Journal: These Were the 10 Best Racing Series

These Were the 10 Best Racing Series

By Sam Webber
December 14, 2014

Last Monday we asked you which motorsport, and in what era, offered the most talented drivers. It’s hard to say whether the lack of safety precautions in pre-1960 Formula One are more exciting than the 1000bhp monsters of ’80s F1. The same is true when comparing a race like the Isle of Man TT with Group B rally. Both the rider and driver are operating their machines at peak performance on dangerously tight roads, often with civilians lining the edges. Of course each specific series regardless of era has compelling, engaging, and simply intoxicating elements. Based on the your responses, following is a list of the motorsport series’ that offered the most skilled drivers.

#10 ’70s Can Am–Starting as a series of Group 7 sports car racers in Canada (Can) and America (Am) sponsored by Johnson Wax, the Can-Am series is recognized as the birthplace and/or proving ground for then-new technological and aerodynamic developments. Rear wings and other body modifications helped provide downforce, and turbochargers enabled some cars to produce over 1,000bhp. Manufacturers including McLaren, Lola, BRM, and Porsche constructed some of the most exciting racecars ever built. The series’ downfall would come once the cost of materials spiraled out of hand, yet is remembered for the advancement of racing tech. Successful names in the series included Mark Donohue, Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren, and Jacky Ickx.

#9 IMSA GTO/GTU–IMSA was born in 1969, deriving from SCCA and NASCAR. Bill France, founder of NASCAR, wanted to delve into road racing and paired with SCCA executive John Bishop and Bishop’s wife Peggy, to form the International Motor Sports Association, IMSA. The first race took place at the Pocono Raceway in 1969 and featured Formula Ford and Formula Vee cars. This would eventually grow into the most well known series, the GT class. The series featured heavily-modified cars, in aesthetics and performance, like the BMW 320i Turbo, the Jaguar XJR-5, the Chevrolet Monza AAGT, and the Porsche 962. The 962 would be remembered as one of the most successful racing cars of the series, with men like Al Holbert, Bob Akin, and Rob Dyson driving the car to numerous wins.

#8 ‘30s Grand Prix (Pre F1)–Among the most memorable names in 1930s Grand Prix racing are Tazio Nuvolari, Hans Stuck, Bernd Rosemeyer, and Rudolf Caracciola. With rivalries amongst those in the top tier of their sport, each driver left a legacy. As a part of Ferrari’s team, Nuvolari would go on to win Le Mans in 1933, and later the German Grand Prix in 1935 while racing an older Alfa Romeo. This would be the only time a non-German car would win a European Championship race from 1935 to 1939. Rudolf Caracciola would be remembered as a precise driver able to perform in any condition; having few accidents and rarely causing mechanical failures. Being of shorter height and lesser strength than opposing drivers, Nuvolari coined a cornering technique known as the four-wheel drift. This technique would be continued and used by future drivers.

#7 1950s and ’60s World Sportscar Championship–Many of the drivers racing sportscars in the 1950s and ’60s were wealthy playboys. But among the best were amazing drivers who also raced in Grand Prix. Indeed the skill needed to thread a quick, powerful car, through tiny villages lined with spectators, for at least six hours at a time is impressive. Events like the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio, Carrera Panamericana, and 24 Hours of Le Mans made up the calendar and most were eventually cancelled due to the danger involved.

#6 ‘60s Formula One–The beginning of 1960’s Formula One was marked by the growing dominance of mid and rear mounted engines, eventually ousting the front mounted configuration. Drivers like Jack Brabham in his Cooper Climax, and Phil Hill in his Ferrari 246 are among the stars of the era. In 1962, Colin Chapman of Lotus debuted the famous Lotus 25-the first single seater made using the monocoque construction method, strengthening the chassis with greater torsion resistance. With the driving position elongated, the drivers nearly laid flat on their backs, offering relatively better protection for the driver. Most manufacturers also opted for the smaller steering wheel sizes that would continue ’til today. Engine displacements were regulated throughout the decade, ranging from 1.5 liters up to 3 liters. This didn’t stop engine builders, and engines ran from four to twelve cylinders, peaking with BRM’s 400hp V16.

