Sports car racing is a form of motorsport road racing which utilises sports cars that have two seats and enclosed wheels. They may be purpose-built (Prototype) or related to road-going models (Grand Touring).
A type of hybrid between the purism of open-wheelers and the familiarity of touring car racing, this style is often associated with the annual Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race. First run in 1923, Le Mans is one of the oldest motor races still in existence. Other classic but now defunct sports car races include the Italian classics, the Targa Florio (1906–1977) and Mille Miglia (1927–1957), and the Mexican Carrera Panamericana (1950-1954). Most top class sports car races emphasise endurance (typically between 2.5–24 hours), reliability, and strategy, over pure speed. Longer races usually involve complex pit strategy and regular driver changes. As a result, sports car racing is seen more as a team endeavour than an individual sport, with team managers such as John Wyer, Tom Walkinshaw, driver-turned-constructor Henri Pescarolo, Peter Sauber and Reinhold Joest becoming almost as famous as some of their drivers.
The prestige of storied marques such as Porsche, Audi, Corvette, Ferrari, Jaguar, Bentley, Aston Martin, Lotus, Maserati, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW is built in part upon success in sports car racing and the World Sportscar Championship. These makers' top road cars have often been very similar both in engineering and styling to those raced. This close association with the 'exotic' nature of the cars serves as a useful distinction between sports car racing and touring cars.
The 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of Daytona, and 24 Hours of Le Mans were once widely considered the trifecta of sports car racing. Driver Ken Miles would have been the only ever to win all three in the same year but for an error in the Ford GT40's team orders at Le Mans in 1966 that cost him the win in spite of finishing first.
According to historian Richard Hough, "It is obviously impossible to distinguish between the designers of sports cars and Grand Prix machines during the pre-1914 period. The late Georges Faroux always contended that sports-car racing was not born until the first 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1923, and while as a joint-creator of that race he may have been prejudiced in his opinion, it is certainly true that sports-car racing as it was known after 1919 did not exist before the First World War."
In the 1920s, the cars used in endurance racing and Grand Prix were still basically identical, with fenders and two seats, to carry a mechanic if necessary or permitted. Cars such as the Bugatti Type 35 were almost equally at home in Grands Prix and endurance events, but specialisation gradually started to differentiate the sports-racer from the Grand Prix car. The legendary Alfa Romeo Tipo A Monoposto started the evolution of the true single-seater in the early 1930s; the Grand Prix racer and its miniature voiturette offspring rapidly evolved into high performance single seaters optimised for relatively short races, by dropping fenders and the second seat. During the later 1930s, French constructors, unable to keep up with the progress of the Mercedes-Benz and Auto-Union cars in GP racing, withdrew into primarily domestic competition with large-capacity sports cars – marques such as Delahaye, Talbot and the later Bugattis were locally prominent.
Similarly, through the 1920s and 1930s the road-going sports/GT car started to emerge as distinct from fast tourers (Le Mans had originally been a race for touring cars) and sports cars, whether descended from primarily road-going vehicles or developed from pure-bred racing cars came to dominate races such as Le Mans and the Mille Miglia.
In open-road endurance races across Europe such as the Mille Miglia, Tour de France and Targa Florio, which were often run on dusty roads, the need for fenders and a mechanic or navigator was still there. As mainly Italian cars and races defined the genre, the category came to be known as Gran Turismo (particularly in the 1950s), as long distances had to be travelled, rather than running around on short circuits only. Reliability and some basic comfort were necessary in order to endure the task.
After the Second World War, sports car racing emerged as a distinct form of racing with its own classic races, and, from 1953, its own FIA sanctioned World Sportscar Championship. In the 1950s, sports car racing was regarded as almost as important as Grand Prix competition, with major marques like Ferrari, Maserati, Jaguar and Aston Martin investing much effort in their works programmes and supplying cars to customers; sports racers lost their close relationship to road-going sports cars in the 1950s and the major races were contested by dedicated competition cars such as the Jaguar C and D types, the Mercedes 300SLR, Maserati 300S, Aston Martin DBR1 and assorted Ferraris including the first Testa Rossas. Top Grand Prix drivers also competed regularly in sports car racing. After major accidents at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 1957 Mille Miglia the power of sports cars was curbed with a 3-litre engine capacity limit applied to them in the World Championship from 1958. From 1962 sports cars temporarily took a back seat to GT cars with the FIA replacing the World Championship for Sports Cars with the International Championship for GT Manufacturers.
