Sportscar Racing in the 70s

The 1970s began with the end of the Ferrari v Porsche 'GT' era. 25 cars were supposed to built of each model, but aside from Porsches famous response to the suggestion that they may have cheated to get the 917 in (They paraded all 25 and asked the CSI (The FIA's old name) representative which one he wanted to drive), it seems unlikely that these cars were built in anything like these numbers and only a tiny number ever saw a public road, let alone drove on one.

Ferrari 512M
Ferrari 512M at Le Mans - photo courtesy Autosports Mktg Ltd

The death of GT series (primarily due to cost and the 917s dominance) led to a poorly supported F1 based prototype series. The cars in this series were open top Formula 1 powered Group 6 cars.

The first few seasons of this series (it ran from 1972 to 1975) were dominated by Matra with their glorious sounding V12s. The only serious competition coming from Alfa Romeo, who finally swept to the championship in 1975, only a year after Autosport described their performances at the Nurburgring as 'diabolical'.

Matra 670 in action
Matra 670 in action - photo courtesy Matrasport web site

Perhaps tellingly, Alfa were only victorious when the Italian factory team gave up the struggle and a German privateer, Willi Kauhsen (later to try, and fail, to run his own F1 project), took over the project.

Alfa Victorious
Alfa Romeo 33 wins at Monza, 1974

Renault won the 2 litre sportscar championship in 1974 and upgraded their V6 powered machine to run in the 3 litre class by the simple expedient of fitting a turbocharger. This proved fragile, initially, but fast (winning a race at the start of the 1975 season) and went on to win Le Mans in 1978.

Alpine Renault
Alpine-Renault at the Nurburgring.

Of course, the next step for the turbo V6 was ridicule in F1, but we all know where that led.

Porsche spent most of the mid '70s developing a silhouette Carrera Turbo for the proposed 1976 rules, which were to become Group 5.

Porsche's RSR Turbo
Porsche's RSR Turbo.

Gulf ran some Mirages, renamed as Gulf GR5s, with patchy success, whilst Lola, Toj, Mirage, Ligier (of F1 fame - only recently turning into the Prost team) and De Cadenet were other manufacturers in what was, at times, a flourishing series (or more properly group of series as the Up to 2 litre class actually ran as a seperate set of races for a number of years).

Ligier JS2
Ligier JS2 Sports prototype.

The 2 and 3 litre series were followed, in 1976, by Groups 4, 5 and 6,

Porsche dominated all three with both works and customer cars. The Group 6 936 winning when allowed to run and the 935 quickly becoming the de rigeur equipment in Group 5 and the Turbo the 'nearly production' Group 4 pace setter against Ferrari 512s.

Porsche 936
Porsche 936.

BMW had some success with a turbo CSL, but this was really a much modified Group 2 touring car and much of its success was probably due to the drivers, with such luminaries as Hans Stuck and Ronnie Peterson famously flying the overweight, but powerful, machine. Interestingly, BMW's 1980s F1 powerplant (reputed to generate around 1200 bhp in qualifying trim) was based upon technology developed from the CSL turbo's powerplant. So, although F1 may be the pinnacle of technological development, sportscar racing is frequently the proving ground for such technology. A lesson the FIA would do well to learn and understand.

Moby Dick 935
John Fitzpatrick's 'Moby Dick' Porsche 935

The late 70s saw something of a revival of sportscar racing with privateer Group 6 cars (De Cadenet, Osella, Porsche 908s) fighting works and privateer Porsches and Lancias. Interestingly, the series seemed strongest, in terms of competition and numbers, when the privateers were allowed to dominate, rather than the mega-bucks factory operations. Another lesson for the FIA perhaps?

World Championship For Makes 1979
EventWinning DriversWinning Car
Daytona 24 HoursOngais/Haywood/FieldPorsche 935/79
Mugello1000kmsFitzpatrick/Ickx/SchurtiPorsche 935/77
Dijon 6 HoursJoest/Merl/KettererPorsche 908/4
Silverstone 6 HoursFitzpatrick/Wollek/HeyerPorsche 935/77
Nurburgring 1000kmsSchurti/Fitzpatrick/WollekPorsche 935/77
Le Mans 24 HoursLudwig/Whittington/WhittingtonPorsche 935 K3
Enna 6 HoursLombardi/GrimaldiOsella PA7
Watkins Glen 6 HoursLudwig/Whittington/WhittingtonPorsche 935/77
Brands Hatch 6 HoursJoest/MerlPorsche 908/4
Vallelunga 6 HoursLombardi/FranciaOsella PA7

Overall Championship

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