Part Four of our review of every car that has featured on a GT1 entry starts with the dominant force in the second phase of GT1 – Mercedes Benz.
With the collapse of the ITC touring car Championship, Mercedes had big money sponsors and technical know-how to concentrate in another field and the growth in popularity of GT racing caught their attention.
After trialling their V12 engine and basic aero package on a McLaren F1 GTR test mule they entered the 1997 FIA GT Championship with a full factory effort, eventually fielding three cars.
After early-season reliability woes the results began to come and they took the teams, drivers and manufacturers titles in their first season against stoic opposition from the BMW-backed McLarens.
With a return to Le Mans firmly in their sights, the basic CLK GTR package was developed to accept improved aerodynamics and an evolution of the 5 litre V8 from the Sauber Mercedes Group C programme.
The Le Mans effort failed, the factory cars suffering engine issues, but Mercedes took the FIA GT Championship – the pace of development though meant it was all over at the end of the season – from packed grids to a handful of takers in just a couple of years, amazing cars but class killers.
Never raced as a GT1 but rather in the GT1-succeeding GTP class at Le Mans in 1999. A three-car factory entry was among the race favourites but the cars suffered a trio of airborne accidents, the remaining car withdrawn after Peter Dumbreck’s massive blower on live TV.
An intriguing story from 1993.
First things first the MIG title is NOT the same MIG as the manufacturer of Russian fighter jets, but rather an acronym for the eventual Georgian backers of the effort.
Originally dubbed the MCA Centenaire the company was Monaco-based, Prince Rainier the owner of the very first, Lamborghini V12 engined, road car.
Fiscal issues saw the company change hands to industrialist Alexander Mingrelia – the MiG title apparently standing for ‘Mingrelia I Georgia’
Two MiGs actually ran in Le Mans testing and pre-qualifying, the first a Lamborghini-engined road car fitted with racing rubber which did enough to earn the team a shot at pre-qualification.
The intended race version though was powered by a Motori Moderni 3.5 litre V12 F1 engine but twin-turbocharged to beyond 700 bhp.
It was enough to scare the living hell out of the driver, expose all the multiple frailties of the road car package, but also to slingshot the car in a straight line to well over 200mph, it squeaked onto the entry but the team ran out of resources.
The MiG did though race, just once, in Lamborghini-owered form, at the 6 Hours of Vallelunga in 1993 – it finished a delayed 23rd!
One of the early efforts from Warren Mosler, and with big V8 power the oddly styled Raptor found its way into the GT1 class of the USRRC with limited success. The Raptor was succeeded by the (more GT2-appropriate) Intruder before the MT900 found an avenue into European competition that gave Mosler a much more international profile.
Two cars, based on the R33 LM race car, entered Le Mans in 1995, rear-wheel-drive only and with a 2.6-litre twin-turbo inline 6 cylinder engine producing 400bhp.
One car retired but the #22 car finished 10th overall, 5th in GT1.
A collaboration between Tom Walkinshaw Racing and NISMO produced Nissan’s 1997 and 1998 Le Mans GT1 contender, stayed by Ian Callum and with mechanical design and aero by Tony Southgate.
The R390 was powered by an ex Group C 3.5 litre, twin-turbo V8.
Three cars were entered for Le Mans in 1997 but all suffered gearbox issues, a result of cooling problems. One car made the finish – 12th overall.
In 1998 four cars were entered, three to a fully revised specification, with a longer tail and revised aero, whilst off the ultimate pace they all came home in the overall top 10, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 10th
The 5.5 litre V8 powered, rear-wheel-drive GT1 GT-R was designed to take part in the new for 2010 FIA GT1 World Championship.
Ahead of that programme, a development car undertook a part season in the FIA GT Championship in 2009, including the Spa 24 Hours where it came home a creditable 12th.
There were two race wins in the 2010 Championship and a further 5 in 2011, Lucas Luhr and Michael Krumm securing the Drivers World Championship in a JRM-entered car.
The Zonda was another heroic effort from Toine Hezemans to find a competitive package but was doomed by a combination of a failed bd to get factory AMG power plants, an overweight base car, poor base aero, and eventually woeful reliability from the production-based Mercedes V12 engines.
