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Introduction to Sportscar Racing and Le Mans (page 1 of 2)

This article is intended to inform motorracing fans that almost solely put their interest in Formula 1, but also lovers of progressive technology can gain inspiration here. It will be pointed out that there are other racing disciplines, which are equally appealing and worth following. The history of sportscar racing described in these pages will also be of interest for those who want to learn more about its history.

note: this article is written from a Dutch point of view, but nevertheless it can also be very interesting for racing fans from other nationalities!

Formula 1: yeah, it's logical that anyone interested in motorracing is familiar with F1, because media attention is obvisiously drawn mostly to the Royal Class of motorsport. This also means that other motorsport disciplines generally will be staying in the dark zone. It's quite obvious this not being in the interest of racing lovers.
Broad media attention regarding Formula 1 is nice of course, but the sole benefit for the fans is viewing F1 events on TV (nowadays more and more restricted to payed-for broadcasting). Watching F1 events in reality isn't an option for most fans because of the high costs involved. Just three decades ago this was quite different: in the eighties of the last century, when the Netherlands was still able to organize a F1 GP, an average race lover still could afford buying a ticket giving access to the circuit surroundings. Alas this has become virtually impossible due to the disappearance of F1 from the Netherlands since 1985.

Time is running out!

Why and what then? you may ask. Now, perhaps you realize (e.g. by reading reports in the news) that the whole existing system of mobility, and particularly private cars with combustion engine (plus everything belonging to it, such as car factories, dealerships, gas stations and supply industry) has become in a transition state. Private mobility will from now on become more dedicated to alternative energies. The signs indicate that this transition might well go quite quickly (for example, due to the climate agreement of Paris in 2015; in Norway, even though a law has been accepted for a ban on sales of cars with a combustion engine from 2030).

Now it may have become clear to you what is meant here by 'time is running out ': the end of the era of cars powered by petrol/diesel engines is near! (when nowadays in this context reference is made to the past 20th century, already the phrase 'The Petrol Age' is mentioned). What does this mean for the motorsports enthusiast? In short: if you want to enjoy the fantastic sound (click below) of multi-cylinder racing engines (This sound was from the Japanese JLOC Lamborghini Murcielago competing at Le Mans in 2006)

you must ensure to be with them live the next time! Major manufacturers like Audi and Jaguar have already committed to the Formula-E in 2016, and more will follow quickly; if you like the sound and realize that this sensation will finish in not too long time, be aware that time is really tight, because whisper-racing is already here!

Possibilities and costs

It is a pity to be said, but one can argue that the Dutch autosport fan who wants to visit high level international racing events, will have to go abroad. Regarding Formula 1, the belgian GP will be the first event to consider. It's a great pity however that as a result of Mr. Ecclestone's excertions the entrance fees in comparison by the 1980's have risen by more than 1000 percent. The price of a general ticket at the time being about 60 dutch guilders (approx. 22 Pounds), at present the fee is 240 Pounds or more! It must be noted however that Ecclestone has provided Formula 1 a fenomenal boost, allowing for lucrative sponsor contracts. More's the pity the fan's accessibility to interesting places has suffered as well (impossible nowadays, the years preceding 1985 the cars and the drivers were accessible by the public to some extent; pictures elsewhere on this site do account for this statement).


Apart from the wealthy, does this deprive us from possibilities enjoying live motorracing in international grand manner? Certainly not, although (as noted before) one has to travel abroad. At a fair distance from our country one can enjoy viewing high level motorsports, including the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM) and the German Formula 3 Championship.
For the sake of surveyability and regarding the fact that the internet can provide ample information about the mentioned racing disciplines, the remainder of this article will solely cover sportscar racing.

In contrary of what many people may think, this autosport branch is the oldest: while Formula 1 dates back only to 1950, sportscar races already got organised at the end 19th century. Naturally the sportscars of the day were not recognizable as easy as present ones, but on principle every racecar featuring two seats and mudguards is regarded a sportscar.
Sportscar racing has a long and exciting history: in the beginning of the 20th century it's center of gravity was situated in France. Races were organized from town to town using public roads. While this inevitably caused a number of victims amongst competitors and spectators, the French government decided to ban road races.

