GT (Grand Touring/Gran Turismo) and Sports Cars covers a very wide range of vehicles used in many different categories of motorsport. Early events were created to test the endurance and reliability of cars as much as their speed.
On the island of Sicily, Count Vincenzo Florio created the Targa Florio which began in 1906. This tough competition lasted for many decades before safety concerns caused the event to be cancelled.
In 1927, the first Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) was started by Count Aymo Maggi and Count Franco Mazotti. This formidable endurance race began in Brescia, headed to Rome and then returned to Brescia. Like the Targa Florio, this event was eventually banned for becoming too dangerous, the last race being held in 1957.
In Mexico, the Carrera Panamericana was a long-distance sports car race that lasted from 1950 until 1954. This event too was cancelled, again because of safety concerns.
However, the most famous of all GT endurance races is undoubtedly the Le Mans 24 Hours which is held every year at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Organised by the circuit owners, the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest), the event began in 1923 and continues to be an opportunity for car manufacturers to showcase their vehicles at this prestigious race meeting.
A combination of racetrack and public roads is used for this event, with names such as the “Mulsanne Straight” and “Arnage” entering motoring history.
To date, Porsche have won the race nineteen times, Audi thirteen and Ferrari nine. Different classes of racing car have always featured at this event, with the winning car usually coming from the top category – at present this is the Hypercar class.
The most successful drivers in the history of the race are Tom Kristensen with nine wins, Jacky Ickx with six, and equal on five victories are Derek Bell, Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro.
A visit to the Le Mans 24 Hour Race is highly recommended, plus a visit to the museum at the circuit – Le Musée des 24 Heures du Mans.
Unlike GT endurance races, sports car racing evolved using mostly existing racing circuits. Very often contestants would drive their cars to a race track and with minor changes, race, and then drive home.
Many car manufacturers gained useful publicity for their models with successes at such racing events, with British sports car companies such as MG, Austin-Healey and Triumph, becoming world-famous. And the phrase “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” is probably as true now as it ever was!