World Sports Car 1998
1998 was a blowout for world endurance racing.
The FIA had removed prototype racing from the limelight after the dissolution of SWC in 1993. In 1994 the BPR Global GT Series stepped in and brought production sportscars to the forefront of global endurance competition. In 1995, McLaren introduced the F1 GTR built to dominate the track. Other manufacturers took notice and began work on their own supercar superweapons. By 1997, the FIA gained control, setting new regulations for cars and race lengths, and splitting the classes into GT1 for the new “quasi-prototype” GT entries and GT2 for the previous production-based models.
Several manufacturers piled into the growing series, grasping for glory across the world. Many of the cars, especially in the GT2 class, would find their way to IMSA in various forms while the GT1’s were truly built for Le Mans. But with manufacturer spending, comes rising costs. As Mercedes, Porsche, Toyota and Nissan waged their arms race, the series blew out costs and Mercedes’ dominance saw many hit eject.
The GT1 class would later reformat in the 2000’s around production based models again, while much of the top tier racing programs would shift to prototype racing and development: what many saw as the future of endurance. But for a brief period, in the fervor of creativity and passion for motorsport, the world saw incredible battles on and off the track and race cars like never before, some from manufacturers that were totally new to the world stage. Come join the series that went out with a bang before the new millennium.
World Sportscar 1998 mod for rFactor 2 (WSC 1998) was made possible thanks to the generous contributions and support of: Carpe Noctem, Apex Modding, alekssk & F1SR, Ron123 / TrackaHolics, Matt Kelly Racing, Barry Dimarzo, WSGT (Klaasvh)/Outl@w, Ozerdogan Design, artists Blitz0 and Alec King, and our wonderful patrons and fans.
This class was crafted to satisfy the growing hunger by manufacturers to facilitate a more impressive top tier in the series. They wanted cars that didn’t require a 25-unit homologation rules, and the FIA said, “just give us 1 and you can do kind of whatever you want”. These cars were basically early prototypes of what prototypes would become in later years with heavily refined performance and aerodynamics.
Ferrari 333 SP
While actually part of the prototype category at Le Mans (the newly formed LMP1), the 333 was on par with the GT1 cars in the FIA GT Championship. Revealed in 1993, it was Ferrari’s official return to sports car racing after 20 years and designed for IMSA’s WSC class. They teamed up with Dallara for the build and designed a custom 4L V12 based on the 641 F1 car which is described as “one of the most reliable race engines”. It won the debut Road Atlanta race in 1994 and continued winning through the following year, including the manufacturers and driver’s championships.
In 1998, the car was refreshed slightly, winning several races including the Daytona 24, Sebring 12, the works championship and giving Wayne Taylor a 2nd in driver’s standings. The 333 SP ran almost an entire decade before it was retired from modern sportscar racing.
McLaren F1 GTR Longtail
Designed by Gordon Murray and Paul Rosche to be the ultimate sportscar, taking cues from several racing technologies. That’s why it was so easy to convert to a race car when McLaren asked them to mold the BMW S70/2 6.1L V12 6 speed manual monster to a race-winning machine. It took Le Mans in its 1995 debut and quickly inspired its rivals to pursue race-designed models. Though fast, by 1997, the car had to be altered to compete with the new monsters in the top tier. The bodywork was stretched and the floor was altered for max downforce, leading to the longtail versions, transmission upgraded to a sequential and the engine was improved.
McLaren pulled support after 1997, and the privateer Gulf Team wasn’t as successful for 1998, although they managed an impressive 4th overall at Le Mans, with youngster at the time, Bill Auberlen. A valiant final charge for the quirky center-seat car that started the war and fought hard against the purpose-built proto-GT’s.
Mercedes CLK LM
The Germans wanted to win. After some initial success with the GTR in 97, they refined the car for 1998 and proceeded to conquer the competition so hard, it ended the class. They built the monster M120 V12 NA which was unrivaled when paired with the cutting-edge engineering onboard the rest of the car. They were undefeated for the entire championship. Because Le Mans was longer than the FIA GT races, they swapped the engine for a modified M119HL V8 from their C9/C11’s which were so reliable. But both engines failed within the first 2 hours of the race, leaving them dejected just like in 1991. Despite that disappointment, the CLK LM defined the year and left its legacy on the sport.