Le Mans

In the French town of Le Mans, which at the time already possessed a full-fledged car industry (just search 'Amédée Bollée'), the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), catched the idea of organizing an international racing event north of the town on secured roads. In 1906 it went ahead; under approval of local authorities the world's first Grand Prix took off. Essentially it was a kind of endurance trial lasting two days (stopping each day before dark). Each day the competitors had to lap the 64 miles long triangular track six times (thus covering a total of 12 laps = 768 miles). The track consisted at many places of oil sprayed sand/gravel (so, a precursor of the present asphalt), while temporary passthroughs were paved by wooden planking. Considering the length (time) and the hard struggle during the race, one can argue that endurance racing must have been invented then. In the end the race was won by the Hungarian born Ferenc Szisz driving a Renault.

Giving an impression of the cars taking part in the event, a picture showing a contemporary Renault racer is placed below. The photograph has been taken by the author in 2006 when watching a glorious tour of museum cars on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first Grand Prix at Le Mans.


1906 Renault

A new idea

Afterwards the emerging nationalistic mindsetting in Europe took an increasing grasp on international racing events, ultimately leading to claiming a Grand Prix by other countries. That was the way it went and in 1907 the 'Kaiserpreis' was held in Germany (winner: Felice Nazarro driving a FIAT). As a result the Automobile Club de l'Ouest had almost no chance left in organizing major motorsports events. Hence the ACO thought over matter and a marvellous idea emerged: an exhausting trial without interruption over 24 hours should be organized!

This meant good news for carbuilders; one has to consider that at the time the cars were far from perfect. Apart from the skill to drive his (or her) car along bumpy mostly unpaved roads, a car owner had to be in possession of technical skills as well, because at certain intervals several moving parts had to be lubricated and often on-the-fly repairs had to be carried out. A severe test that lasted 24 hours would offer a nice opportunity in obtaining better quality and stamina of their products.


Affiche announcing the first 24 hours race in Le Mans

It was not until 1923 however, that the first 24 hours race could be held at Le Mans. At last the long preparation time did pay off, leading to near perfect regulations; it was obligatory for instance to have a spare tyre on board (not unwise, regarding the almost eleven miles lenght of the circuit, which was now situated east of the town). A well considered measure put in place in the 1920's was the obligation of hoods-up starting. As the competitors had to stop shortly after starting, just for lowering the hoods (in order to minimize drag), this surprisingly fast led to the design of sophisticated hood mechanisms. Other fine developments of which the pampered present-day motorist hardly has notion include the perfection of windscreen wipers and the development of disc brakes.

The first use of a rudimentary kind of asphalt was previously mentioned, therefore, the fact that the first application of the familiar white stripe in the middle of the road took place just at the Sarthe circuit needs no surprising. The worldwide usage of these inventions is showing the ultimate proof of benefit with regard to this legendary race.


1923 Chenard & Walcker team

The first 24 hours race was won in 1923 by the Frenchmen Lagache and Leonard, driving a Chenard & Walcker Sport (#9 far left on the picture above). With competitors from a.o. Italy and Great Britain this first event wasn't a typical French festivity after all. Competitors nowadays not only come from Europe, but from Japan, the United States of America and further abroad as well. Through the years the event went through several ups and downs, one of the ups being the participation of the British team Bentley. The six so called 'Bentley Boys' managed winning the 24 hours race four times in a row from 1927 till 1930 (picture below). These legendary successes, together with those of Jaguar and Aston Martin in the 1950's, even today still attract a lot of British competitors and spectators. Another 'up' was the Ford-Ferrari feud in the 1960's, ultimately won by Ford.


