The Unfair Advantage

In 1970 and ’71, John Wyer, running the fabulous 917s in Gulf colours through his JW Automotive team, used to make a point of declining the use of the latest developments. He was reluctant to try components that hadn’t been thoroughly tested, and fought off demands that his cars used them: he was much happier if the Salzburg and Martini cars were fitted with whatever the latest change was, because he would rather sacrifice a small percentage point worth of speed for being there at the finish.

At Le Mans, he really didn’t want to run the Langheck 917s, and was proven absolutely right when they ran into trouble - and the short tails proved to be a better 24 hour bet - on each occasion.

Go forward another decade or so, and the PDK transmission was often race tested in the 962, much to the consternation of Derek Bell, who would rather have driven a standard car, as he raced for a World Championship title.

Forward another decade or more, and we have the current, still dominant GT car, the one that first appeared at Le Mans in 1999 – and has been steadily developed since. The arrival of the M3 GTR caused something of a shake-up, didn’t it? Suddenly the established winner had to be taken to a whole new level to try and compete – and then the status quo returned, with the ‘elimination’ of the BMW.

But since then there have been rumblings of discontent. Very few have been prepared to ‘rumble’ too openly, for fear of upsetting those responsible for the dominant car, but there have been some concerning episodes going on ever since the departure of the V8, front-engined rival.

Let’s take a ‘for instance’ and see how meddling with the mechanicals might work elsewhere. Just suppose for a moment that the so-called ‘works’ Aston Martin DBR9s were fitted with ‘evolution’ V12s, and just shaded the ‘customer’ cars on acceleration and top speed.

“Hey,” says Mr. DBR9 buyer, “I’ve just spent £475,000 on my car and I can’t beat that one, even though my drivers are just as good as yours.”

There’s no way of course that we’re suggesting that this could happen: just look at the Ferrari 550s, also from Prodrive. As far as we’re aware, no customer or driver has ever complained about lacking a development that might have given them a boost in speed. The ‘BMS Scuderia Italia’ cars have always seemed perfectly matched, even though one was always a Care Racing entry: there was no funny business. Put Enge or Kox or Bobbi in any 550 and they’d be equally quick.

Petit Le Mans, 2004: a customer car exits the final turn right on the tail of another, similar car. The driver of the following car thinks ‘I’ll pull out of his slipstream and pass him under braking into Turn 1’.

Oh no you won’t: you only have to watch the scene unfold to understand what is happening. The lead car simply pulls away.

So are rumblings of discontent justified? We think so, here at dsc. What is the thought process that results in customers being sold cars they are unlikely to be able to compete with – for wins?

The unfortunate result is potentially (inevitably?) a loss of racers - and perhaps even a loss of customers? If there’s a GTR to beat, it’s a completely different situation. But why sell cars that cannot genuinely compete with the class leaders?

It was a different situation for John Wyer: the latest tweaks were still being tested, and reliability, particularly over 1000 km or 24 hours, was questionable. It doesn’t seem to be in 2004. Sadly, besides the racers – whether that is entrants or drivers – losing out, so do the fans. Another 1-2, despite the fact that it’s the most competitive GT class in the world? Explain that to the fans please.

A two car factory effort in GTS is rather different from the perception here of what has been happening in GT. Of course, if Corvette had a new rival in its class, perhaps a company that ought to be competing in the faster GT class not the slower one, that would be an entirely different situation.
Malcolm Cracknell


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