• MSV Christmas Driving Experiences
  • 2018 MSV Season Passes
  • Christmas Driving Experiences
  • YoungDrive at Brands Hatch
  • MSV Trackdays
From the archives: Porsche raises the GT stakes at Brands

Friday, December 28 2012

In the early 1990s sportscar racing declined, with the World Sportscar Championship imploding from a lack of entries. The glory days of Group C had given way to harsh economic reality, with manufacturers joining forces through takeovers and mergers. With Formula 1's turbo era drawing in the marques, there simply wasn't room for two major worldwide circuit racing championships.

With only a limited interest in building prototype cars specifically for racing, the privateers that had made up much of the sportscar grid looked to the supercar scene. In 1993 the ACO ran a GT class in the Le Mans 24 hour race, which was won by a TWR prepared Jaguar XJ220 with a up-and-coming David Coulthard on board. It was later disqualified on a technicality but nevertheless the concept was sound, especially as the pre-recession days had seen a supercar boom, and here was the chance to play the ultimate game of Top Trumps...

At the same time Jürgen Barth, Patrick Peter and Stéphane Ratel, administrators of GT series in Germany and France, got together to organise a global GT series under the 'BPR' banner, formed from the initial letters of their surnames. From its beginnings in 1994 the series quickly gathered momentum, with XJ220s and Ferrari F40s joined by the new McLaren F1, which won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours outright. The first champions were crowned in 1995: John Nielsen and Dr Thomas Bsher in a West-sponsored McLaren, pre-dating the German tobacco firm sponsoring the F1 team by two years.

BH archive article 2By 1996 the concept was refined into two classes: GT1 and GT2. The top class had the most powerful cars, and in many cases manufacturer involvement of some kind. The calendar included visits to Paul Ricard, Monza, Jarama, Silverstone, Nurburgring, Anderstorp, Suzuka, Spa-Francorchamps, Nogaro, Zhuhai and Brands Hatch.

By early September when the teams arrived in Kent, Ray Bellm and James Weaver's Gulf McLaren F1 GTR was leading by a comfortable margin from the Roock Racing Porsche GT2. A huge entry list of 51 teams also included Dodge Vipers, Lotus Esprits, Lister Storms, Ferraris, Marcos, Morgans, a TVR, XJ220 and a De Tomaso. There were many big names on the side of them too: Andy Wallace, Jan Lammers, Chris Goodwin, Tiff Needell, Jean-Marc Gounon, Eric Bernard, Olivier Beretta and Bob Wollek to name a few.

However the joker in the pack this weekend came from Porsche, already dominant in the GT2 ranks. It had earlier in the year launched a GT1 version of the 911, never intended as a roadcar but to take on the all-conquering McLarens. The series regulations demanded just one road-going version, so it was no trouble for a manufacturer to make an additional car, which could be used as a development hack or sold to a collector. It had already debuted at Le Mans, where it finished second and third to a prototype Porsche but this was to be its BPR series debut.

Being a purpose-built racer, there were none of the compromises required to make the GT1 a useable supercar, so the Porsche could vibrate, heat up and crash over bumps at will - this was all about lap time. The factory had pulled out the stops on the driving front too - the car was to be shared between Grand Prix veterans Hans-Joachim Stuck and Thierry Boutsen.

Other attractions on the programme included historic GT racing, a Ferrari/Porsche challenge and the then popular TVR Tuscan Challenge, which featured a certain Andy Priaulx amongst the field...

BH archive article 1Meanwhile in the main event the brand new German machine qualified on pole position on the Saturday and the following day it raced into a lead that it would not relinquish throughout the four-hour duration. This was a particularly bad day for the leading McLarens of Bellm and Weaver (DNF) and Nielsen/Bscher (damaged on the way to a fourth place finish), leaving the Harrods-sponsored entry of Wallace and Olivier Grouillard to take the runner-up slot.

Stuck celebrated on the podium in his customary way by yodelling, and buoyed by success Porsche entered the remaining rounds. Ralf Kelleners and Emmanuel Collard took victory in China as Bellm and Weaver claimed championship honours.

By then the profile of the series had been raised and for 2007 the FIA GT Championship was created. BMW were aware of the threat from their German rivals and sent in their teams to run McLarens, which were now upgraded with a longer tail section. Mercedes, looking for a new challenge after the demise of the old DTM, developed the CLK-GTR along similar lines to the Porsche. The 911 GT1 was left behind and floundered, despite another strong performance at Le Mans, whilst Mercedes overhauled McLaren, ironic considering the two manufacturers were developing a partnership that was by now yielding victories in F1. In the meantime the GT1 rules had begun to spiral out of control with costs rapidly heading back to Group C levels and the regulations were tightened, with first GT2, then GT3 becoming the dominant class.

Since then prototypes have returned to the top of sportscar racing, with both manufacturers and privateers racing together. GT racing lives on, with Ratel still a prime figure in the movement, and the British championship is enjoying a particularly strong period, with McLaren, Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes all represented this season. However many remember that day at Brands Hatch when GT racing had hit its peak and Porsche provided a small reminder of the glory days of Group C.

You can buy tickets for the British GT Championship at Brands Hatch on 10/11 August 2013. For more information, call 0843 453 9000 or click here.