We take a look at the best race cars ever to peel out of the pitlane
There’s an old saying in motorsport: ‘win it on Sunday, sell it on Monday’. It might be slightly outdated nowadays, however the point remains that success on the track breeds success on the forecourt. Over the years practically all of the world's top manufacturers have attempted to cut their teeth on the track, some with more success than others. Sifting through the history books, we’ve picked out ten of the most significant race cars to ever take the chequered flag.
The Ford GT40’s success at Le Mans is etched in the history books. The car took four back-to-back wins at the famed endurance event between 1966–1969, however it’s the motive behind those wins that impresses most. In 1963 Henry Ford II began months of negotiating with Enzo Ferrari to buy the Italian marque, only for Ferrari to pull the plug on the deal at the eleventh hour. Enraged, Ford ordered his racing division to build a car capable of destroying Ferrari at Le Mans. With a Lola chassis and a 4.7-litre Ford V8, Henry’s wish was granted, as his team dominated Le Mans four years in a row, wounding the Prancing Horse. See Ford GT40 classifeds
Audi R8 (LMP)
The Audi R8 is by far and away the most successful post-millennium race car, with a staggering five wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours between 2000–2006. In-fact the only time the R8 lost the race in that period was 2003, when with the support of Audi Sport UK and Team Joest (the team that campaigned the R8 either side of that year), the Bentley Speed 8 took the overall honours. Besides 2003, the R8 was the yardstick in LMP1 competition, a car so quick it had to be constantly pegged back by the authorities, who regularly reduced the power output of the 3.6-litre V8 across the annual sports car season. The R8 also helped ‘Mr.Le Mans’ Tom Kristensen on his way to five out of his nine career victories at Le Sarthe. Following its retirement at the end of 2006, the R8 logo adorned Audi’s first road-going supercar, which has since become one of the greatest in modern history. See Audi R8 classifieds
Ferrari 250 GTO
Besides being the world’s most expensive car, the Ferrari 250 GTO was also one of the greatest on the track. It was born in comical fashion; FIA regulations stipulated that at least 100 examples of any car wishing to be homologated for Grand Touring Car Racing had to exist, thus Ferrari named 250 GTO chassis’ sporadically, as to suggest cars that didn’t actually exist. It went on to win the International Championship for GT Manufacturers three years in a row, and was the last to do so at the top-level of sports car racing with a front-mounted engine. Beautiful, successful and exclusive, the 250 GTO has earned the reputation it revels in today. See Ferrari 250 classifieds
The creator of the original Austin Mini never intended the car to be anything other than a car for the people, however by the end of the ‘60s the car had evolved into a world-beating race car. In the hands of Paddy Hopkirk it won the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964, 1965 and 1967, and were it not for a harsh disqualification owing to an illegal headlamp, it would have swept the podium in 1966 too. The Cooper also rustled up a BTCC title in 1962, and remains only one of a few cars to taste success both on the circuit and through the trees. See Mini Cooper classifieds
Audi Quattro A1 (Group B)
No car in the history of motorsport deserves the title of ‘game-changer’ quite like the Audi Quattro. In a nutshell, it introduced four-wheel drive to the World Rally Championship, a simple yet essential technology that has stayed ever since. Mind you, the system’s introduction to the WRC wasn’t without issue. For example, the drivetrain used by Audi was understandably a lot heavier than rear-drive counter-parts, and like with any new sporting innovation, it caused a few headaches when fresh. That said, it helped Hannu Mikkola win the title in 1983, before Stig Blomqvist gave Audi back-to-back titles in 1984. By 1984 the competition had caught up, and WRC was ridden with all-wheel drive up and down the service park - all because of the Quattro. See Audi Quattro classifieds
Lancia Delta Integrale