In national rather than international racing, sports car competition in the 1950s and early 1960s tended to reflect what was locally popular, with the cars that were successful locally often influencing each nation's approach to competing on the international stage.
In the US, imported Italian, German and British cars battled local hybrids, with initially very distinct East and West Coast scenes; these gradually converged and a number of classic races and important teams emerged including Camoradi, Briggs Cunningham and so on. The US scene tended to feature small MG and Porsche cars in the smaller classes, and imported Jaguar, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Allard and Ferrari cars in the larger classes.
A breed of powerful hybrids appeared in the 50s and 60s and raced on both sides of the Atlantic, featuring European chassis and large American engines – from the early Allard cars via hybrids such as Lotus 19s fitted with large engines through to the AC Cobra. The combination of mostly British chassis and American V8 engines gave rise to the popular and spectacular Can-Am series in the 1960s and 1970s.
In Britain 2-litre sports cars were initially popular (the Bristol engine being readily available and cheap), subsequently 1100 cc sports racers became a very popular category for young drivers (effectively supplanting 500 cc F3), with Lola, Lotus, Cooper and others being very competitive, although at the other end of the scale in the early to mid-1960s the national sports racing scene also attracted sophisticated GTs and later a crop of large-engined "big bangers" the technology of which largely gave rise to Can-Am but soon died out. Clubmans provided much entertainment at club-racing level from the 1960s into the 1990s and John Webb revived interest in big sports prototypes with Thundersports in the 1980s. There was even enough interest in Group C to sustain a C2 championship for a few years; at 'club' level Modified Sports Car ("ModSports") and Production Sports Car ("ProdSports") races remained a feature of most British race meetings into the 1980s, evolving into a "Special GT" series that was essentially Formula Libre for sports or saloon cars. After a relative period of decline in the 1980s a British GT Championship emerged in the mid-90s.
Italy found itself with both grassroots racing with a plethora of Fiat based specials (often termed "etceterinis") and small Alfa Romeos, and exotica such as Maserati and Ferrari – who also sold cars to domestic customers as well as racing on the world stage. Road races such as the Mille Miglia included everything from stock touring cars to World Championship contenders. The Mille Miglia was the largest sporting event in Italy until a fatal accident caused its demise in 1957. The Targa Florio, another tough road race, remained part of the world championship until the 1970s and remained as a local race for many years afterwards.
As the French car industry switched from making large powerful cars to small utilitarian ones, French sports cars of the 1950s and early 1960s tended to be small-capacity and highly aerodynamic (often based on Panhard or Renault components), aimed at winning the "Index of Performance" at Le Mans and Reims and triumphing in handicap races. Between the late 1960s and late 1970s, Matra and Renault made significant and successful efforts to win at Le Mans.
In Germany, domestic production based racing was largely dominated by BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, although sports car/GT racing gradually became eclipsed by touring cars and the initially sports car based Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft gradually evolved into the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft. Porsche started to evolve a line of sports prototypes from the late 1950s; noted for their toughness and reliability they started to win in races of attrition such as the Targa Florio and as they grew bigger (via the Porsche 910 to the Porsche 908 and finally the Porsche 917) the Stuttgart marque became first a competitor for overall wins and then came to dominate sports car racing – both they and Mercedes have made intermittent returns to the top level of the sport through the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Sports car racing has intermittently been popular in Japan – in the 1960s small-capacity sports racers and even a local version of the Group 7 cars as raced in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup were popular; a healthy local sports prototype championship ran until the early 1990s and now the Super GT series provides high-budget exposure to manufacturers, with many international drivers appearing. The Japanese manufacturers have also been frequent visitors to the US sports car scene (Nissan and Toyota in particular during the heyday of IMSA) and to the European scene, in particular Le Mans, where despite many years of trying by all the main Japanese marques the only victory to have been scored by a Japanese marque was by Mazda in 1991, until 2018 when Toyota scored a first and second-place finish.
