Tag Archives: Marcos LM600

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The Land that Time Forgot

For over a quarter of a century Patrick Peter has been one of most successful promoters in motor sport, rivalling his former partner in crime at BPR, Stéphane Ratel.

The Le Mans Classic, Tour Auto and Chantilly Arts & Elegance are all world class motoring events that Peter has created but even he had to admit defeat some 20 years ago when he attempted to get the GTR Euroseries off the ground.

The wildly successful BPR-run Global Endurance Series for GTs splintered in late 1996 under pressure from the FIA aka Bernie and Max on the topic of TV rights. It also suffered from conflicts of opinion that the ruling trio had with each other on the future direction of their partnership, I tried to document that turbulence back at the time. http://www.doubledeclutch.com/?p=10162

The net result in 1997 was the FIA GT Championship, a partnership between Stéphane Ratel and Bernie Ecclestone. It was wildly successful in its first season but under the surface it had already laid the ingredients for its own destruction by allowing Mercedes-Benz to drive a coach and horses through the homologation protocols as understood by the other manufacturers. The GT1 class of the Championship collapsed at the end of 1998. The FIA GT Championship only just survived to run the GT2 cars again for the following season without the factory teams, Chrysler Viper excepted. It was a lesson that Stéphane never forgot, keep the manufacturers under control, support the gentlemen drivers.

Patrick Peter launched the French GT Series in 1997 and that was taken over the following year by the Stéphane Ratel Organisation. So Peter then attempted to promote a European GT contest in the spirit and style of the early BPR days, the GTR Euroseries. In the end five rounds were held; Jarama, Paul Ricard, Misano, Nürburgring and Spa. The grids were considerably smaller than expected and Peter admitted defeat after the Belgian event held in late July.

There were quite a number of positive aspects to the series, the conviviality of the paddock was in contrast to the “korporate kulture” that AMG-Mercedes in particular brought to the FIA GT Championship, I know which one I preferred. The GTR grids were largely a collection of Porsches of varying vintages and performance, GT2, Cup Cars etc. The first round in Spain was won by the McLaren F1 GTR of Thomas Bscher and Geoff Lees, it would prove to be the penultimate international victory for the F1 GTR.

The following race held at Le Castellet would also be a landmark for one of those ascending the top step of the podium. This being the final international victory for the irrepressible Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams, one of the most popular figures in British motor sport for over half a century. He shared the win with Maxwell Beaverbrook and Geoff Lister in the former’s Porsche 911 GT2 EVO.

A proposed double header with John Mangoletsi’s ISRS to be run at Brno foundered when the Czech circuit’s pit and paddock facilities were not rebuilt in time. Mango’s Barmy Army went anyway, GTR Euroseries headed for the Adriatic and Misano. The contest would be shared with the anaemic Italian GT series and for reasons that were not clear then or now the Enzo Calderari/Lilian Bryner Ferrari 333 SP was also allowed to race….six seconds a lap faster than the GTs…..it looked and sounded great till the oil pump failed early in the proceedings.

The contest had two elements, the four hours GTR event (Silver Cup) and the Italian GT round at six hours (Gold Cup). Only 15 GTs joined the yellow Ferrari on the grid for a 18.00 start, it would prove to be a long evening. On the positive front Nigel Smith (a good bloke) won the race with Michel Ligonnet (another good guy) and Ruggero Grassi (no idea) in the Seikel 911 GT2.

Next outing, at Nürburgring, was a low point for the season, only 10 entries showed up. The spoils going to the Freisinger 911 GT2 (what else?) of Wolfgang Kaufmann and Michel Ligonnet.

GTR Euroseries was not only contested by Porsches, other exotica ran such as the Maserati Ghibli with none other than Arturo Merzario behind the wheel with co-drivers Simone Manzini and Luca Polmonari . However Art was the one in the stetson puffing on a Marlboro, plus ça change………….

Adding colour and a good old V8 rumble to proceedings at all of the races was Cor Euser’s Marcos LM600 that he generally shared with Herman Buurman.

At the next round, held at Francorchamps as a support race to the 25 hour VW Fun Cup (!), the Ford GT40 impostor aka the VBM 4000 GTC made a welcome appearance. The race was won by the same pair that had triumphed in Germany, which made it three wins out of five for Ligonnet. Perhaps the indignity of ceding numero uno status to dozens of imitation Beetles was the final straw but round five at was the end of the road for the GTR Euroseries. Why had this concept not worked as expected?

As with most enterprises timing is all important and 1998 was not the year to launch such a series, however appealing it might be to the gentlemen drivers seeking sanctuary from getting knocked around by the GT1 factory-pro brigade in the FIA GT. In ’94 and ’95 BPR rode the crest of a wave, the re-birth of GT Racing, after the destruction of Group C and the impracticalities of Group B regulations. There was a genuine enthusiasm for the competition which was underpinned by the realisation that how the game was played mattered as much as the result. Friday night dinners at the circuits for competitors and media reinforced this camaraderie. Barth, Peter and Ratel were pioneers in many respects, for example taking their merry band to Zhuhai in late 1994 for the first ever motor race in The People’s Republic of China. The fact was that there was no alternative to BPR on this side of the Atlantic, outside of the Le Mans 24 Hours, if endurance motor sport tickled your fancy.

