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  • Mark Sparrow

A brief history of Group C racing

The history of Group C racing is a long and storied one, stretching back to the early 1980s when the world's top car manufacturers began to compete in a new form of international motorsport. It quickly became one of the most popular and exciting forms of racing, with its high speeds, advanced technology, and close competition captivating spectators around the world. In this post, we'll take a look back at the history of Group C racing and some of the most memorable moments it has provided over the years.


Origins


In the 1970s, racing was facing a number of issues. Costs were spiralling out of control as teams raced ever more powerful and expensive vehicles. Safety was also a growing concern, as the power-to-weight ratio of the cars far exceeded the capabilities of many tracks. To address these issues, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) developed Group C racing.


Group C racing was conceived as an informal series of races held at iconic circuits like Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps, and Silverstone. The rules for the class where based around the cars being fuel efficient. The goal was to keep costs down while still allowing teams to compete with relatively powerful race cars. The resulting vehicles, known as Group C race cars, have become some of the most iconic and beloved race cars in history.


The Early Days

Aston Martin AMR1 Group C car, racing at 1989 LeMans on the Indianapolis corner.

Group C racing started to become popular in the early 1980s. These race cars were specifically designed for endurance events, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and featured powerful engines, aerodynamic design, and lightweight construction. This new class of cars provided spectators with some of the most thrilling and memorable races of their time.


The first Group C car was built by Porsche in 1982 and it quickly set the standard for the entire category. It boasted a powerful 3.2-litre flat-six engine and a lightweight aluminium chassis that allowed it to reach speeds over 220 mph. Other manufacturers soon followed suit, developing cars such as the Lancia LC2 and Toyota 84C, which pushed the boundaries of performance even further.


A great moment in Group C racing came in 1984 when privateer Porsche`s won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the 956 model. This victory marked the beginning of the golden era of Group C racing and set a benchmark for all other endurance cars. From this point on, Group C cars became a mainstay on the international motor racing scene and dominated endurance events throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Mazda 767, a 1989 Group C car, racing round Tertre Rouge corner heading onto the Mulsanne Straight.

The Golden Age


Group C racing truly hit its stride in the mid-’80s. This period is widely considered the Golden Age of Group C, as it saw some of the most iconic and impressive race cars ever to grace a track. The Group C races featured intense competition between some of the most renowned manufacturers like Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Nissan.



The highlight of this era was undoubtedly the Le Mans 24 Hours. This race was always a spectacle, as the fastest Group C race cars from all over the world competed against each other on one of the most challenging circuits in motorsport. The endurance test was thrilling, with cars reaching speeds in excess of 350km/h in sections. Porsche dominated this event for the majority of the 1980s, with their 956 and 962 models winning a total of seven out of nine years from 1982-1991.


The Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9 LM
The 1989 Silk Cut Jaguar XJR9-LM racing at LeMans.

This era also saw some incredible cars that are still talked about today. The Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-9 LM, the Lancia LC2, and the legendary Sauber-Mercedes C9 all made waves during this time and will live on as some of the best Group C race cars ever created. The incredible speeds, close competition, and iconic cars all came together to create an amazing spectacle that no motorsports fan will ever forget.


The Decline


By the early 1990s, the sport of Group C racing saw a steep drop in popularity due to high costs of maintaining and running the cars. The sport also faced criticism from environmentalists who were concerned about the effects of the loud engines on the surrounding areas. This ultimately resulted in a decrease in the number of participants in Group C racing, as well as a decrease in the number of races being held, we will not talk about the mandated 3.5 litre decision which was meant as a `cost saving measure` and ultimately funnelled all the money into F1.


The final nail in the coffin for Group C racing came in 1994 when it was decided that future Le Mans races would no longer use Group C cars. The fact the cars were reaching such high speeds prompted this decision as a safety precaution. In spite of efforts to revive the sport, Group C racing has largely been forgotten by mainstream motorsport but Group C had one last hurrah as the Le Mans 24 hr that year was won by a Porsche 962, However…


The Modern Era


Group C has seen a revival in recent years due to the increasing popularity of classic racing. Although there are no official Group C championships, it remains an important part of motorsport heritage and many enthusiasts still enjoy driving Group C cars.


Many privateer teams have been involved in informal Group C racing events across Europe, allowing drivers to race their Group C Le Mans and Group C race cars. This has provided an entertaining spectacle for race fans and showcased the unique characteristics of these iconic machines.


Group C cars are also eligible for many historic races, including the Le Mans Classic, which takes place every two years at the Circuit de la Sarthe. This gives drivers the chance to experience the same track as their Group C heroes from the 1980s and 90s.


Overall, Group C remains an integral part of motorsport history and its legacy will continue to provide entertainment for generations to come.

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