Powerful prototypes (effectively pure-bred two-seater racing cars with no real link to production vehicles) started to appear as the 1960s progressed, with worldwide battles between Ferrari, Ford, Porsche, Lotus, Alfa Romeo and Matra as well as other more specialist marques running on into the early 1970s. The competition at Le Mans even made it to the movie screens, with Steve McQueen's film Le Mans. This era was seen by many as the highpoint of sports car racing, with the technology and performance of the cars comfortably in excess of what was seen in Formula 1. Homologation saw many out-and-out racing cars produced in sufficient quantities to see them classed as production vehicles; the FIA responded by placing more restrictions on even the allegedly production-based cars and placed draconian limits on the power available to prototypes – these prototypes of the late 1960s/early 1970s were comfortably quicker than contemporary Grand Prix machinery and for 1972 they were constrained to run much smaller engines to F1 rules, often de-tuned for endurance. Group 4 Grand Touring Cars and Group 5 Special Production Cars became the premier form of "sports car" racing from 1976, with prototypes going into a general decline apart from Porsche 936 domination at Le Mans and a lower-key series of races for smaller two-litre Group 6 prototypes.
A peculiarly American form of sports car racing was the Can-Am series, in which virtually unlimited sports prototypes competed in relatively short races. This series ran from 1966 to 1974 and was an expansion of the USRRC that conformed to FIA Group 7 rules. The original Can-Am fell victim to rising costs and the energy crisis.
The ACO, organisers of the Le Mans 24 Hours, attempted to come up with a formula that would encourage more prototypes back to the race but would also be relatively economical – their Grand Touring Prototype rules in the late 1970s, based on fuel consumption rules, gave rise to two different varieties of sports car racing that were widely held to be a high point in the history of the sport.
In Europe, the FIA adopted the ACO GTP rules virtually unchanged and sanctioned the Group C World Endurance Championship (or World Sportscar Championship), featuring high-tech closed-cockpit prototypes from Porsche, Aston Martin, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Jaguar and others. In the US, the IMSA Camel GTP series boasted close competition between huge fields of manufacturer-backed teams and privateer squads – the cars were technically similar to Group Cs but used a sliding scale of weights and engine capacities to try to limit performance. Both Group C and GTP had secondary categories, respectively Group C2 and Camel Lights, for less powerful cars, targeting entries by small specialist constructors or serious amateur teams.
The FIA attempted to make Group C into a virtual "two seater Grand Prix" format in the early 1990s, with engine rules in common with F1, short race distances, and a schedule dovetailing with that of the F1 rounds. This drove up costs and drove away entrants and crowds, and by 1993 prototype racing was dead in Europe, with the Peugeot, Jaguar, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz teams all having withdrawn.
In an attempt to provide a top-class endurance racing series to replace the WSPC, a number of GT series sprung up at national and European level, with the BPR series eventually evolving into the FIA GT Championship. IMSA GTP continued for a few more years but was replaced by a series for World Sports Cars – relatively simple open-top prototypes – which gave rise to cars such as the Ferrari 333SP and the Riley & Scott Mk 3, supported by GTs. As the 1990s progressed, these prototypes and others like them started to be raced in Europe and an FIA Sports Car series evolved for them.
Since the demise of Group C (where Japan and Germany both had successful series of their own) Japan has largely gone its own way in sports car racing; the Super GT series is for very highly modified production-based cars; although prototypes are slowly returning to Japanese racing in the Japan Le Mans Challenge many of these 'prototypes' are little more than rebodied Formula 3 cars (although there has been a long Japanese tradition of such hybrids; a Grand Champion series ran for many years with rebodied Formula 2 and Formula 3000 cars, rather similar to the second incarnation of Can-Am).
In the US, however, road racing actually saw a decline. The IMSA GT Championship had been prototype-based since 1983, with less emphasis on production cars. NASCAR was becoming increasingly dominant, and the IndyCar Series' split from CART in 1996 put more emphasis on ovals regarding domestic open-wheel racing. Also contributing to the decline was the retirement of Mario Andretti from Formula One. It would be over a decade before another American driver would join Formula One, viz. Scott Speed, although Speed was ultimately unsuccessful and eventually joined NASCAR himself.