Four years on and the landscape in endurance sportscar racing in Europe had changed out of all recognition. For their second season FIA GT Championship retained most of its supporters in the GT2 class from 1997. Those like Ray Bellm, Rocky Agusta, Alfonso de Orléans-Borbón, and the aforementioned husband and wife team of Enzo Calderari and Lilian Bryner, who had chosen to jump ship headed to prototype racing in the ISRS rather than buy a dated GT2 Porsche.

The new French GT series that Peter had created had up to 40 cars on the grid, a fair number of which he might have expected to follow him around Europe. Instead the French teams enjoyed the comforts of racing at home, here supporting the Dijon round of the FIA GT Championship.

Porsche and Ferrari were also a problem. Neither had a new GT racer available. At that point in time that would be a serious obstacle to the success of a GT race series. Porsche Motorsport were still chasing the head of the field in their 911 GT1 98 and their plan was to build a prototype to continue their astonishing run of successes at La Sarthe. Wendelin Wiedeking had different ideas and as CEO the boss always has the last say. He spent the money on developing the Cayenne, highly profitable but……. let’s leave it at that. Porsche would build the wildly successful 911 GT3 R, based on the 996 model, but it would not be until the 2000 season that 64 examples would be sold.

Ferrari only had eyes for Formula One at the turn of the century and had yet to realise that a handy profit could be accrued by getting Michelotto to develop and build Ferrari GTs, that programme would also begin in 2000 with the 360 Modena. For many of those who can afford such a hobby only driving a Ferrari will do, Maranello Madness you might say…….

The basic soundness of the GTR Euroseries concept has been validated later by the success of the International GT Open. Devised by ex- endurance racer Jesús Pareja it took advantage of the plentiful supply of GT2 and, later, GT3 cars to ensure a healthy grid. The timing was right.

One benefit that came as a result of the end of GTR adventure was it gave Patrick Peter the time for the eventual creation of the Le Mans Classic, without any doubt one of the greatest celebrations of motoring competition and car culture on the planet. Clouds and Silver Linings come to mind………

Finally may I wish the loyal readers of this site a happy and healthy 2019.

John Brooks, December 2018

Simply Red

2000 JB General

Sometime early in 2000 I got a call from the Stéphane Ratel Organisation requesting my attendance at a test session at Valencia, something special was going to be revealed and their regular ace snapper, Peter Fox, was off at a Grand Prix. So I got the chance to hang out of the back of a car and burned through a few rolls of film with the elegant 550 and the mighty Marcos LM600 with Cor Euser at the wheel (who else?) as my subject – happy days.

The new Ferrari 550 Millenio looked the bollocks but turned out to be bollocks in the performance stakes. Stéphane had invested in the new car through GT Racing Developments along with the driver Jean-Denis Délétraz but their efforts came to naught.

2000 JB General

Stéphane still regards the money lost on the project as well spent as it encouraged Ferrari and others to get involved in GT1 racing, thus cementing the recovery of the Championship that had nearly foundered in 1998 when AMG Mercedes whitewashed Porsche in an expensive, one-sided contest. The Ferrari 550 Maranello would have to wait a few years for its day in the sun when finally Prodrive got to grips with the project at the request of Frédéric Dor. Victories at Le Mans and Spa 24 plus an impressive list of other successes for the last of the racing front-engined V12 Ferraris all sprang from the unpromising beginning one day in Spain.

John Brooks, August 2016

Full of Eastern Promise

The attention of the endurance sportscar world  has been rightly focused out East this weekend, to the majestic Fuji Speedway, nestling in the shadow of Mount Fuji. My mind drifts back to the last century and the previous FIA sportscar race in Japan, the enticingly titled Pokka Sweat 1000 Kilometres.

Sweat was indeed much in evidence during that event, run in baking hot conditions with nasty August in Japan humidity, a photographer’s lot was not a happy one. Another whose lot was less than joyous during that era was Porsche AG, as the AMG Mercedes steamroller beat them like a gong for the whole of the 1998 FIA GT Championship. Suzuka was no exception and the lead CLK LM, with favoured son Bernd Schneider and his side kick Mark Webber in the cockpit, won easily by two laps.

The AMG pair were aided in this convincing victory by the blunder in the early part of the race by one of their team mates, Ricardo Zonta. Zonta was duelling for second spot with the Porsche 911 GT1 98 of Allan McNish (who else?) and used one of the GT2 Porsches driven by Claudia Hürtgen to assist with late braking, the result when the dust cleared was that all three cars were beached in the gravel trap. To add insult to injury the marshals got Zonta on his way first, leaving an incandescent McNish to wait his turn. The race was over as a contest, barring misfortunes for #1 AMG.