1930 Le Mans winning Bentley

The Le Mans 24 hour race remained a single organized event until 1953. That year it was incorporated in the newly formed FIA World Sportscar Championship (WSC). As a result the Le mans event was joined by other endurance races, such as the Nürburgring 1000 Km, the Sebring 12 hours, and the Daytona 24 hours (nowadays these races belong to the classics as well). It's still a pity that the Italian classic road race 'Mille Miglia' had to be banned in 1957 due to being too dangerous for spectators and competitors, followed for the same reason in the 1970's by the other Italian road race 'Targa Florio' which was held at Sicily.

Motorracing was extremely dangerous at that time because of lacking on elementary safety regulations. Organizers felt they were offering enough safety by piling up some haybales at dangerous corners, but spectators often stood right behind. It was inevitable that some bad day it all had to go wrong, which occurred during the 1955 Le Mans 24 hours race, when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes hit a slower competitor and hurled into the crowd, killing 84 spectators (worst accident in motorsport history).

This caused turmoil among European politics and some countries put a ban on motorsport (in Switserland even until june 2007). Also in France motorsport events were initially banned, but considering the unique role this country had played in developing the motorcar, it was decided keeping racing possible (they realized that besides offering entertainment, racing had infuence on future thriving of the car industry). Having learnt a precious lesson, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest started an extensive safety project, securing spectator areas in order to prevent such catastrophes once and for all. That way it proved possible to organize the 24 hours again in 1956.

Having become wise by the consequences of the terrible accident at Le Mans, the FIA and the organizers tried to rein in rates by imposing additional rules. As was attempted to reduce the weight/horsepower ratio of the vehicles by mandating among other things, a decent passenger seat, attending a boot with defined dimensions and take on board a fully functional spare wheel.
But all this had only a limited effect, that's why in the late 1960's, due to the technological advances (in particular with the prototype sportscars), a critical point had been reached regarding the relationship between speed and safety.

A rigorous decision by FIA

In 1962, the FIA decided that things had to be done differently: different car types (i.e. no single seaters) were divided into groups with sequential numbering 1 to 4. Sporting wise the layout was as follows:
- Group 1: normal cars
- Group 2: (for racing) improved cars
- Group 3: Grand Touring cars (GT)
- Group 4: Sportscars (other than prototypes)

It was striking that there was no category for prototypes included and that it also failed in the World Sportscar Championship (WSC) sanctioned by the FIA. As a result there was a lot of protest from the sportscar racing fans, because after all the prototypes were the icing on the cake in major races. Many organizers were afraid of declining visitor numbers and some (including the ACO) announced to boycott the
new format of the FIA.

The consequences

In retrospect it can be concluded that the FIA with this rigorous decision has caused a rift in the sportscar racing world, which could not be restored until 2012. From 1962 FIA went their own way with the European GT Championship. The ACO would cost what it costs reserve both prototypes and GT's for its 24 hour race, so they were forced to (re)establish their own technical regulations. Also American and Japanese organizers of sportscar races did not conform so tightly to the rules of the FIA from that moment.
Incidentally, (probably in order not to lose the connection with the flourishing prototype categories elsewhere) in 1968 the FIA again added classes for prototypes to the groups classification (Group 6: Sports Prototypes and Group 7: Two Seater Racing Cars).

The FIA, however, then had no more grip on the regulations which organizers as ACO in Europe, IMSA in America and JSPC in Japan had issued. However, since said organizers realized that this situation in the long run would not be tenable for sportscar manufacturers (most of which use their racing cars in multiple championships worldwide), they adapted their rules gradually more and more towards the FIA regulations, particularly regarding the technical section (Appendix J).

1982: a revised FIA groups layout

Due to the fact that the race speeds were increased at the end of the 1970s to such an extend that safety could not be maintained without rigorous (and presumably very costly) adjustments to the circuits, the FIA found it necessary to check the rules (and hence groups formats) and modify them extensively. This was partly inspired by the fact that 'smart' Sports Prototype producers had 'misused' the in 1968 added group 5 (Special Touring Cars) to produce disguised prototypes (e.g. the Ferrari 512 BBLM, see picture below).