The debut of the SpeedVision television network brought a resurgence of interest in sports car racing in the US, with the network originally showing a large amount of sports car racing and sports car related programming before being replaced by Fox Sports.
The IMSA GT Series evolved into the American Le Mans Series; the European races eventually became the closely related Le Mans Series, both of which mix prototypes and GTs; the FIA remains more interested in its own GT and GT3 championships, with the ACO's rules the basis for the LMS and ALMS. The Le Mans Prototype is somewhat reminiscent of the old Can Am prototype.
Further splits in the American scene saw the Grand American Road Racing Association form a separate series, the Rolex Sports Car Series, with its own GT and prototype rules aimed at providing cheaper, lower-cost racing for independent teams. Grand Am's Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, a support series for the Rolex Series, provides a similar series to the old Trans Am Series, mixing conventional sports cars and touring cars. Due to Grand Am's affiliation with NASCAR, many NASCAR drivers occasionally participate in the Rolex Sports Car Series. Max Papis is a notable example in that he was a road racer prior to his tenure in the Sprint Cup Series. Many of these drivers only participate in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
The original Trans-Am Series dissolved in 2006, but returned to action in 2009 with tube frame TA1 and TA2 divisions racing with production-based TA3-American and TA3-International divisions. In addition, the SCCA continues to provide a major support series for Trans-Am. This series, known as the SCCA World Challenge, consists of a one-hour race for each round, combining three classes: GT (Chevrolet Corvette, Aston Martin DB9, etc.), "GTS" (Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, etc.; replaced the former touring car class), and Touring Car (a "showroom stock" class similar to Grand Am's Continental Challenge). The Trans Am series returned in 2009, but has yet to establish a television contract.
The 2010s have seen a major overhaul of sports car racing in the United States. The Pirelli World Challenge reformatted in 2010 to have a showroom stock touring car group comparable to that of the Continental Challenge's Grand Sport class, promoting its other touring car class to "GTS". This came after several years of the old TC class being an Acura-BMW-Mazda affair. For 2012, the series will be adopting a "B-spec" touring car class comparable to that of the Continental Challenge's Street Tuner class.
Meanwhile, the Rolex Sports Car Series has overhauled its Daytona Prototype class for 2012, allowing for production-based designs. Already planned is a Corvette-based prototype.
The ALMS's new LMP/LMC format, however, has not held up. The prototype classes split again in 2011, with LMP1 having three cars and LMP2 having one. A new "GT Pro Am" class was added. Initially, this format was only to be used in endurance races, but was eventually applied to all races. For 2012, only a handful of LMPs are being entered, with almost all of them being powered by Japanese manufacturers (Nissan, Honda, etc.). The British manufacturer Morgan has entered a Judd-powered LMP. Aston Martin Racing, who for several years had entered an LMP, has returned to GT for 2012.
The reformatted Trans-Am Series has remained stagnant, being heavily overshadowed by the SCCA's World Challenge, and failing to garner a television contract. A major factor in this is the fact that Trans Am's teams still use vehicles dating back to 1999. In most other series, teams tend to update their vehicles every few years or so (examples include the 2005 vs. 2010 Mustangs in the Continental Challenge and the two different generations of Mazda RX-8 in the Rolex Series).
Other television changes include Speed Channel losing the rights to almost every series. The World Challenge was transferred to Versus, while the ALMS was transferred to an ESPN/ABC partnership. ALMS races are shown live online with a telecast the following day (although Speed still has the rights to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is still televised live). For 2012, some races will be televised live. Speed, having a partnership with NASCAR, still has exclusive rights to the NASCAR-owned Grand Am series.
The ALMS has now introduced "GTE-PRO" and "GTE-AM" for endurance races.
In 2014, American Le Mans Series and Rolex Sports Car Series were merged into United SportsCar Championship, with IMSA as its sanctioning body. Fox Sports 1 (successor of Speed Channel) was returned as main broadcaster of the unified series.
Daytona Prototype was replaced in 2017 by Daytona Prototype International (DPi), which based on the four ACO homologated LMP2 chassis made by Dallara, Onroak (Ligier), Oreca, and Riley-Multimatic, with brand bodywork and homologated engines. Manufacturers are asked to partner with a privateer team, and each car will sport manufacturer bodywork, corresponding to their brand-identity. These rules are made to both control costs and attract manufacturers to the series.