#5 ‘50s Formula One–The first Formula One World Championship race was held in 1950 at Silverstone raceway in England. Perhaps the most dangerous era of Formula One, the cars were built purely for speed with a front-engine configuration and drum brakes at all four corners. The cars didn’t have many safety features themselves and nor did the track. Without a medical staff at hand and safety nets on the track, competitive ‘50s F1 drivers would drive “with their hearts, not their heads.” Amongst these drivers were Nino Farina, Juan-Manuel Fangio, and at the end of the decade, Jack Brabham. By the end of the ‘50s, cars were running disc brakes, and general safety measures were being developed.

#4 MotoGP–Established in 1949, MotoGP is the oldest of all motorsports World Championships. With manufacturers Ducati, Yamaha, and Honda providing the most groundbreaking motorcycle technology, the most talented riders from around the world race shoulder to shoulder at extremely high speeds. Contemporary riders are of course seeing the fastest, most efficient prototype motorcycles ever to be produced. Some regard MotoGP as the most compelling motorsport series, arguing that the necessity for skilled, whole-body movements and weight shifting are more difficult to master than operating a racecar. Whatever your opinion may be, it’s hard not to be impressed when you see the bikes’ lean angle upon turning. With knees, and now elbows, dragging the pavement, riders tread a thin line as they push their machines to their absolute limits. Prominent names today include Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi, and Marc Marquez.

#3 Isle of Man TT–The Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) Race is arguably the most prestigious and dangerous motorcycle event in the world. With a rally-type, time-trial format, riders race against the clock on closed roads, fastest time wins. The TT is extremely dangerous as riders approach average speeds of close to 150mph, flying through narrow roads, tight corners, and straights without runoff area in the event of an accident. With stone walls, buildings, trees, and spectators huddling close to the road, any accident could be catastrophic. Among the most successful names in the race are Dave Molyneux, John McGuinness, and Joey Dunlop, who recorded his twenty-sixth TT win at the age of 48. From the first race in 1907, 245 riders have lost their lives at the TT, making this one of the most dangerous event in all of motorsports.

#2 ‘80s Formula One–The best word to summarize 1980s Formula One is ‘excess.’ The 1980s marked the introduction of effective and powerful turbocharged engines, as well as the use of carbon fiber bodies. F1 wouldn’t see turbochargers again until the 2014 season, however contemporary engines aim for efficiency while the ’80s were simply about power. All of these advances cost lots of money. Yet expensive cars did in fact mean impressive cars, and those breaking 1,000bhp would be raced. Nelson Piquet skillfully piloted a BMW four-cylinder in a Brabham BT52 (that made almost 1000hp), cementing his name in history as one of the greatest drivers of the decade. Other prominent drivers include Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost. These three drivers alone account for nearly ten world championships through the 1980s and into the early ‘90s.

And finally, #1… ‘80s Group B Rally–Well known as the golden era of rallying, Group B regulations developed some of the most powerful, eye-catching, and ear-popping rally cars of all time. The series would eventually be shuttered after multiple serious, some fatal accidents. The FIA blamed such accidents on the lack of crowd control and abuse of speed. Disestablished in 1986, subsequent generations of fans wistfully remember the four-year-long Group B Era. Names like Markku Alen, Stig Blomqvist, and Walter Röhrl have reached legendary status among rally fans. Remarkably, even today’s competitive rally cars have yet to surpass the Group B’s performance. The recipe of aerodynamics, lightweight chassis’, and tremendous horsepower propelled the Group B cars into rally glory and legend.

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5 years ago

I don’t think that the series should separated by decades. I also think WRC would cover Group B and more. Grand Prix and F1, ok as separate. Should add The Dakar and Pike’s Peak.

