Comparing The R8s' Record

31 August 2001

Talk about closing the barn door after the horses have left. . .

Now that the Silver Streak is officially over, comparisons are somewhat moot, but still worth noting.

The most difficult aspect of making comparisons is that the major sports car series have included a constantly changing parade of formulae and inter-connected sub-series. Many teams chose not to, or could not because of their equipment, compete in all rounds. Even in years with rather straightforward schedules, it was not unusual to skip a round or two. Given all these caveats, here are some comments about streaks and non-streaks in sports car racing.

Overall, Ferrari was the most consistent and dominant force through the 1950s. However, in turn Mercedes, Jaguar, Maserati, and Aston Martin entered and then left the scene while making their presence very much known. Added to that a few unsusual privateer wins like Cunningham's little Osca at the 1954 Sebring 12 Hours kept Scuderia Ferrari from ever mounting a streak of more than four races at a time. Adding to that difficulty was that the calendar really only consisted of a very limited number of very major and very long races.

Although Ferrari as a marque continued to be the major player in both the Sports and GT classes until the mid-1960s, by now there was enough internecine warfare between the works and privateer squads such as NART, Ecurie Francorchamps, and Maranello Concessionaires, to prevent any team from establishing noteworthy streaks.

Retrospectives often note how Porsche became a viable contender for outright victory at the endurance events of the late 1960s. This is a true, but their emergence as a truly dominant power came very late during the "classic" Group 5 era. The first year of the 5-liter Sports formula, 1968, was actually a long curtain call for the Ford GT40 as run by JW Racing. In fact, it actually continued into the next season with wins at Sebring and Le Mans. But the handwriting was now on the wall, with the works Porsche 908 running a streak of five wins in 1969 that began at Brands Hatch and ended with Hans Herrmann's defeat by 100 meters by the Ford of Jacky Ickx, still the closest competitive finish at Le Mans.

A Ferrari 512 won the 1970 Sebring 12 Hours. It would prove to be the only championship win of that model and the only break to Porsche dominance that year. Even so, the Porsche wins were split between the official works squad of JW and the works-supported Porsche Salzburg clan. A major difference between then and now was that two of circuits were vastly different than the others, namely the Nurburgring and Targa Florio. Their almost innumerbale twists were wholly unsuited to the twitchy and titanic flat-12 917, and thus it was the 908s which triumphed there. By contrast, most of today's ALMS circuits are more similar than dissimilar to each other.

The JW team was able to win two sets of four consecutive races through 1970 and extending to the 1971 Daytona 24 Hours. The last season of the five-liter formula was more varied, with the Martini Porsches taking three wins and the Group 6 spec., three-liter works Alfa Romeos also scoring three times.

The first year of the "pure" three-liter Group 6 formula, 1972, resulted in the greatest domination to date by one marque, one car type, and one team--the works Ferrari 312PB. They won 10 of the 11 rounds (8 in succession), the exception being Le Mans which the team did not contest. That year's Le Mans winner, Matra, took over where Ferrari left off by cruising to the championship in 1973. But even then, they did not win more than three races in succession. Things turned dramatically in their favor during 1974, when all viable opposition evaporated and MS670 model variants won a new record of nine in row. Had Autodelta not won the season opener at Monza, then Matra's streak would have extended three deep backward through 1973.

Sports car racing underwent an important split for the 1976-1977 seasons with one series for the three-liter Prototypes and another for the new Group 5 Silhouette class. The latter category would become completely dominated by the Porsche 935. Initially, the Schnitzer run BMWs provided just enough of a threat to keep the works 935s from winning all. Then in the remaining years of the formula (1977-1981), the works team began to withdraw and was replaced by a fierce mix of privateers such as Loos and Kremer, splitting the wins more or less equally. Much the same was taking place in IMSA where noted Porsche runners Brumos, Whittington, Interscope, and Barbour regularly divided the spoils. The poorly supported sprint oriented Group 6 World Sports Car Championship of 1976-1977 was dominated in the first year by the Porsche 936 and in the second by the Alfa Romeo 33SC12, but there simply weren't enough rounds held to allow for development of long streaks.

The early Group C years were very much a Porsche 956 tour de force. However, the nettlesome Lancia LC1 and LC2 won just enough to deprive the Stuttgart marque of any Audi-like streak. The works Rothmans Porsches could only manage a four race run mid-season in 1983. Moreover, a similar pattern to the 935 days was emerging as the factory squad increasingly faced opposition from privateers. Three of the most notable Porsche team owners of that era are still quite active in sports car racing, Walter Brun, Richard Lloyd, and most notably of all, Reinhold Joest.

It took until the Porsche 956 / 962 was eclipsed before another great streak could be mounted. This came from the works TWR Jaguars of late 1987, which won four straight Group C races with XJR-8. Ironically, the following year TWR accomplished its target of winning Le Mans, but were now under increasing competition from the Sauber-Mercedes. The Daimler-Benz works-backed cars were utterly dominant from Le Mans of 1989 through the end of the following season, the only losses in Group C coming at the 1990 Silverstone round. They also lost to Jaguar at Le Mans, but the 1990 edition was formally a non-championship event, as it is today. Even with this dominance, the nature of the calendar only allowed the Saubers a seven race winning streak. One last streak of note came during the waning days of Group C, when virtually the only competitive entrant, Peugeot, won five straight in 1992.

Neither the BPR series of 1994-1996 nor the IMSA WSC years of roughly the same era ever witnessed any notably long streaks. A dramatic turn of events came during the "supercar" years of the FIA GT championship. Established in 1997, the races had been the province mostly of the McLaren F1 GTR before the coming of the Mercedes CLK GTR. From the Autumn 1997 Sebring 3 Hours through the entirety of 1998, the AMG team won every round for a total 12 straight races. Again the non-championship Le Mans must be discounted as that was taken by the Porsche 911 GT1.

The fledgling ISRS (now the FIA SCC) was also seeing a measure of dominance during 1998-1999. Most of the sports-racer rounds were won by a Ferrari 333SP, and the most significant team was that of JB Racing, but there were enough other players to disrupt long streaks. The last significant streak prior to that of Audi was Team Oreca's run with the Vipers in the 1999 FIA GT season. They then won eight of the nine rounds in the series, including seven in a row. This only considers their overall wins, to which can be added equal domination the previous seasons in the GT2 class and similarly in the production division of ALMS.

Thus the 14 race ALMS rally (plus x2 Le Mans) by Audi which ended at Portland will by any measure be held as the standard for years (decades?) to come.

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