Types of cars
There are many kinds of sports cars that compete, but they can be broadly broken down into two main categories: Sports prototypes and Grand Touring (GT). These two categories (or "classes") are often mixed together in a single race, such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In mixed-class races an overall winner is awarded, but also individual class winners are often recognised.
Sports prototype is the name given to a type of car used in sports car racing and is effectively the next automotive design and technological step up from road-going sports cars and are, along with open-wheel cars, the pinnacle of racing-car design.
The highest level in sports car racing, these cars are purpose-built racing cars with enclosed wheels, and either open or closed cockpits. Since the World Sportscar Championship was conceived there have been various regulations regarding bodywork, engine style and size, tyres and aerodynamics to which these cars must be built. Sports-prototypes may be (and often are) one-of-a-kind machines, and need bear no relation to any road-going vehicle, although during the 1990s some manufacturers exploited a loophole in the FIA and ACO rules which meant cars racing in the GT category were actually true sports-prototypes and sired some road-going versions for homologation purposes. The Dauer-Porsche 962LM, Porsche 911 GT1-98, Mercedes CLK-GTR and Toyota GT-One were prime examples of prototypes masquerading as GTs.
In simplistic terms, sports-prototypes are two-seat racing cars with bodywork covering their wheels, and are as technically advanced and, depending on the regulations they are built to, as quick as or quicker than their single-seat counterparts. Although not widely known, sports-prototypes (along with Formula 1 cars) are responsible for introducing the most numbers of new technologies and ideas to motorsport, including rear-wings, ground effect 'venturi' tunnels, fan-assisted aerodynamics and dual-shift gearboxes. Some of these technologies eventually filter down to road cars.
In the ACO regulations, two categories of sports-prototypes are now recognised: P1 and P2. Cars competing in the P1 category must weigh no less than 900 kg and are limited to 6000 cc naturally aspirated and 4000 cc turbocharged engines. 5500 cc turbo-Diesel engines are also permitted in P1 – Audi scored Le Mans victories with such a car in 2006, 2007 and 2008 and Peugeot returned to racing in 2007 with a car with a similar powerplant (Peugeot 908). P2 cars can weigh much less — first 675 kg, then 750 kg and now 825 kg — but are restricted to 3400 cc V6 or V8 normally aspirated or 2000 cc turbocharged powerplants. In the European series in which endurance is a priority and P2s have been run largely by privateers, P2s have not challenged P1s for outright victories; in the American Le Mans Series with generally shorter races P2 has become the most active prototype category with serious involvement from Porsche and Acura and whereas P2 in Europe tends to involve races of attrition, in the US series the P2s, particularly the Porsche RS Spyder are often quicker round a lap than P1s, with the Porsche having scored many overall victories against the Audis in P1.
Prototype rules for 2010 and beyond will encourage production-based engines (GT1 engines in LMP1, GT2 engines in LMP2) and rules to equalise the performance of petrol and diesel LMP1s are also being addressed.
Daytona Prototypes are a product of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, and offer a different interpretation of the prototype theme. DPs, as they are often called, are closed-cockpit, purpose-built racing machines which are less expensive and (deliberately) somewhat slower than Le Mans Prototypes, which were becoming dangerously quick on the Daytona oval and prohibitively expensive for smaller teams to run. Compared to the LMPs, DPs are severely limited in terms of approved technology; for instance, they are required to be constructed of steel tube frames with carbon-fibre skins, rather than being carbon-fibre monocoques, and must use production-based engines. In addition, contrary to their European counterparts who continuously alter and develop a vehicle to increase performance as a season progresses, DPs are restricted to their original conception of the car from the start of the season. For these reasons, the category being labeled as a "prototype" has occasionally been criticised as misleading and being more in line with traditional "spec" race series prevalent in the United States. The intention of the DP formula was to provide a class in which tight technical regulations encouraged close competition and where budget would be relatively unimportant. DP chassis are subject to a franchise-like approval system in which only approved constructors are eligible, with rules stability enforced for several years at a time, although this led in 2007 to established constructors like Lola and Dallara entering the 2008 series by taking over the rights of existing constructors (Multimatic and Doran respectively).