Ferrari 512 BBLM 'Silhouette car'

In the newly introduced grouping vehicle types were clarified. To accentuate the difference from the previous classification groups were now designated by letters. For Sportscar Racing the groups B (GT) and C (Sports Prototypes) were important. Group C, in fact, consisted of the former groups 5 and 6. The former 'Special Touringcars' from Group 5 disguised as prototypes were therefore now accepted, albeit under revised technical regulations (another name for these prototypes was 'Silhouette cars'). Later more on Group C.

Sportscar racing in America

In Great Britain, where they were encamped during Worldwar II, many American soldiers had fallen in love with the cranky little sportscars like the MG Midget. At home after the war many spent their pay at importing the cars they liked so much. Inevitably some would compare speed, and this is where the Sportscar Club of America (SCCA) has its origins.

Thanks to the SCCA sportscar racing became popular in the United States. In the mid sixties the Can-Am Championship emerged. As the name states, the series was contested on circuits in the USA and Canada. The championship was very appealing, in particular due to the (nearly) lack of regulations (hence leading to very big and powerful engines) and not in the least because of the abundant prizemoney.

The lean regulations rapidly led to innovations in technical and aerodynamic areas; the Chaparral 2A for instance, already in 1965 featured a chassis partially made of glassfiber reinforced polyester (in fact a forerunner of the modern monocoque chassis made of carbonfiber). Who might think that the downforce increasing wings were invented in Formula 1, got it wrong: although as early as 1956 (during the 1000 km sportscar race at the Nürburgring) was experimented with a wing on a Porsche Spyder, it nevertheless was the Can-Am Chaparral 2C geting the honor of being the first race car in the world which successfully applied an adjustable wing during a race. This wing was mounted on two uprights at the rear of the car (today still common).

All this naturally attracted many European drivers and car manufacturers. Can-Am was flourishing in the late sixties/early seventies and its glory reached far across American borders. After the 1973 oilcrisis however, it became increasingly difficult to keep the gas guzzling monsters racing. Some of the (blown) engines at that time had reached a power output of 1500 bhp, not equalled by any other sportscar even today. Inevitably the organizers had to adjust the regulations in favor of less powerful engines. Another reason for adjusting was to prevent dominating the series by certain makes. These changes together with steeply rising costs caused participants to lose interest. In 1980 the Can-Am series ceased.


1973 Can-Am race

Some of the redundant cars were then still deployed in Europe in the "InterSeries' (derived from the Scandinavian 'Nordic Challenge Cup'). It is not surprising that the former Porsche Can-Am car in the hands of Finnish driver Leo Kinnunen controlled the InterSeries for three consecutive years. Nowadays, in the context of the historical events, there is still being raced with ex Can-Am cars. A number of European enthusiasts led by the German Peter Schleifer have united for this purpose in the Canadian-American-Challenge-Cup. An impression of this can be found at RetroRace: click here for a report of a Can-Am Challenge Cup event at the Nürburgring in the context of the ADAC Eifelrennen 2012.

The emergence of IMSA

Did exist in the USA during Can-Am's heydays no employment for FIA regulated WSC sportscars anymore? Luckily there was, and besides that sportscar racing had reached a true professional level, urging the demand for a special tailored organisation that could lead this motorsport branch. In 1971 the 'International Motor Sports Association' (IMSA) was established by initiative of some prominent SCCA members with backing of NASCAR (the organizer of the American Stockcar races). IMSA conformed its classes to the group assignment of world motorsport authority FIA and in 1973 became officially recognized. In the same year the IMSA GT Championship was launched, which incorporated the 12 hours of Sebring as a WSC eligible event. The GT Championship thrived well and in 1981 the series was expanded with the 'Grand Touring Prototype' (GTP) class. Soon however the GTP class got overwhelmed by group C sportscars of Asiatic and European origins (most successful car was the Porsche 962). This was clearly not what the IMSA organisation aimed for.


a GTP Nissan

End of the World Sportscar Championship

At the same time sportscar racing in Europe had equal experience; years on a row Porsche had dominated the Le mans 24 hour race. In 1984 the storm came to a burst: ACO as well as IMSA introduced new regulations which banned the successful GTP and Le Mans prototypes of previous years. In particular Porsche was hit by these changes as they had invested heavily in IMSA and Le Mans prototypes. As a result Porsche dicided to boycot both IMSA and ACO organized events and so did a few other manufacturers. Soon afterwards it turned out that WSC proved not to be viable without participation of the big carmakers and the championschip (which dated back to 1953) came to an end.

