Motorsport history has included some excellent racing cars produced by companies such as Porsche, Audi, and Ferrari. Greg Pittard, an entrepreneur, automotive expert, and NASCAR fan, shares his list of the sport’s top five performance racing cars. Here they are in reverse order.
The Ford GT40 makes the list because it successfully beat the Ferrari from 1966 to 1969 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, says Pittard. The GT in the name stands for Grand Touring, and the 40 for its height in inches.
The Audi R8C (C for coupe) first entered racing history in 1999 but didn’t fare well that year, says Pittard. However, Audi tried again in 2000, abandoning the coupe. Known simply as the R8, the car won the American Le Mans Series championship that year and for the next four years.
The Penske PC23 was very competitive on the Indianapolis 500 circuit in 1994. A member of the legendary Marlboro Team Penske, consisting of Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, and Al Unser Jr., won 12 of the season’s 16 races.
Nigel Bennett designed the car, based on the PC-22 from 1993. The car’s success occurred because it exploited a competition loophole and had a unique engine designed by Penske, Ilmor, and Mercedes-Benz, says Pittard. The engine was dubbed the 5001 and was a 3.4-liter single-turbo OHV V8. The Penske PC23 also won the Constructor’s Crown by 100 points that year and the Manufacturer’s Crown.
“Porsche has been a major competitor in motorsports throughout its history, and the 956 is part of that legacy, ” says Pittard.
Norbert Singer designed the Porsche 956 for the 1982 FIA World Sportscar championship. The Porsche 956 boasted a 2.65-liter flat-six engine that was turbocharged. Three factory-entered Porsche 956s won first, second, and third in its first start at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1982. In 1983, nine of the top 10 finishers at the race drove Porsche 956s. In 1983 its driver, Stefan Bellof, established a record at the Nürburgring Nordschleife that stood for 35 years, finishing in 6:11.13.
The 956 also had a similar follow-up, the 962, which also performed well. It won the World Sports Prototype Championship every year from 1982 to 1986.
“The McLaren-Honda MP4/4 is my choice for Number 2 because it had an almost perfect season in 1988, winning fifteen out of sixteen races,” says Greg Pittard. Drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna also finished the season with more than triple the points of their next closest competitor.
The car likely would have had a perfect season if it had not been for Prost’s engine popping and Senna crashing in the Italian Grand Prix,” says Pittard. “These events allowed two Ferrari drivers to finish first and second.”
Peter Stevens, Steve Nichols, Gordon Murray, and Osamu Goto designed the MP4/4, which had a RA 168-E 1.5 liter, twin-turbo V6. The design was based heavily on the 1986 Brabham-BMW BT55. It finished second in the Constructor’s Championship.
The Porsche 917 is legendary, says Pittard. It debuted at the Geneva Car Show in 1969. The car had a Type 912 flat-12 engine with a top speed of 225 mph and also won the LeMans in 1970 and 1971. In fact, Porsche 917s won seven of the 1970 season’s 10 World Sportscar Championship races and eight of the 11 races in 1971. It still holds the fastest lap at the Le Mans racing circuit today (3:13.6).
The car also was featured in the film “Le Mans.” That particular car later sold at auction for $14 million.
In 1972, the World Championship revised its rules and no longer allowed engines bigger than 3.0-liters, effectively eliminating the Porsche 917 from global competition. However, the open-top twin-turbocharged 917/10 was able to compete in North America. It won six of the Canadian-American Challenge Cup races, which gave its driver, George Follmer, the title.
In 1973, Porsche introduced the 917/30. The 917/30 was a derivative of the 917/10. Its body was revised, and it had a larger, 5.4-liter twin-turbocharged engine that generated up to 1,100 horsepower. The driver had a control knob allowing him to boost as desired. That year, Mark Donohue drove the car in the Can-Am series, dominating by winning six races. Two drivers who drove 917/10s won two of the races in the series.
“The 917/30 is the quintessential racing car,” says Greg Pittard. “Porsche was set to dominate the Can-Am for years to come, but, for the 1974 Can-Am season, officials imposed a new rule that imposed a fuel limit. The rule aimed to prevent the Porsche from continuing to dominate, and the 917/30 had to withdraw from the series.”