15 Influential Race Cars That Shaped Motorsport
Race cars are a beautiful thing. From this past weekend’s Rolex 24 to the Daytona 500 to Formula Drift — everything about barreling V8s, iconic liveries and historic rivalries make racing one of the coolest sports on the planet. But which cars truly made an impact on the sport? Which cars changed the way teams operated and races were won? Here are 15 cars that made their name known, and will live on in the history books for their contributions to auto racing: 15. Red Bull F1 (RB)
Relatively new to the world of Formula 1 racing, Red Bull began its run in 2005 as main sponsor to Sauber. In 2006 they put David Couthard at the helm (under Red Bull Racing), and from 2010-2013, the team picked up four consecutive constructors’ championship titles with Sebastian Vettel at the wheel.
Recently, the Red Bull team has been amidst some controversy regarding many technical aspects of its car, but so far, F1 officials have yet to find solid evidence of any wrong doing. For now, Infiniti/Red Bull continues its dominant streak.
14. Audi Quattro
In 1983, Audi’s infamous S1 Quattro made its WRC debut in Monte Carlo. In that same year, the Quattro went on to win in Sweden and Portugal, and continued on to a relatively successful year. But in 1982, Audi employed France’s Michele Mouton, the last woman rally driver of her time. She went on to win four races and a runner-up accolade in the drivers’ world championship that very same year.
13. Audi R10 TDI
In 2006, the Audi R10 TDI became the first diesel-powered vehicle to ever win at the 12 Hours of Sebring Race and the 24 Hours of LeMans. A cool $15M investment that paid off for team Audi, and put a whole new technology in the limelight or motor racing.
12. JGTC Toyota Supra Mk III
With a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, you would never think that this large Japanese coupe would ever find success. But not so. The nimble, outperforming Supra made mince meat of McLaren F1s and Honda NSXs alike and won its inaugural race in 1987, among many more.
11. BMW M1 Procar
Historically speaking, the BMW M1 didn't have a longstanding racing series. While today we see it as more of a showpiece than anything, in 1979 and 1980, the one-make championship (devised by BMW), served as series support for F1, and honed the skills of drivers like Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet. You may have heard of them.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1979 BMW M1
10. Jaguar D-Type
Decades before Audi and Porsche reigned supreme at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there was a British team that held the crown for a number of years. The stunning D-Type was only produced by Jaguar between 1954 and 1957, but within that time frame, the team picked up three straight Le Mans wins (1955, 1956, 1957) with the use of a 3.8-liter Straight-6 XK engine.
9. Plymouth Superbird
Today, a rare Plymouth Superbird will set you back six figures on an auction block, but in 1970, this coupe was the epitome of NASCAR racing. Developed for the racing series (and more specifically, Richard Petty), the Superbird was the first stock car to reach 200MPH on a curve, and became so dominant in one year, that NASCAR officials essentially banned it in 1971.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1970 Plymouth Road Runner Superbird
8. Ford GT40
In response to Ferrari's domination at Le Mans in the early 60s, Ford engineers needed to devise a way to become more successful. And in the sincerest form of flattery, the Ford GT40 was born, mimicking many design cues from the Ferrari's of the day.
But it wasn’t only the look of the GT40 that had Ferrari engineers pulling their hair out, it was the sheer dominance it displayed on the track. From 1966-1969, the GT40 took home three consecutive Le Mans wins, and the first win for an American factory at a major European race since 1921.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1968 Ford GT40 Gulf/Mirage Lightweight
7. Ferrari F2002
The Ferrari F2002 is a story of pure dominance. Throughout the 2002 season, Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari team scored a total of 11 wins, loosing their only race at Monaco. Of course, the team's 221 points at the end of the season (more then all the other teams combined) gave them the championship trophy with ease.
6. Lancia Stratos Group 4
While today we don’t associate the Lancia nameplate with much of anything, in the early 70s, it began its dominance of the WRC with the Stratos. The iconic wedge-shaped racer came with a mid-engine V8 and rear-wheel drive — one of the last successful racers to sport the rear-drive, mid-engine layout, taking the crown from the heralded Quattro.
Winning the WRC championship in 1974, 1975, and 1976, it was just the beginning of a majorly successful run for the Italian automaker.
5. Mazda 787B
Mazda’s racing history isn’t necessarily a long one — but it’s a story of persistence and quality, over speed and power. The 787B was built in 1990 for use in the 1990 and 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans. But what made this now iconic racer so special was the R26B rotary engine. Quick it was not, but the overall quality and endurance of it allowed the 787 a victory at Le Mans in 1991. It was the first, and last of its kind.
Only five 787Bs were ever built.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1991 Mazda 787B
4. McLaren F1 GTR
The initial goal of the McLaren F1 was to show the world that a bunch of Brits could build the world's most capable street vehicle. It wasn't until 1995, that designer Gordon Murray was coerced into developing an F1 ready for the race track.
With only minor adjustments, and a massive rear wing, the F1 GTR took to Le Mans, and garnered first, third, fourth, fifth and 13th place finishes in 1995.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1995 McLaren F1 GTR
3. Porsche 917
In 1970 and 1971, a beautiful thing happened, Porsche took home its first two wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its 917. And with a 0-60 mph time of 2.3 seconds, and a top speed of 240, the 917 was no slouch. In 1971, it even had a starring role in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans.
2. Lancia Delta HF Integrale Group A
Following the success of the Stratos, the Delta Integrale took to the WRC stage and performed like no other. The 2.0-liter engine, hatchback layout, and superb driving dynamics gave way to 46 victories, six championships in a row from 1987 to 1992, and two drivers’ championships in 1987 and 1991.
In 1993, Lancia retired the Delta, finishing off one of the most heralded racing careers of all time. With its hugely successful run, the Delta changed the face of rally as we know it, and solidified Lancia's legacy in WRC.
1. Lotus 18
In the 1960s, Lotus introduced one of the most significant changes to the standard F1 car that anyone had ever seen — the mid-engine layout. While Ferrari and Alfa saw dominance in the early 50s with their front-engine cars, Colin Chapman and Lotus took the sport in a whole new direction.
The Lotus 18 made its racing debut in 1960 for the F1, F2 and FJ racing series’. Coining the term, “Simplify, then add lightness,” Chapman’s 18 was lighter, nimbler, and all around better than the competition.
With the direction of world-renowned driver Stirling Moss, the Lotus 18 took home gold at the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix, the United States Grand Prix, second place in the constructors’ championship, and a win at the Nurburgring. While many may credit the 25 as the greatest Lotus racer of all-time (which we don't disagree), the 18's influence paved the way for Chapman and Team Lotus to dominate motorsport throughout the 60s.
Photo Credit: RM Auctions