World Sportscar Championship
The championship evolved from a small collection of the most important Sportscar racing, Endurance racing and road racing events in Europe and North America with dozens of gentleman drivers at the grid, to a professional racing series where the world's largest automakers spent millions of dollars per year. Its name also changed throughout the years, becoming the World Championship for Makes in the 1970s, and the World Endurance Championship or World Sports Prototype Championship in the 1980s, but the championship has generally been known as the World Sportscar Championship since its inception in 1953.
Among others, the following races counted towards the championships in certain years:
- Mille Miglia 1953-1957
- Carrera Panamericana 1953-1954
- Targa Florio 1955-1973
- 24 Hours of Le Mans 1953-
- 24 Hours of Daytona 1967-
- 12 Hours of Sebring 1963-
- 1000km Nürburgring 1953-
- 1000km Monza
- 1000km Spa
In the first years, now legendary races such as the Mille Miglia, Carrera Panamericana and Targa Florio were part of the calendar, alongside the remaining 24 Hours of Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring. Manufacturers such as Ferrari, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Aston Martin fielded entries, many times employing professional racing drivers with experience in Formula 1, but the majority of the grids were filled up by gentleman drivers. Classes were split into GT (closed bodywork) and Sports (open bodywork), and were further divided by engine displacement.
In 1962, the calendar was expanded with smaller races, while the FIA attempted to shift the series' focus into GT cars, without success.
Starting from 1966, the S (5 L sports cars ) and P (3 L closed prototypes) classes were the most competitive, and cars such as the Ferrari 512S, Ferrari Prototypes, Ford GT40, Lola T70, Chaparral, Alfa Romeo 33, Porsche 906, Porsche 908, Porsche 917 and Shelby Cobra battled for supremacy on classic circuits such as Sebring, Nürburgring, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza, Targa Florio and Le Mans, in what is now considered the Golden Age of sports car racing.
In 1972, prototypes were limited to 3.0 L engines by the FIA (a move that some cynics believed was made to benefit the French Matra team), and manufacturers gradually lost interest. The remaining prototypes (Lola and Chevron Cars chassis mated to Ford and BMW F2-spec engines entered by private teams) were switched to the short-lived European Sportscar Championship (which ran for one season in 1978), and the World Championship for Makes was geared towards Group 5 and Group 4 GT cars. It was during this period, from 1977 to 1981, that the nearly-invincible Porsche 935 and its evolutions dominated international endurance racing. Prototypes returned, but were usually unable to counter the sea of Porsche 935s and the works Lancia Beta Montecarlo.
1980s and 1990s
In 1981, the FIA instituted a drivers championship. In 1982, the FIA attempted to counter the horse power climb by introducing new a regulation called Group C, a class for closed prototypes that limited fuel consumption. While this meant that cars needed to conserve fuel early in the race, manufacturer sport for the new regulations was immense, which each make adding to the diversity of the series. With the new rules, it was theoretically possible for small normally aspirated engines to compete with large forced induction engines. In addition, most races ran for either 500 or 1000 Km, usually going over three and six hours, respectively, so it was possible to emphasize the "endurance" aspect of the competition as well. Group B cars, which was a GT class, were also allowed to race, but entries in this class were sparse, and Group B cars disappeared from the series, with sports-prototypes dominating the championship.
Porsche was the first constructor to join the series, with the 956, but soon several other makes joined the series, including Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda and Aston Martin. As costs increased, a C2 class (originally named C Junior) was created for privateer teams and small manufacturers, with more limits to fuel consumption. Most cars used either the BMW M1 engine or the new Cosworth DFL, but, like in the main class, a variety of solutions was employed by each individual manufacturer. Alba, Tiga, Spice and Ecurie Ecosse were among the most competitive in this class.
Although the Group C formula was a success the FIA introduced new rules for the 1991 World Sportscar Championship which meant a new type of sports-prototype; 750Kg machines with contemporary F1-type engines, which were purpose-built high-revving 3500cc normally aspirated racing units. Although power was generally less than most Group C cars (around 650Bhp compared to around 750Bhp upwards) these type of cars are considered to be the quickest type of sportscar ever, with lap times equivalent to contemporary F1 cars. However, the take up of these new regulations was not popular so the new rules did not take full effect until the 1992 season which featured only a handful of cars built to the new regulations.
These engines were benefitted in expense of the more free regulations, and this soon lead to the quick downfall of the World Sportscar Championship, as Ford (through Jaguar), Mercedes and Peugeot elected to either concentrate on or move to F1. The F1 engines were unaffordable for teams like Spice and ADA. A lack of entries meant the 1993 season was cancelled before the start of the first race.
This vacuum in sports car racing was taken up by the BPR Global GT Series in 1994, which also signaled the return of GT cars after an absence of one decade. The success of the series lead to a friendly takeover by the FIA in 1997, becoming the FIA GT Championship. Prototypes were mainly absent from European tracks (Le Mans being the sole notable exception) until 1997, with the creation of the International Sports Racing Series, which eventually morphed into the short-lived FIA Sportscar Championship. The FIA now maintains GT and prototype racing separate, these cars running together only on ACO-sanctioned events.