The Lancia Delta helped rubber stamp the marque as the finest rallying manufacturer in the world. Introduced after the death of Group B rallying, the Integrale helped take Lancia into rallying’s brave new era, and with massive success. It won six consecutive titles from its debut season in 1987 up until 1992, seeing off the likes of Toyota, Ford, and Mitsubishi in the process. Besides sporting success, the Delta also remain core to one of the most iconic liveries in motorsport, thanks to Martini sponsorship, and assured that even today the Delta Integrale is considered by many as the ultimate hot-hatch. See Lancia Delta classifieds
The Hudson Hornet was a cornerstone of NASCAR’s rise to prominence in the ‘50s, recording a scarcely believable 83 per cent win percentage in 1952 – its first season of racing. It took the fight to and beyond the V8-powered Cadillacs, Fords and Oldsmobiles of the period, at a time when stock car racing really was contested by stock cars. Its pièce de résistance was its handling, which allowed the Hornet to duck and dive, high and low around the ovals to victory, thanks to a low centre of gravity. Between 1952–1954, the Hornet took 67 wins from 108 NASCAR Grand National races. See Hudson classfieds
Nissan Skyline GT-R (R32)
Nicknamed ‘Godzilla’ due to its crushing performance and country of origin, the Nissan Skyline GT-R R32 is arguably the most devastating Touring car ever. Unleashed in the early ‘90s, the R32 dominated the 1991 Spa 24 Hours, took a trio of titles in the Australian Group A championship (1990–1992), and at home in Japan, crushed the All Japan Touring Car Championship to a mere one-make series, winning 29 races from 29 starts across for seasons. In many ways the R32’s on track success was what caused the Skyline name to shift from a mediocre Japanese sports saloon into the world-beating lustful cult hero both it and the later derived Nissan GT-R are today. See Nissan Skyline classifieds
BMW E30 M3
On the eve of the Touring Car-mad ‘90s, manufacturers around the world were producing cars not purpose-built for the road, but instead geared for the track, with just enough leeway to be considered ‘road cars’. The BMW E30 M3 was the best example of the Group A regulations globally, and the most successful, too. In Europe it was brutal, using its lowly sprung stance and 300bhp S14 2.3-litre engine to conquer the Italian, German, British, and French Touring car championships, whilst also taking the inaugural World Touring Car Championship in the hands of Roberto Ravaglia in ’87. Today it is considered by many as the classic sports saloon.
See BMW E30 M3 classifieds
It was the 956/962 combination that cemented Porsche’s position at the fore of sports car racing during a 12-year stint between 1982–1994. The 956 debuted in ’82 in adherence to the then-new Group C category and in the infamous Rothmans livery. A twin-turbo, air-cooled 2.6-litre flat-six, slippery body and F1-derived ground effect aerodynamics saw it win six consecutive races at Le Sarthe (the 962 winning the final three as a slightly safer updated version of the 956) between 1982–1987. Privateers bought the 962 in droves, filling prototype grids with the car around the world. Group C regulations were abolished for the 1991, but even then variations of the car continued to conquer in the form of GT1-regulated cars, and in 1994, 12 years after it made its debut, a modified-962 won Le Mans outright against the very best Toyota, Nissan or Porsche themselves could come up with in the post-Group C era. See Porsche classifieds
Chevrolet Corvette C5-R
Having lost out to the Dodge Viper in 2000, the Corvette C5-R returned for its second year of competition in 2001 targeting world domination, something it duly achieved. Having beaten prototypes to the overall victory at the 2001 Daytona 24 Hours, the factory-backed Pratt & Miller team took the C5-R to GT1 class victory at Le Mans, 34 laps ahead of their closest competitor, and the GT1 series title in the American Le Mans Championship. The cars remaining three years of competition saw it rack up 25 class victories and another two wins at Le Mans, overcoming the efforts of the Prodrive Ferrari squad in the process. Corvette replaced the crushing C5-R with the C6.R for 2005, as they looked to combat the forthcoming Aston Martin DBR9.
See Chevrolet Corvette classifieds
Words: Joe Diamond