A Sad Farewell To Factory-Backed Prototypes

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 18 2019
The Porsche 919 Hybrids were things of esthetic and technical beauty.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Thanksgiving for food and football, New Years Day for college football and all-day finger food and Le Mans for the greatest sports car race in the world and coffee and a grilling out and more coffee.

Those, in order, would be the most celebrated holidays at the old homestead over the past couple of decades.

But these days, the Le Mans holiday is falling backward and in the near future it may fall so far as to be situated behind Herbert Hoover’s birthday.

The reason is the racing machinery. It had been heading dangerously close to the boundary of the mundane in the top class the last couple of years and it may break through that boundary next year and the year after.

FIA’s World Endurance Championship and the ACO’s Le Mans 24-hour race have always featured the best road racers in the world. And they probably always will.

But for many sports car racing fans, the cars are the bigger stars.

Audi LMP1 cars dominated Le Mans and the WEC in the 21st Century.

At the top level of the sport for the past 40-some years, have sat the exotic factory-backed prototypes. They have never looked like their factories’ road cars but so what. They featured technology and engineering that rivaled – and in recent years, probably surpassed – Formula 1. They were elegant brutes.

Sometimes they ran without much external competition. Still, they could hold the attention for however long they were on the track and as long into the race as whatever television network was broadcasting the races offered up.

And so it went until a year ago. After the 2017 season, powerhouses Porsche and Audi pulled out their LMP1 hybrids. That left Toyota as the only factory-backed LMP1 operation. The TS050 hybrids were/are terrific to watch but the sport slipped to a point to where it was a bit like watching a waltz for one person.

During last weekend’s running of Le Mans, word spread that the LMP1 class would disappear from the WEC beginning with the 2020-2021 racing season. Something called the Hypercar class will occupy the top rung of the road racing ladder.

Toyota TS050 Hybrids have won the last two Le Mans 24-hour races.

The reason is money, of course. The Hypercars will be cheaper to race and FIA hopes that will mean more competitors. The cars themselves apparently will be designed to resemble their street car versions and the secondary hope appears to be that that will induce more fan identification with the vehicles.

The new cars are said to good looking, powerful, fast and cost a quarter of an LMP1 car. They could indeed increase fan interest in sports car racing.

But will they have the panache for the purists?

As far as identifying with the new cars, fans whose rooting interests are based on the racing versions of their street marques have had/will continue have the GT classes.

Several manufacturers have committed to field Hypercars, including Toyota and Aston Martin. However, some manufacturers are reportedly outta here after the 2019 season ends.

One thing for sure, many fans will miss the eras of factory-backed machinery at the top level of sports car racing.

They were cars that carried the badges of the world’s top automakers. In their respective days, they inspired. They awed. And they excited.

And they have left the paddock.

Sports car romantics all have their favorite past prototypes. The following are lists of RacinToday.com’s sports car racing reporters all-time favorite prototype machines.

Jim Pedley:

  1. The Porsche 962 C.
  2. The Prosche 917 K.
  3. The Jaguar XJR-9LM
  4. The Audi R18 Etron Quattro
  5. The Porsche 919 Hybrid
  6. The Bentley Speed 8
  7. The Porsche 956

Jonathan Ingram:

  1. The Bentley Speed 8
  2. The Porsche 917 K
  3. The Porsche 956
  4. The Jaguar XJR 9 LM
  5. The Peugeot 905
  6. The Audi R8
  7. The Porsche 908 HDI
  8. The Porsch 919 Hybrid

John Sturbin:

1. Porsche 962C
2. Porsche 919 Hybrid
3. Audi R8
4. Team Sauber C9 Mercedes
5. Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050
6. Silk Cut Jaguar
7. Peugeot 905 Evo 1B
8. Porsche 917

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 18 2019
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