn’t follow it onto the international stage.
Equally as obscure as the Marcos was the Lister GT. Lister was well known in the late ’80s for modifying the road-going Jaguar XJS. Big engines – 7,000cc, big speed – 200mph, and big price tags – £100,000. In the ’80s these numbers were ludicrous.
Lister’s founder, Laurence Pierce, eventually grew tired of tuning and instead wanted to create his own flagship vehicle. He called it the Storm.
Through Pierce’s relationship with Jaguar, engine components from the Le Mans-winning Jaguar XJR-12 were purchased and fitted, giving the Storm the largest production car engine since WWII. Unfortunately for Lister, the McLaren F1 hit the track in the same year the Storm competition car first debuted at Le Mans, and then a year later Porsche’s 911 GT1 joined the fold.
The Storm never truly reached its stride until the GT1 class was disbanded, and ultimately found success in GT2, winning FIA GT and British GT titles.
I can’t help but think that after these cars slowly faded from competition, GT endurance racing lost its way for a while. The ingenuity and desire to compete with something different had disappeared and low volume manufacturers were nowhere to be seen.
Seeing any one of these cars in isolation would be a special occasion, but the drawcard of a GT demonstration at Goodwood Circuit as the sun set brought back some of the excitement. For those of us not fortunate enough to see these amazing race cars competing the first time around, all this did was reaffirm the obsession. Time to dig out those posters out again.