Grand Touring (from the Italian Gran Turismo) racing is the most common form of sports car racing, and is found all over the world, in both international and national series. Historically, Grand Touring cars had to be in series production, but in 1976 the class was split into production based Group 4 Grand Touring Cars and Group 5 Special Production Cars which were essentially pure-bred racing cars with production-lookalike bodies. GT racing gradually fell into abeyance in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, with silhouette cars continuing to race in IMSA races in the USA. When GT racing revived after the collapse of the World Sports Car Championship at the end of 1992, the lead in defining rules was taken by the ACO. Under the ACO rules, Grand Touring cars are divided into two categories, Grand Touring 1 (GT1, formerly GTS) and Grand Touring 2 (GT2, formerly GT). As the name of the class implies, the exterior of the car closely resembles that of the production version, while the internal fittings may differ greatly. GT2 cars are very similar to the FIA GT2 classification, and are 'pure' GT cars; that is production exotic cars with relatively few internal modifications for racing. The Porsche 911 is currently the most popular car in the GT2 class. 2009 will be the last run of the GT1 class as a result of budgeting issues. GT1 teams are currently enlisting to run their cars in the GT2 class next year. The American Le Mans Series also runs a "GT-Challenge" class, which currently only uses Porsche 911 GT3 Cups but will open to other cars next year. This category is designed for privateer and rookie teams as an easier way to enter the series.
For 2011, the ACO split GT2 into two categories, GTE-Pro (for all-professional teams with current-spec cars) and GTE-Am (for teams with one amateur and one professional per car using previous-spec cars), as a way to entice rookies to enter one of the three Le Mans Series.
FIA divides GT cars into four categories called GT1 (formerly GT), GT2 (formerly N-GT), GT3 (recently introduced) and GT4. The GT1 and GT2 divisions are very close to the ACO rules outlined above, and again some crossover racing does occur, particularly in the GT2 class. The GT3 class is relatively new and was introduced for 2006. These cars are closer to standard form than in GT2, and in most cases modifications are restricted to those found in one-make cups. GT4 is another new category for non-professional drivers in production-based cars with very few racing modifications – for example, no aerodynamic aids or body modifications are permitted. All of the categories (with the exception of GT2) have their own championships/cups run by the FIA. Currently, GT2 is defunct in the FIA, and only runs in Le Mans Series/ALMS; however, the FIA has also announced that GT2 cars will be able to compete in the FIA GT1 World Championship in 2012 in a World Class along with GT3 cars.
Grand-Am has only one class for Grand Touring cars which allows production-based GT racers at a spec somewhere between FIA GT2 and GT3 in terms of modification (e.g. the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup) to compete with purpose-built tube-frame "silhouette" machines reminiscent of the former IMSA GTO/GTU classes. Grand-Am also runs various under-classes more reminiscent of GT4, though closer to factory cars. For 2012, GT3 cars will be allowed, with spec wings and splitters, as long as they pass a test at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, thus allowing GT3 cars to run with few modifications relative to other series (NASCAR, the parent company of Grand-Am, does not permit anti-lock brakes or traction control to be used on Grand-Am GT cars).
As of 2012, the four GT categories are in mixed health. GT1 has been all but phased out with the removal of the class from the FIA GT1 World Championship and later the discontinuation of the series. GT2 is used by the American Le Mans Series, European Le Mans Series, FIA World Endurance Championship, Asian Le Mans Series, and the International GT Open. GT3, currently the most popular of the GT classes, is used by the FIA GT3 European Championship, Blancpain Endurance Series, and most national series such as ADAC GT Masters or the British GT Championship. GT4 has also been phased out like GT1 with the removal of the category from the Blancpain Endurance Series and the cancellation of the GT4 European Cup for 2012 due to issues regarding the organiser.
While GT cars are at least in theory based on road-going models, some GT1 cars in the mid to late 1990s were effectively purpose-built sports-prototypes which spawned exotic production cars with homologation production limits of 25 cars (for small-scale manufacturers, such as Saleen) or 100 cars (for major manufacturers like Daimler AG).
