Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Automobile mag chooses the top 5 racing cars of all time

I was recently handed a copy of Automobile magazine. As a rule I tend to only read British car magazines (although I have a sub to American racing mag Racer), so I was quite surprised to find Automobile to be an enjoyable, engaging read, with a very high standard of journalism and interesting subject matter.

This issue's cover story was the 25 greatest cars of all time, broken down into five categories. This being a racing blog, the category of interest here was racing cars. Their choices were the Lotus 49, Porsche 917, Dodge Charger Daytona, Miller 91 and Auto Union.

An interesting group of cars.

Naturally I started to ponder my own list, and after quick consideration here's the five that come off the top of my head:

Porsche 956 / 962 - Whilst I agree that the Porsche 917 was a terrific car for it's power, speed and record of success, it was short-lived. The 956 and 962 were the dominant force in sportscar racing from 1983 all the way to 1989 and carried on racing for some time afterwards. They even won Le Mans in 1994 with a racing version of the road car version of the racing version, the Dauer 962. During that time period, these cars defined an era and brought massive success to the Porsche marque, due mainly to the innovative yet well-developed technologies that were utilized. The fuel-consumption constraints of Group C demanded new thinking from the Porsche factory, and the aluminium monocoque chassis was chief amongst the developments. The 917 burned bright and briefly, whilst the 956 and 962 burned just as bright but for a much longer period. For many, it's the archetypal endurance racing sportscar, and an icon of motorsport.

Lotus 25 - Although I agree with Automobile magazine that a Colin Chapman-designed F1 car should be included, I have to disagree with which one. Sure, the 49 was important for its use of the Cosworth V8, and the 78 was a major step forward in aerodynamic thinking, but I have to pick the 25, simply because its design paved the way for every single F1 car from that point to the present day. It was the first ever fully-stressed monocoque chassis, increasing stiffness threefold and halving weight. Further design details, such as the driver positioning and front suspension treatment, ensured that the 25 would be a winner. And win it did, with a 25% win rate in the hands of the legendary Jim Clark. I think it's safe to say that the Lotus 25 was basically the most influential F1 car of all time.

Lancia Delta HF Integrale - Although it would be tempting to put the Audi Quattro on this list, due to it being the first major 4WD contender in the WRC, the term "greatest" should not be confused with "first". Audi's early successes were due to a lack of viable competition, and once that competition showed up, Audi looked rather weak. They took 23 WRC wins with the Quattro. Lancia on the other hand managed double that with their Group A-spec Deltas, starting with the HF 4WD in 1987, and ending with the Integrale Evo 2 in 1993.

What made the Integrales special was that, like BMW's E30-spec M3, they were family-size road cars designed with sport as the primary focus, and as 4WD, turbo-charged 4-door rallycars, they paved the way for a new type of car. Subaru's Impreza WRX and Mitsubishi's Lancer Evo would be nothing without the Integrale. It has to stand as the greatest rallycar of all time, not least because it was true to rallying roots: taking your own, fairly normal car and trying to go as fast as possible from one place to another.

Audi R10 - Some (many?) might call this a controversial pick, but the R10 is possibly the most important racing car of all time. For any brand-new car to win Le Mans at its first attempt is a remarkable achievement. In fact, the R10 remains undefeated in long-distance endurance events, having won both Sebring 12 hour events, both Petits Le Mans and both Le Mans 24 hours races it has entered. But the most critical point is that it achieved all this whilst running on diesel fuel. Audi predicted that the future of racing would not lie with gasoline-powered vehicles, and set out to prove the point with the R10. Since the introduction of the car, the IRL has switched to a 98% ethanol fuel, the ALMS moved to a 10% ethanol mix and more alternative propulsion methods are showing up in racing everyday. None of that may have been Audi's idea, but the R10 showed that it was possible to win in motorsport without using regular gasoline, and as time marches on I believe that there will be little doubt that it is worthy to be considered as one of the top five greatest racing cars.

Spec Miata - The concept of low-cost, spec racing allows motorsport to be accessible to a much wider group of people, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the various forms of Spec Miata racing. For that reason alone, the Miata has to be considered one of the greatest racing cars ever. By its nature, racing is expensive, but nowhere does it say that it should be prohibitively so for the average person. A Miata can be purchased for less than $2000, modifications made to ensure rules-compliance for another $2000, and licensing, fuel, tyres and entry fees for that first race should come to another $1000. It is almost unbelievable that anyone can go racing for $5000, and even more remarkable that the car being raced can be driven home after a change of tyres. The Miata is racing for the masses, and that's perhaps as great an achievement as any of the other four cars I've listed.

Begin hurling your rotten tomatoes....


Jaime said...

Weird...that's the very magazine that was accidentally put in my company's PO Box. I kept it.

Clive said...

Interesting choice. And logical too. No rotten tomatoes from me. ;)

Jimmy said...

Interesting list, here are my thoughts off the top of my head:

Ford GT40 - Incredibly successful for a relatively straightforward car.
Audi Quattro - See your point, but it's still the Mama of all WRC cars.
Porsche 911 - Still going, still winning.
Lotus 25 - Can't argue with you there.
Williams-Renault FW 14B - So much technology, so dominant.

Nicebloke said...

Good list, Jimmy. I definitely considered the GT40 and the 911, but with a couple of other sportscars on there I felt other forms of racing needed representation. I didn't think of the Williams - what an amazing car that was!

patrick said...

No rotten tomatoes here.

I'd personally go for the Sauber C9/11 as the greatest of the Group C cars though. Utterly dominant in 1989 and 1990, and one of the most downright beautiful cars ever made.

There's probably a case to be made for the Ferrari F2002, come to that. OK, so the Mclaren MP4/4 was statistically more successful, and the Williams FW14 more advanced for its time. Mclaren, though, were more or less alone in building a completely new turbo car for what was a transitional year in 1988 - and the Williams was something of a triumph of software over engineering. Think how difficult a machine the gizmo-free FW16 turned out to be... The F2002 was an unusual example of car that was utterly dominant because the engineers did the same as everyone else...but better....

I'd second Jimmy's suggestion of the Porsche 911. It's been doing Le Mans for years, its gone rallying, and its derivatives are still the best bet in GT2 today.

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SamBlob said...

Wot, no pre-WWII cars?

My list:

1912 Peugeout racing voiturette, with DOHC, four valves per cylinder and pentroof heads (referred to as hemispheric for a long time before anyone understood the concept of pentroof heads)

1954-55 Mercedes-Benz W196: A gigantic success of a racing car and a truly tragic "what if...".

1969 Porsche 917K
1969 Dodge Charger Daytona.

Motor racing will never see their thunderous like again. It is a shame that the pinnacle of both endurance racing and NASCAR came about two years before I was born...

And, oddly enough, I can't think of a fifth...