By then the wellknown classic endurance races (Le Mans, Sebring and Daytona) had reached worldwide recognition, which enabled them to survive solely. The absence of the big companies enabled private teams to prosper a few years (French driver/constructor Jean Rondeau winning the 1985 Le Mans 24 hours race in a car bearing his name), in 1987 however the great marques were back on the scene.

Crisis and salvation

As a result of a split in the IMSA board at the end of the eighties, conflict arose between the organizers of the American endurance classics Sebring and Daytona, throwing sportscar racing in the USA in deep crisis for several years. While the organization of the 12 Hours of Sebring remained in the hands of IMSA/SCCA, the organization of the Daytona 24 hour race was taken over by the NASCAR affiliated Grand-Am organization.

The troubled bodies kept soldiering on considerable time with new series that they had devised (USRRC by IMSA and Trans-Am by Grand-Am). Although sometimes European drivers and manufacturers joined the competition, the series were lacking real international flavor. To make matters worse the Grand-Am organization proclaimed that prototypes at the 24 Hours of Daytona would only be allowed according to its own Grand-Am specifications (with cost savings as an official argument). This gave rise to the so-called 'Daytona prototypes' (DP's), which did not comply to the ACO regulations (and therefore were not allowed to start at Le Mans). Clearly this didn't facilitate the international standing of sportscar racing.

American Le Mans Series

Ultimately Don Panoz, a manufacturer of nicotine-pads, brought salvation to the ailing American sportscar racing scene in 1999. Don was an autoracing adept and he already had established a small sportscar factory bearing his surname. He also had aquired the Road Atlanta circuit in the state of Georgia. Co-operating with IMSA he took the initiative in grounding the American Le Mans Series (ALMS). As the name suggest ALMS regulations were based on those of the Le Mans 24 hours race (thus providing a new approach to Europe and the ACO).

After the turn of the century the ALMS (partly by the official factory participation of European manufacturers like Audi, Porsche and BMW) developed into the most important sportscar racing series in the western hemisphere. Best known ALMS events featuring international participation were the Sebring 12 hours race and 'Petit Le Mans', a six hours race held on the above mentioned Road Atlanta circuit. The Daytona 24 hours race on the other hand, stayed a classic on its own (as part of the Grand-Am series).

An unexpected fusion

What no one expected, became reality in 2012: The two organizations buried the hatchet and decided to join forces in a new organization: United SportsCar Racing (USCR). The USCR has created a new American sportscar championship: the United SportsCar Championship (USCC). The USCR pushed together the existing classes of both organizations and issued new regulations for USCC. Unfortunately the previously in the ALMS present LMP1 class (the world's premier league in sportscar racing, see below) was ruled out, thus leaving American participation in this class nearly impossible in the World Championship. The USCC was launched in 2014 with the first race being the 24 Hours of Daytona. Luckily the classics Sebring and Petit Le Mans are still incorporated in the United Sportscar Championship.
As many already suspected at the beginning of the USCC, during the second half of the 2010-'20 decade it appeared that the Grand-Am section within the USCR organization would prevail. Officially however, the USCC is managed by IMSA.

American races can be very interesting for fans to watch, not only because of the competitive atmosphere, but also because of the fact that manufacturers often first try-out new GTs and prototypes there before entering them elsewhere.
Unfortunately sportscar races in the U.S. are mostly not to be seen live on TV in Europe, but if you are lucky maybe a live stream over the internet can be viewed (streams can often be found on the USCC website or on an internet forum like 10Tenths). Furthermore, depending on the outcome of broadcast rights negotiations, the digital (pay)channel MotorsTV sometimes does broadcast reviews of ALMS and Grand-Am races. Click here for info.

