With a growing interest for the younger cars amongst the historic spectrum of what I would actually call “classics”, it appears that even if history and references are closer, the understanding of these is still chaotic and that is a concern so let’s try and get that straight. After reading countless and countless publications about the Grand Touring regulations of the early nineties, all the way to the introduction of the FIA-GT in 1997 and onwards, I feel like some stuff needs to be clarified.
First of all, let’s go back to 1994 and what many consider as the birth of the GT1 through the Dauer 962 LM. For the newbies, 1992 saw the World Sports Car Championship collapse, additional regulations had been worded for two years to slow down the most prolific car of that era, the Porsche 962C and although still eligible and well represented in 1992 or 1993 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the car was no match against the 3500cc cars that had been given the upper hand. On the other hand, 1993 also saw the reintroduction of production-based categories at Le Mans and Porsche saw an opportunity there in the ACO LM GT1 category. What needs to be understood here is that this was not an FIA set of regulations, it was specific to that competition.
That opportunity came through a very dedicated reading of the rules and application to the car rather than anything else. It was not a hidden parameter but rather obvious. The ACO LM GT1 regulations simply did not mandate any minimum production for the car to be recognized into the category. It simply required that there is a single equivalent road model homologated with all the requisite attributes such as luggage area and so on. Porsche teamed-up with Dauer Racing who had decided to convert the Porsche 962C to road specification to take back the upper hand at Le Mans the following year. As history shows they would run together with the Joest team, two Dauer 962 LM which were no other than disguised Porsche 962C with a slightly different aero package and flat bottom floor running on narrower tyres (14′) in the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours as a works effort.
Basically, this stands as the first of the GT1 specials. In fact, it was just a very straightforward reading of the regulations with no ambiguity or inadequacy in the set of rules. Porsche had just been clever and took full advantage of a third-party project. What they were clever for was how they saw that effort achieving its best in the race. The restrictors for the ACO LM GT1 category would have less impact on the performance (2x 37.1mm) of the car if considering the LMP class. Another benefit would also be the larger fuel tank capacity (120L for GT1 / 80L for LMP) and therefore less time spent in the pits and that is what made the car efficient, although slower than the LMP category cars in terms of overall speed, it was still way faster than its ACO LM GT1 counterparts and with efficiency being stretched over the LMP cars, they took the overall win and third step of the podium at that year Le Mans 24 Hours but it doesn’t stop there.
The Grand Touring regulations of Appendix J and FIA regulations had kept with the principle of minimum production and homologation principle all the way up to 1995 included with 25 cars as a minimum. As said, there were series all around the world with the European based BPR Organisation as well as the ACO LM GT1 category being the prominent and best known public showcase of these regulations, in fact, what is commonly forgotten is that they acted with supplementary regulations as we call them in the world of FIA and that is because those set of regulations act as a supplement to Appendix J. No strict compliance with the ruling body was mandated as none of these series or competitions was part of a World Championship. The trouble was so to say started by the ACO themselves in 1993 when they published the regulations but did not mandate a minimum production but only a single car to be either available for inspection or in the process to achieve so. It appears that they could not wait for the FIA Appendix J to be published…
Another example of the above was the fact that BPR did not allow for works entries in their series or production-minimum either as they allowed some specials every now and then to take part. A gentlemen agreement for the type of drivers they had relied on from the beginning and which was essentially based on privateers. Still and reading through the numerous entry listing of the time, you could see that it wasn’t the case in reality. McLaren and BMW had been supporting entries with the McLaren F1 GTR just like Porsche did as well as Ferrari. That is even clearer today when reading the numerous stories of the winning effort by the Lanzante run McLaren F1 GTR at the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was a plain and simple works car disguised as the Kokusai Aihatsu Racing entry.
The game changer came in 1996 with two elements. First through Porsche and its 911 GT1, as history only repeats itself, even if lightning is said not to strike twice at the same place, the Germans did it again. This time with a complete car, they would not just bring an old thing back and stage it within a category. The 911 GT1 bore very little resemblance with the back then-contemporary 993 other than a few cosmetic aspects and central part of the shell let’s just say. The mid-mounted 3.2L engine and aerodynamic work were all thought for competition first. They took the opposition by surprise as they actually built a racing car that could be homologated as a Grand Touring car should they wish to achieve so as the FIA had dropped the minimum production in their own text.
That car went on to score a podium finish and third step at the 1996 Le Mans 24 Hours while they would also register as the first-ever works entry in the BPR series and kill their opposition at Brands Hatch (GB), Spa-Francorchamps (BEL), and Zhuhai (CHN). This would forever change the category and having talked about it with one of the man in charge back then, Jürgen Barth who acted both as the B of BPR and Porsche, it was clear that they did not foresee the Pandora’s box that they had just opened with the R while the P was pretty much against it. What is not well known is the fact that Ferrari killed its F50 GT due to that exact car. The rest is history although and with the demise of the BPR at the end of 1996 and a switch to FIA GT for 1997 after Bernie and Max played their TV rights scam it is interesting to note that the FIA Appendix J regulations applicable from that year onward did not mandate a minimum of production to homologate the cars anymore…
What they did not foresee was the fact the manufacturers such as Porsche would expand their effort but that others would replicate it and that was mostly Mercedes-Benz with the CLK-GTR or McLaren with the 1997 evolution of the McLaren F1 GTR with the Long Tail version. It was no longer about Grand Touring but rather more about making a road compliant racing car by then. Also was the fact that with an almost manufacturer only entry list in 1997, the Championship costs spiraled through the roof and it was not to be for very long until it collapsed at the end of season 2 in 1998. Again, the promoter had been dodged and the FIA as well. I would say some were clever, in the end, and there was only really Formula One to play with, a narrow concept Bernie succeeded to put together from the early nineties as history shows.