Top 10 Failed Racing Series
'Almost satanically brilliant in its idiocy'. What are we describing? Choose from races for asthmatic single-seaters, Ford pick-ups, 'mature' drivers and more
Jaguarsport Intercontinental Challenge
Picture the scene: you’ve just conceived a new supercar. You’re going to build 50 of them but then your backer asks you to take over the manufacture of a direct rival. What do you do? You cut your losses and create the most exclusive one-make championship ever. Tom Walkinshaw’s XJR-15 project was a little bit too close in ethos to its XJ220 so the Scot changed tack and initiated a three-race series to support the 1991 Monaco, British and Belgium Grand Prix.
AutoFact: Armin Hahne pocketed a cool $1m for winning the finale.
Grand Prix Masters
The idea of a legends motor racing series has constantly been toyed with. But this one was halfway decent. Participants had to be retired Formula 1 drivers aged 45-years or older who’d competed in at least two complete seasons of F1. They would be all be armed with Delta Motorsport-built single-seaters. Nigel Mansell triumphed in the first round at Kyalami in November 2005, ‘Our Nige’ also taking the next round at Qatar in April ’06. Eddie Cheever won at a Silverstone four months later before the series collapsed amid wind-up petitions and recrimination.
AutoFact: The GPM cars were based on a Reynard 2KI Champ Car.
North American Touring Car Championship
Whenever some enterprising promoter outlines a scheme to transpose a European race series to the US, you know its chances of acceptance are slim. Remember attempts to export F3? North America simply doesn’t need to borrow, this two-seasons-only championship being a case in point. Aping the SuperTouring formula that was then white hot in Europe, NATCC often ran on the CART support bill on road circuits and street courses. There were two big factory-backed teams – PacWest Racing for Chrysler and Tasman Motorsports for Honda and some reasonable drivers, too – just not very many of them.
AutoFact: Only a dozen cars ran in the inaugural season, and nine in ’97.
It was a noble aim: to get more women trackside. The execution, however, bore a hollow ring of contrivance. Supported by Mazda, which supplied identical RX-8s, this 2004-season-only championship was created for female drivers with no previous competition experience. The whittling down process for the 16 race seats (from 10,000 applicants) was televised also. This is where all credibility took a tumble, the assessment process snuffing out interest on the part of those who love the sport: it was just another reality TV show.
AutoFact: Second behind champion Lauren Blighton was Natasha Firman, sister of F1 driver Ralph
A televised series for racing drivers no younger than 50-years of age competing in identical £450,000 Jaguar XJ220 supercars. On a 5/8-mile oval. What’s the worst that could happen? Conceived with television audiences in mind, the ESPN-backed Fastmasters series was almost satanically brilliant in its idiocy. The original format called for two races per event at Indianapolis Raceway Park over four consecutive weekends in June 1993, utilising the full oval and the ‘road course’, with ten drivers per race. The format came for a tweak-ette after three cars were destroyed in massive high-speed shunts in the first round.
AutoFact: Four-time Indy500 winner Bobby Unser emerged from the carnage as the series’ first and only champion.
Announced in late 1979, this series was intended to counter criticism that motor racing was overly profligate. This brave new world would run on methanol rather than regular gasoline. But in adapting Formula Ford designs to run 1.6-litre Talbot Sunbeam boat anchors, it offered little to tempt drivers away from FF1600 save for the opportunity to gain experience of soft-compound slicks. Racing was generally excellent with three or four-way battles up front. But, after limping on for three seasons, Formula Talbot went the way of Formula Turbo Ford as an answer to a question nobody ever asked.
AutoFact: Formula Talbot drivers included a certain Mark Thatcher – he was far better at turning than his mother.
Tom Wheatcroft was no stranger to car building, having lent his name to a raft of single-seaters back in the 1970s. However, his 1995 attempt at a one-make series promised much but delivered less. Keen to reinvent the look and driving characteristics of ’50s GP icons, the finished item reeked more of a US sprint car than a Maserati 250F. Power was initially to have come from a 377bhp Lotus-Carlton V6, only for a Holbay four-banger to be substituted. Performance was vivid but few drivers ever got to find out: the car was clearly an acquired taste and the series soon tanked.
AutoFact: The first race was won by Martin Donnelly, competing for the first time since his horrific accident in the 1990 Spanish Grand Prix.
Uniroyal P100 Challenge
Conceived by Brands Hatch Leisure as a championship for identical Ford P100 pick-ups, they provided a little light relief when unleashed in 1988. Although most onlookers presumed drivers were racing their tow-vehicles – those that stayed around to watch, that is. Nevertheless, it attracted some quality drivers including the likes of Divina Galica, Tiff Needell and Rod Barrett. But fields were always small and any doubt that the joke was no longer funny were erased by the midway point of the ’89 season when the series was dropped.
AutoFact: Ex-F5000 star Keith Holland took the maiden title with six wins from seven starts.
The cars for the most part looked fab with multiple manufacturers providing welcome diversity. The drivers were of the handy variety (Tom Pryce, Ray Allen, Tony Lanfranchi and Les Leston all featured), and in 1970 there weren’t multiple categories vying for its slot on the bill. Oh, and Firestone was backing it. Yet despite all of this, this sports car series lasted just two seasons before imploding. Unfortunately, the actual racing wasn’t dramatic enough to sustain interest. Not least because the 1.3-litre Ford four-bangers sounded asthmatic and the cars were downright slow. With interest dwindling to nothing, the category was quietly dropped.
AutoFact: Series instigator John Webb tweaked the idea and came up with the popular Sports 2000 category.
On paper, it was a good idea. Off paper it was never going to work as running a Group C2 car was enough to pauperise most gentlemen drivers. Seven cars turned up for the first race at Silverstone in March 1988 of which only three made the flag. The racing was great – what there was of it. As Autosport’s end-of-year survey aptly put it: ‘The quality of competition was high and Britain surely needs a national sportscar championship. All it lacked in 1989 was another ten cars.’ Pledges of 20-car grids for 1990 proved wide of the mark and the series was canned.
AutoFact: Future British Touring Car champion Tim Harvey was co-champion for both seasons.
Images courtesy of LAT