European developments

When in the late 1970's sportscar racing worldwide was in difficulties, Formula 1 tycoon Bernie Ecclestone thought it was high time to commercially exploit sportscar racing, just as he had done with Formula 1. By nature of his tight connections with the FIA, this proved no problem with the FIA GT championship (never really materializing however).
When Ecclestone presented his proposals to the ACO, they dicided not to coöperate. Mr. Ecclestone was furious and he threathened to destroy the 24 hours race. In order to sharpen the threat he revamped the Procar series (which had started in 1979) in conjunction with the German manufacturer BMW. The goal was to attract the Le Mans going public by organizing events to be held in advance of F1 races. Wellknown F1 drivers would compete the series driving equally powered BMW M1 sportscars.

BMW M1 Procar

BMW M1 Procar

Eventually Procar did not succeed and after two years Ecclestone and BMW were forced to sell the series to Alfa Romeo, whose regime provided a silent death for Procar. The people at ACO were relieved; at last the future of the 24 hours race was secured and organisation remained in own hands. ACO's steadfastness eventually meant there was no need for rising the ticket prices, which is reflected today when comparing sportscar racing and F1 admission fees.

After several lean years in the GT races sanctioned by FIA, GT racing was revived in 1994 with the help of gentlemen Jürgen Barth, Patrick Peter and Stéphane Ratel. They succeeded in organising the so called 'BPR Global GT Series', B- P-R resembling the first letters in the surnames of above-mentioned men. The BPR series in 1997 first evolved into the FIA GT Championships (until 2013) and then into the present-day Blancpain Endurance & Sprint Series. Competitors in this championship are solely Grand Tourismo (GT) cars, homologated by the FIA (prototype cars are not allowed).

Group C: the 'Golden Age' of sportscar racing

Reality can be paradoxal at times, but fact is that the difficult period described in the previous paragraph did coincide with a legendary era: the Group C one. Eyes of the real sportscar racing lover will begin twinkling when hearing this expression. Mid 1970's motorsport authority FIA recognized that due to the increasing proliferation of racing classes more rigid and clear classification was needed. A new groups division was devised for all non-monoposto racecars, indicating the groups (classes) by letters: group A: salooncars, group B: GT cars, group C: sportscar prototypes.

Pushed by the 1973 oilcrisis the FIA smartly did not limit engine capacity, but instead put a limit on both tank capacity and the number of tankstops (max. 5 times for 1000Km). Thus the designers of sportscars were forced to develop an engine having restricted cylinder capacity (in order to limit fuel consumption) but capable enough to beat other competitors. In the early seventies some manufacturers had started experimenting with the application of exhaust gas driven compressors (called turbo's). Despite the fact that engine capacity for turbo driven engines was allowed half the size of atmosferic feeded engines, it soon turned out that by application of turbo compressors an enormous boost of power could be achieved. Fuel comsumption could surprisingly be kept in range with needs. In the beginning reliability was bad and drivers had to adjust to the so called 'turbo-lag' (which meant that when putting down the throttle the engine at first would react quite normal, but then all of a sudden a enormous powerboost occurred).

Despite these drawbacks however, Porsche in 1974 managed to reach second place at Le Mans with a turbo driven Carrera 911. Few years later the same development took place in Formula 1 (Renault was the first to recognize the advantage of turbo driven engines in this field). In reverse new developments from Formula 1 spilled over to sportscar racing in the early 1980's: amongst them were chassis made of carbon fiber (lighter and more safe than chassis made of aluminium) and the application of 'groundeffect' (invented by the genius Colin Chapman, CEO of the Lotus F1 team at the time). Application of groundeffect is achieved by shaping the car's bottom like an upside-down airial wing, causing fast passing air under the car to rarefy, thus creating downforce. The extent of effectiviness of this principle is shown in the picture below, which is taken at the Porsche museum in Stuttgart: the line up suggests that at racepace the Porsche 956 could easily be driven against the ceiling.