Joe Ellis
Joe Ellis(@me12jre)
5 years ago

Couple of things. I really think Pikes Peak really deserves a shout here. It’s just gloriously insane. The other thing is I was under the impression that modern wrc cars were starting to match Group B era in times over similar stages. Mainly down to advancements in chassis/suspension technology. But also I guessed engine responsiveness, especially with anti lag these days, probably helps.

Joe Ellis
Joe Ellis(@me12jre)
5 years ago
Reply to  Joe Ellis

Made a mistake putting two ‘really’s.

Or did I?

7 years ago

I love all forms of racing, having done rally, drag, road/endurance events in cars as well as really exciting (as in heart rate increasing/adrenaline rush overload) motorcycle road racing on a KZ10RR & Ducati 1098. On the track. Mostly. If it goes fast, sounds good AND loud & looks like it’s impossible to control, it’s gotta be fun! I can only think that’s why there are so many of these speed/car/motorcycle enthusiasts out there. My favs:
Isle of Man TT
24hrs of Le Mans
24hrs of Daytona
ANY good Rally stage
ANY Early Trans Am/Can Am Replays!
NHRA World Finals (esp. Top Fuel)

Esteban Morales
Esteban Morales(@fb_9802817)
7 years ago

90s CART? Brutal horsepower, sweet looking/sounding cars, 241mph track record, Zanardi, Tracy, Andrettis, Montoya, Mansell, Rahal, Unser Jr., Emmo, Franchitti…

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
7 years ago

what about the group a touring cars from the 80s ???
this production based class encompassed cars as diverse as the n/a bmw, jags etc. to the mighty turbocharged sierra cosworths.
they raced across the globe from europe to asia, australia, new zealand.

7 years ago

IMSA…I’ve forgotten about those. A nice picture of 300ZXs. It was quite a good series. I went to see it a couple of times, I really liked it because it smelled of a very grassroots enthusiasm.

Evan Bedford
Evan Bedford(@quixotic)
7 years ago

Amen to the TT. And here are my nominations for the two best videos on the TT:

Ronnie Mays
Ronnie Mays(@ronniem)
7 years ago

I’m surprised with 3 decades of F1 mentioned that the 70’s era was left out. I would certainly think it was the most exciting.

7 years ago

A great list, with interesting perspectives. No point in arguing about what is what, but the ask here is to simply read and enjoy the narrative. I feel compelled however to comment on the TT – as it was, and still is, the simply nastiest, fastest, most dangerous, awe-inspiring event [i]ever[/i]. Even in this modern day of cynical Ken Block-esque faked feeling and hyped presentations, the TT simply stands on its own. If the YouTube vids do not send a shiver down your spine, you’re not a petrol-head. Neko.

Alexander Shaghoury
Alexander Shaghoury(@fb_100001200700822)
7 years ago

Though I love all series mentioned above, I would place pre-F1 grand prix races and early sport car series above all, as they basically combined thrills and beauties of city racing, rallying and classic grand prix circuit racing. Add to this a variety of events from hill climbs to ovals and insane public roads competitions. Heroes of that era shine brighter and are known to every racing enthusiast, regardless of preferences.
I would also add motorcycle board-track racing of 1910’s, but it seems that boardtrackers don’t find lots of support among petrolicious fans as they have never been in the highlight here.

Emanuel Costa
Emanuel Costa(@genovevo)
7 years ago

3 F1 decades (2 of them with similar drivers) and an individual race (Isle of Man) in a top 10?. You must be joking. What about 90’s F1? Le Mans (on its own)? Dakar? Pikes Peak? WRC (even with more regulations, there have been fabulous drivers and cars)?

Alexander Shaghoury
Alexander Shaghoury(@fb_100001200700822)
7 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel Costa

fair enough – except Lauda, Jones and Villeneuve all the great names of 80’s were still in play in the early 90’s.

5 years ago

Lauda retired in 1985 or 1986.