The Legend of Group C Racing


I’ve taken a recent liking to Group C racing of the past.  The Sauber – Mercedes C9, C9 LM and C11 really impressed me initially.

Then I found the Porsche 962, 917, Aston Martin AMR1, Jaguar XJR-9 and all the way to of course the Mazda MXR-01 (modified from Jaguar).

This classic racing intrigued me because of just how brutal the cars were…and still are.

Top speeds of 240+ MPH, 10,000+ pounds of downforce at 200 MPH (I’m not kidding) and some of the most gorgeous designs and sounds.  That’s how I’d sum up Group C cars.

It made me wonder why this insane series of racing died.  The Group C races had nearly the same following as Formula One at the time and It lasted through the 80’s and 90’s, so I had to find out.

Why They Were Insane:

Group C cars had some insane stats, like I said before.   The fasted recorded Group C (WM- Peugeot) car traveled at 252 MPH down the Mulsanne straight at Le Mans during the qualifying laps in 1988.  Insane.

The general rule early on for Group C was one of fuel consumption.  Basically, the cars could have anything in terms of engine as long as it lasted through the specified distance within the number of fuel fill-ups.

That meant massive Mercedes V8’s, Jaguar V12’s and Mazda rotary engines.  It was nuts.

Power output ranged from 600 – 800 HP in most cases and that meant that with insanely low drag, 0-60 was done under 3 seconds.  Commonly around 2.5 seconds.  Which is just insane, even by today’s standards.  Imagine being catapulted that quickly and onto 240 MPH with 80’s standards of safety and 10,000 pounds of down force.

A Group C car actually holds the current, and unbeatable, Nurburgring track time of 6:11.  Six minutes and eleven seconds.

This was achieved by a Porsche 956 driven by Stefan Bellof in 1983.

The cars had low drag, low weight and massive power with little restriction.

That was a simple combination that made Group C some of the most insane racing ever.

One of the most insane cars was the Toyota TS010 which featured a 50-valve V10 engine that revved at 13,000 freakin’ RPM.  13,000.

The car cornered so hard with so much grip that one of the test drivers cracked two ribs.  That’s proper racing.

What Happened to Group C:

Group C racing began from when two separate groups came together to form it.  The series ran first on (fittingly) Le Mans and developed a lot of healthy competition and more importantly for the series, a lot of spectators.

After years of triumph and legendary cars, what happened?

Well in short, the FIA happened.  As it usually does.

A lot of Motorsport fans are upset with the FIA for many reasons as an organization, and killing off Group C is one of my personal grievances.

After many successful years of racing in Group C, FIA decided it needed some new regulations.

And everyone knows with more rules, comes less fun.

This isn’t just a tragedy of Group C, but when the group ended so did the entire World Sportscar Championship.

Even worse, is that the WSC has been running since 1953 before its unfortunate end in 1992.

The surface problem was that there just wasn’t enough cars running in the series to justify the next season.  A sad and cold kind of ending.

The regulation change made it so teams were forced to use Formula 1-spec engines (3.5 L) and use Formula 1 type bodies which made things insanely expensive to run.

That coupled with the fact that Formula obviously had more exposure, more money to be made and better viewership.  So the obvious choice was for teams to ditch series’ like Group C and the like for Formula One.

The aim to bring more manufactures to F1 which in the end totally worked.  Mercedes went in, Jaguar went in, Toyota went in but Mercedes was the only one to enjoy some true success.

The people who commissioned the change were the ones who benefited most, as they collected F1’s advertising and viewership cash.

There’s an argument that can be had that WSC needed some changes to keep it interesting for spectators.  There were a couple of manufactures that were leading races constantly and things got predictable which made for slightly more boring racing.

While changes were needed to some extent, I don’t think the whole thing was handled as smoothly as it could have been.  Clearly.  The whole thing died.

Sum It Up:

It’s just sad that the whole thing passed.  But it’s like they tell you at funerals: celebrate the life and be happy with the memories.

I still think it’s amazing that there was a time in the relatively distant past that we had race cars pushing 200 MPH in turns, top speeds of 250+ and 10,000 pounds of down force past 200 MPH.  Utterly insane.

I think that Group C and Can-Am hold special places in the Motorsport heart.  Both represented incredible competition and what can be done with low regulations and just the passion of racing.

With the way things are going with FIA, it’s hard to imagine anything like Group C being a thing again.  The current LMP1 cars are nuts in their own right, but not anywhere near as radical as Group C cars.

LMP cars, which effectively took the place of Group C and other classes of racing are really the last remnants of these past greats.

Great racing will always have various forms.  But they need to be properly taken care of before the FIA destroys them.   It’s a shame.

Luckily you can still watch classic racing from Group C unfold these days with the different car clubs and whatnot that head to circuits like SPA.  Enjoy the example below.



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