Porsche 956 topdown

These technical highlights were showing the zenith of group C; like occurring earlier in sportscar racing's history, once more the pinnacle of a cyclic evolution was reached and it simply became too expensive developing technique to further extent. Meanwhile Group C had grown immensely popular by the public (spectator numbers rivalling those of Formula 1), but ultimately only one make was dominating (Porsche). While dominance can be a threat to a sport's future, FIA and ACO had to take radical measures in the sport's interest. Once again regulations were changed by banning the turbo driven engines, thus ending the Group C era in 1994 (in Formula 1 the turbo era already had ended in 1988).

Group C's dismiss also caused FIA and ACO to separate again, albeit not in state of war. In coöperation with broadcasting company Eurosport FIA revamped its GT series, tailoring its regulations accordingly. The ACO introduced new independent regulations for the 24 hour race (however closely following FIA's rules about safety). Independance worked out well, resulting in recognition of the annual Le Mans 24 hour race being world's most important sportscar racing event. In addition, the regulations of the ACO were generally respected and often chosen as basis for local regulations.

More races according to the 'Le Mans' concept

In order to enable teams which solely are fielding prototypes to take part in more events (FIA GT doesn't allow prototypes), the ACO in 2006 took initiative in establishing the 'Le Mans Series' (LMS) in Europe. In 2009 the Le Mans Series consisted of 5 events lasting 6 hours (or 1000Km) each, allowing all classes to take part according to the then valid ACO regulations. Flourishing of LMS can be told from the fact that effort was made organising similar series in Asia (Asian Le Mans series). The first race of that series on the Asian continent took place in 2009 at the Okayama circuit in Japan. In 2010, however, the race had to be canceled due to the rampant effects of the credit crisis.

Meanwhile, the ACO took the initiative to develop the 'Le Mans' concept further internationally; in 2011 she developed a newly introduced series, called the 'Intercontinental Le Mans Cup' (ILMC). The ILMC was held on three continents (Europe, America and Asia) and it included the 24 hour race at Le Mans as well as selected LMS and ALMS races. The ILMC, however, would prove to be an interim pope because it was in effect for only one year.

Revival of the World Championship

In fact, the ILMC was the prelude to the present 'World Endurance Championship' (WEC). The WEC is a combined initiative of the FIA and the ACO and thus, in a sense, the World Sportscar Championship (WSC) of yesteryear was revived. The start of the championship in 2012 was a good basis for sportscar racing to increase in importance again internationally (don't forget to visit the FIA/WEC website).

In order to accentuate the differentiation from the WEC, from 2012 the existing Le Mans Series (LMS) has been renamed 'European Le Mans Series' (ELMS). Furthermore the class format of the ELMS was adjusted (see 'Sportscar classes' further below).
Despite the economic downturn, the ACO managed to put the 'Asian Le Mans Series'  (ASLMS) definitively on the map in cooperation with the organizers of the ELMS and the Japanese Super GT championship. The regulations are largely similar to those of the ELMS. In 2013 the Asian Le Mans Series was already featuring four races in four Asian countries: South Korea, China, Japan and Malaysia.

Endurance Classics:

Sportscar racing knows like Formula 1 (Monaco, Spa) some races which are on the calendar almost every year since a long time; these Endurance classics are:

  • France since 1923, the Le Mans 24 Hours race (the ultimate classic)

  • Belgium since 1924, the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours race (for GT and fast salooncars only)

  • US (Florida) since 1951, the Sebring 12 Hours race

  • Germany since 1953, the Nürburgring 1000 Km race (nowadays also called the 6 Hours of the Nürburgring)

  • US (Florida) since 1966, the Daytona 24 Hours race

At present the European based classics are organized by FIA/WEC (except the Spa-Francorchamps 24 Hours, which is organized by Blancpain Endurance Series), while the US counterparts are organized by IMSA.

Summing up the current sportscar racing landscape:
(series without a dedicated website are not clickable, but info can be found on the web using a search engine)



North America:

South America:



Australia/New Zealand:

So far history of sportscar racing and a concise overview of contemporary sportscar racing activities worldwide.
To comprehend the current practice of endurance racing, one can further delve into a number of additional topics (including tips for visiting events). See next page.

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