A Sebring debut and Le Mans in 2003 were both failures with broken engines after which the car was parked, it was leased for an attempt at qualifying for Le Mans in 2004 but fell short before being sold on to a Czech Gentleman driver for further racing duties in Central Europe.
Developed by Reynard as a front-mid engined car with a Roush-built, Elan developed 6 litre V8. Six cars were built in 1997 with an evolution to the bodywork for the following year.
The cars raced with some success n North America but struggled against factory opposition in FIA GT competition
In 1998 Panoz won the USSRC Team and IMSA GT Teams and Manufacturers titles. In 1998 a factory-entered car finished 7th overall at Le Mans, the second season that factory and customer cars had been entered.
After two appearances in 1999, the GTR was retired in favour of the new LMP1 car though one GTR would reappear in 2003 for the Le Mans 1000km.
The car was then purchased by Larbre Compétition and further modified, being renamed the Panoz GTP to reflect its change in class. The modified car would debut at the 2004 12 Hours of Sebring, finishing 9th overall would retire from the Le Mans 24 Hours and would make a final appearance in the Le Mans Series event at Spa-Francorchamps, taking 14th place.
For 1998 Panoz, together with Zytek developed a hybrid electric motor for the Esperante GTR-1.
The Q9 GTR-1 Hybrid was nicknamed “Sparky”, it attempted to qualify for Le Mans in 1998 but proved overweight and not fast enough with the battery technology of the time.
It made one competitive start, at the inaugural Petit Le Mans in 1998 finishing 12th overall.
Porsche’s 1994 stopgap solution to the GT1 arms race until the 911 GT1 came on stream was this uprated version of the 911 GT2 with a higher rear wing, reduced weight wider body to accommodate larger GT1 spec tyres and a 600 bhp turbo engine.
Effectively the car that brought down the curtain on the first iteration of GT1, debuting in dominated fashion at the end of 1996 in BPR the car was shamelessly designed as a race car first, hyper-road car second. It saw success in BPR and several customer car sales followed in 1997.
The starting gun had been fired though on a rapid development cycle where Porsche and Mercedes would go head to head, the original GT1 would have but a single year in factory service.
1997 saw the arrival of the Evo version of the 911 GT1, styling based on the newly introduced 996 version of the Porsche 911 road car, there was little joy though, for the factory team in the newly introduced FIA GT Championship, no race wins for the year as the Mercedes CLK GTR and BMW-backed long-tail McLaren F1 GTR dominated proceedings.
There was a happier hunting ground in North America for Champion Racing with their 911 GT1 Evo in 1998 and 1999, the car taking a class title in 1998 and battling hard against a mainly prototype field until the second iteration of GT1 was put to the sword at the end of 1999.
The final factory iteration of the 911 GT1 concept saw much attention to aerodynamics as Porsche looked to head off the threat from Mercedes Benz.
Bad luck, and a steamroller AMG effort saw the Porsches (campaigned both by the factory and a customer Zakspeed team) beaten at every round in 1998’s FIA GT Championship with a strong run at Petit Le Mans ended by a dramatic blower accident for Yannick Dalmas.
A win at Le Mans though blew away those cobwebs, it stands as the last, at the point, for a GT-based race car at Le Mans, Porsche walking away from the programme at the end of the year to concentrate on their later cancelled LMP900 programme.
Porsche 911 Turbo and BiTurbo
A variety of teams and tuners produced uprated turbo or bi-turbo versions of Porsche’s 911 in both 993 and 996 guises over a decade or more looking for power and pace to match the factory-developed GT1s. These cars would appear in a myriad of Championships and one-off races.
Blue Coral were amongst the teams fielding turbo 911s, the team using the cars to bridge the gap between their older 935s and the later 911 GT1s for British GT and other duties.
In the bi-turbo field PSI from Belgium would have real success in Belcar and would sell a number of customer cars, A-Level Engineering from Germany had the odd very good day in Le Mans Series Competition, particularly, as at Silverstone in 2005, when the weather came in to play and the Paul Hogan/ Tech 9 car in British GT.
You can find part 1 of this series Here
Part 2 of this series can be foundHere;
Part 3 of this series can be found Here
With thanks to John Brooks, David Lord, Marcus Potts, Regis Lefebure, David Downes, Peter May, David Lister, Jeremy Jackson and Racingsportscars.com for pics