The original form of GT1 racing was dropped in 1998 because of rising costs. The GT1 class was for the purebred supercars and purpose-built race cars, such as the McLaren F1 GTR, Ferrari F40, Porsche 911 GT1, Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, Toyota GT-One and Nissan R390 – while the first two were a derivatives of road-going sports cars, the German and Japanese contenders were pure-bred racing cars – virtually sports prototypes. Rising costs coupled with declining entries led to the death of this class, and it was replaced by what is called GT2 (FIA, which later evolved into the GT1) and Le Mans Prototype (LMP, by the ACO).
This process is due to happen again in 2009 as a response to cost increases in GT1 and GT2 racing: for the 2009 season, GT1 and GT2 as they currently stand will be abolished. Various proposals exist to control technology and costs, mainly by abolishing the existing GT1 class and creating new class boundaries between current GT2, GT3 and GT4 cars.
Sports car racing in general extends far beyond ACO and FIA rules, encompassing the Grand-Am professional series as well as amateur road racing classes in the Sports Car Club of America in North America.
Amateur sports car racing throughout the United States is sanctioned by clubs such as the Sports Car Club of America. The SCCA's sports-racing classes include C and D Sports Racing, Sports 2000 and Spec Racer Ford, in descending order of speed and sophistication, as well as a number of production-based and one-make classes.
In Japan, the Super GT series divides cars into two classes, called GT500 and GT300. These cars are less restricted than their European and American counterparts, with cars often sporting tube frame clips and forced induction kits. Teams are also free to change engines with other models made by the manufacturer. The numbers in the classifications refer to the maximum power (in horsepower) available to each class; this is achieved through the use of engine restrictors. Proponents of the series claim that the Super GT cars are the fastest sports cars in the world, while critics deride the cars as being outside the limits of 'acceptable' modifications. In recent years however, rule changes in both GT500 and GT1 (aimed at eventually allowing both classes to compete with each other in the future) have brought the cars closer to each other, although GT500 cars still have a notable advantage in terms of aerodynamics and cornering performance (enough to compensate for GT1 cars greater power).
In Europe, although most national championships (British, French, German and the Spanish-based International GT Open) run under FIA/ACO GT regulations with some modifications to ensure closer racing and lower costs, some championships are open to non-homologated GT cars. The Belcar series in Belgium allows silhouettes and touring cars to race alongside GTs, while the VdeV Modern Endurance allows small prototypes from national championships such as the Norma, Centenari and Radical to race alongside GT3 class cars. Britcar permits a wide range of touring and GT cars to compete in endurance races, and Britsports permits various kinds of sports racer.
Notable racing series
- FIA World Endurance Championship – is an auto racing World Championship for Sports cars and GTs organised by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) and sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).
- World Sportscar Championship – The former World Championship, which dissolved in 1992. Originally contested in 1953 by Sports cars, GTs and even Touring cars, towards its end it was Sports cars only. At various times it was also known as the International Championship for GT Manufacturers, International Championship for Sports Cars, International Championship for Makes, World Championship for Makes, World Endurance Championship and World Sports Prototype Championship. 1963 saw the first formal separation of Sports Cars and GT cars in separate championships. The practice continued until 1977, after which it became a Sports car only series.
- FIA GT1 World Championship – A short-lived GT series in the 2010s created by promoting the FIA GT Championship to World Championship status.
- Porsche Supercup – One make series for Porsche Carrera Cup cars. Supports the Formula One world championship. Predominately European series, has ventured into western Asia.
- American Le Mans Series – Based on the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Run in the United States and Canada although held events elsewhere, as far away as Australia. Emerged from the IMSA GT split, and essentially replaced IMSA GT. Lasted from 1999 to 2013 and merged into the United SportCar Championship.
- Intercontinental Le Mans Cup – Global Championship, however not an official World Championship because it is not organised by the FIA, starting in 2010 and ending in 2011.
- WeatherTech SportsCar Championship - the current top-level North American sports car and GT series. Replaced the Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series for the 2014 season.
- Pirelli World Challenge – GT and Touring Car Racing series in the US and Canada
- Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge – support/feeder series to the Rolex Sports Car Series and successor WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, mixes GT and touring cars
- IMSA Prototype Lites – Support series for the American Le Mans Series, formerly called "IMSA Lites". Single seat sports cars with motorcycle engines.