The incident cost the Porsches a couple of laps and Zonta later received a drive through penalty for his misjudgement, though this did nothing to restore the time lost by McNish.

While the Wee Scot was matching Schneider’s lap times before the incident it required something of a leap of faith to imagine that this could be maintained by Yannick Dalmas and Stéphane Ortelli over the 1000 kilometres. In the end the lead Porsche finished a lap down on the #2 Merc to grab the final step on the podium.

The second entry from Weissach suffered a number of misfortunes that first blunted, then eventually ended their challenge for the podium. Mid-race Bob Wollek had contact with a slower car in the chicane and drove the short distance into the pits against the flow of traffic to check the damage. As I wrote at the time, this eccentric piece of driving incurred the ire of the Stewards who awarded him a three minute Stop and Go penalty. That observation incurred the ire of “Brilliant Bob” when he later read it and he threatened the magazine with legal action, even by his standards he was especially touchy that summer.
Jörg Müller finished the day for #8, when once again there was contact with another car in the final chicane. This time it was Geoff Lees in Thomas Bscher’s McLaren F1 GTR who was hit by the Porsche, both crews enjoyed an early bath, Nul Points Reykjavik.

The rest of the GT1 field had a pretty nondescript afternoon, the Persson Mercedes CLK GTR pair showing their 1997 pedigree, finished 4th and 7th, while the singleton DAMS Panoz thundered round to 5th. The Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 98 duo could only manage 6th and 8th.

The GT1 category had a fin de siècle feel in the heat and humidity of Japan that year, exaggerated by the rumours that the FIA GT Championship, 1999 style, would be for GT2 cars only. Having invested heavily in this form of competition, Mercedes Benz were keen to go racing somewhere other than Le Mans in the following season. A month or two later we were all dragooned into a press conference in beautiful downtown Miami-Homestead Speedway. Stéphane Ratel was at his charismatic and visionary best, revealing the proposed FIA International Prototype Championship that would pit Mercedes against Porsche and possibly Toyota, Nissan and Audi. The factory contingent would be padded out by a motley crew of GT1/GT2 survivors and prototype inductees who would be press ganged in from the newly formed International Sports Racing Series. The problem was that there were not enough of the true believers, heretics and cynics were found at every turn.

Mango’s Barmy Army in the ISRS may have earned their title many times over, but even daft as they were, they would not fancy a regular drubbing from the Silver Arrows, no matter how good or guaranteed the start money was. Look at how AMG annhilated the Porsche Werks effort in ’98, the score ended up at 10-0 in Stuttgart’s favour. Porsche’s Le Mans prototype project was about to be  killed off by Dr. Wendelin Wiedeking, the CEO, who preferred to invest the cash in Porsche’s new light truck range, the Cayenne. Those of us with true grit gave him the raspberry at the time but he had the last laugh when the multitudes with questionable taste queued round the block to pay full price for this odd vision of a Porsche. PT Barnum really knew what he was talking about. Toyota had another cunning plan in mind in their quest to spend riches of Croesus on mediocre motorsport, go to Formula One. Nissan fired TWR after Le Mans 1998 and then realised that they were bust in all but name, so motorsport went out the window. Audi were in no hurry to tangle with their German rivals, reasoning that they had much to learn about the sport of driving long distances fast. So the IPC was a dead duck almost from the start and then the newly formed ALMS became the potential target for AMG and Mercedes. The aviation disasters at La Sarthe the following June extinguished that dream.

All of which meant that the GT2 battle was under increased scrutiny, as this was our probable future. The contest, such as it was, had three elements Chrysler Vipers versus the factory blessed Roock Porsche 911 GT2 and Cor Euser in his fierce Marcos LM 600.

The reality was that the 911 GT2 was beyond any further significant development, the Marcos was quick with the fearless Euser at the wheel, less so when the money men were in the hot seat and the Oreca run Chryslers were an absolutely better package than anything else.

At the start Cor did his usual thing jumped into the lead, irritating the Viper pair, but it was just a matter of time and so it proved with #51 just edging out #52 to give Chrysler a 1-2. Zonta’s indiscretion stuffed the lead Roock 911’s race and behind that it was just a gaggle of GT2 Porsches making up the numbers.

A few locals had rocked up to excite those who enjoy diversity on the entry list. The Kunimitsu Takahashi Honda NSX-S was actually faster than the Vipers in Qualifying, a result, no doubt, of a collaboration with Dome, but the engine blew early in the race.

The other respectable performance, speed-wise, from the Japanese contingent was the Toyota Supra LM that was also quicker over one lap than the Oreca entries, but it struggled to make an impact during the race.

In the end home grown honours were taken by a rather plodding Nissan Sylvia.

From the adrenaline climb that GT Racing had enjoyed from 1995 to 1997, the 1998 season was flat and rather expensive. It could not continue, especially as no one was keen to take on AMG Mercedes, and the North American market was about to offer exciting opportunities, the first Petit Le Mans was just round the corner. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

John Brooks, October 2012