- Rolex Sports Car Series – Grand-Am's top-level US sports car series, emerged from the USRRC. Lasted from 2000 to 2013, merged into the United SportsCar Championship. Separate classes for Sports cars and GT cars.
- Can-Am – Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Prototype-based series which ran from 1966 to 1974 and in revised form from 1977 to 1986; revived in 1998 as a part of the USRRC)
- USERA – United States Endurance Racing Association – Pro-Am Endurance Championship in the United States
- IMSA GT Championship – lasted from 1971 to 1998 and replaced by ALMS and the Rolex Series.
- United States Road Racing Championship- emerged from the IMSA GT split, became the Rolex Series.
- Trans-Am Series – Originally a touring car series incorporating some GT elements in later years but remained primarily for touring cars. Gradually evolved into a silhouette racing car series, mirroring NASCAR trends. Began in the 1960s was hugely popular during the Pony car era of muscle cars in the late 60s and early 70s, it folded in 2005. A new Muscle car series evolved in 2009.
- International Race of Champions – The popular IROC one-make series has been run in the United States, in later years predominately on oval for GT and Muscle cars.
- European Le Mans Series – Sister series to the ALMS, run mostly in Europe (formerly the ELMS).
- Michelin Le Mans Cup
- Blancpain Endurance Series – GT3 Endurance racing series, held predominantly in Europe, formed in 2011.
- International GT Open - European Championship for GT2 and GT3 cars, founded in 2006.
- FIA GT Series (later known as Blancpain Sprint Series) – European Championship for GT3 cars, which replaced the FIA GT1 Championship in 2013.
- FIA Sportscar Championship – FIA's now-defunct European Prototype racing series – most races ended up part of the European Le Mans Series.
- FIA GT Championship – European Championship organised by FIA for GT1 and GT2 cars, ran from 1997 to 2009.
- FIA GT3 European Championship – GT3 European racing series, predominantly in Europe but some rounds elsewhere.
- GT4 European Cup – A GT4 racing series, predominantly in Europe but some rounds elsewhere.
- Dutch Supercar Challenge - Sportscar series held in Benelux region since 2001.
- Asian Le Mans Series – Series running LMP1 all the way to GT2 cars.
- GT Asia – Asian GT3 Championship founded in 2009, that replaced the Asia GT Challenge.
- Super GT – Japan based Sports Car racing championship (formerly the JGTC).
- Japan Le Mans Challenge – Established in 2006, ran in Japan and folded in 2007.
- All Japan Sports Prototype Championship – Japanese series for Gr. C cars, replaced by JGTC in 1993.
- Fuji Grand Champion Series – a Japanese series originally for Gr.6 cars, was originally held only in Fuji.
- British GT Championship – national level GT series
- Speed – National level endurance car championship run by MotorsportVision Racing. Sometimes called LMP3 cars.
- Thundersports – a British series of the 1980s in which pretty much any kind of sports racer, GT and even touring cars were eligible.
- Clubmans – a long-lived British formula which featured sophisticated, quick but economical front-engined/rear wheel drive sports racers well into the 1990s. Based originally on the popularity of the Lotus Seven.
- Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft – German series which originally pitted touring cars against GT racers, Gr 6 and then Gr. C was later added.
- Supercup – A Group C only national series in Germany, replaced DRM and ran until 1989. Not to be confused with the various Porsche Supercup series.
- ADAC GT Masters – ADAC level GT series
- Interserie – German based series, originally similar to Can-Am.
- Australian GT Championship – A series for GT type cars which ran from 1982–1985 (mostly IMSA GTO spec cars as well as Group B Sports Sedans from the then defunct Australian Sports Sedan Championship), and from 2005 to date. The championship is currently run to FIA GT3 regulations.
- Sports Racer Series – An amateur series for small, mostly motorcycle-engined sports cars, run for the first time in 2010.
- Australian Nations Cup Championship – A series for GT type cars which ran from 2000–2004. Replaced by the revived Australian GT Championship in 2005 after the series organiser Procar Australia ceased operation in 2004.
- Australian Sports Car Championship – A series which ran from 1969–1988. It was run for the unique to Australia Group A Sports Cars regulations from 1969–1975, for Group D Production Sports Cars from 1976–1981 and again for Group A Sports Cars from 1982–1988.