Nissan R390 GT1
Like its Japanese rival, Toyota, Nissan also saw gold in the new FIA championship and entered some GT-R’s into competition. But they were quickly outpaced with newcomers in the GT1 format and Nismo teamed up with TWR to design their purpose-built race car. The VRH35L 3.5L V8 twin turboed engine was a modified version of the block that ran in their successful R89C in Group C. Due to the astounding pace of development, much of the bodywork is borrowed from the XJR-15 tooling, though it was upgraded. This is also why the ‘97 Le Mans debut suffered mechanically as the cars had to be altered in scrutineering due to technical infringements.
In 98, the R390’s were improved and four cars were entered. While they were somewhat outpaced by the top German runners, the cars were very reliable and all finished in the top ten, one with a podium.
Panoz Esperante GTR-1
Pharmaceutical mogul, Don Panoz, and his son Dan, loved luxury sports cars and supported several racing endeavors, including the Esperante. In its debut at Sebring in 1997, it set the track record. During the race, Andy Evans, racer and owner of IMSA and Sebring at the time, complained over the radio “what is this goddamn car in front of me that I’ve been trying to pass for an hour” as he was driving his 333 SP prototype in a supposedly faster class.
A truly unique, American racecar with a stirring hood shape that had the Roush V8 engine front mounted. Improved for the ‘98 season, it took several victories in the States and many podiums in the FIA GT Championship, all while battling hard with Porsche and Mercedes around the world. Panoz even took an impressive 7th overall at Le Mans and had a hybrid entry (though it underperformed due to mechanical issues). This year also marked the first ever Petit Le Mans which Panoz had rallied many behind, changing the nature of endurance racing to how we know it today.
Porsche 911 GT1-98
Porsche had been chasing Mercedes over the last couple years and couldn’t quite get the performance they needed. Then, in 98, they redesigned the car. They took the tub from the 993, the gearbox of a 962, and other components from across their lines to build the best of the best. But despite the effort, Porsche was typically just on the podium behind Mercedes, never winning a race…except one: Le Mans. The GT1 entries started behind the CLK’s and Toyota but rose to 1st and 2nd overall (win 16 for Porsche) as Mercedes and Toyota fell apart from mechanical issues.
The car was unique in that it had a sequential gear box and a turbocharged 3.2L flat 6 mid-mounted engine, unlike actual 911’s. Despite air-restriction on the turbo cars, the 911 ran over 200 mph on the Mulsanne straight. Norbert, the designer, was quite upset when the CLK premiered as he felt Porsche had followed the spirit of the rules and made the 911 as close to a road going car as possible while still being a racecar. Something that made this one of the most drivable supercars of the era.
Toyota started into the GT series in 1995 with modified Supra’s and MC8-R’s. But seeing their rivals quickly grow into better cars, they developed a highly specialized GT1 car to premier in 1998. Seeing Mercedes exploit a loophole with required trunk space (they claimed hard-to-reach cavities were storage), Toyota went one step further: They claimed the fuel tank, which was larger than a suitcase, was storage space. The FIA & ACO agreed.
The car had a 3.6L V6 twin turbo with sequential transmission which paired with its crafted aerodynamics to make a very fast car that was ready to murder Mercedes at Le Mans. After the CLK LM’s dropped out, Toyota was fighting for the win with Porsche when the gearbox failed and the sole, remaining car took 9th overall. The GT-One would be a bridesmaid at the ‘99 Le Mans with a puncture in the closing hours. The GT-One featured advanced aero design which would influence the next gen prototypes. But since it was developed almost exclusively to run at Le Mans, there were few other chances for it to show off its abilities during its limited existence.
In the beginning, there was only one class within the BPR Global GT Championship with cars based on production sportscars. But as the FIA rules changed, the production cars were bumped to their own class in order to keep a balance and add multi-class racing to the mix. When the GT1 class was eliminated, GT2 remained and evolved into the various GT classes of the early 2000’s.
Marcos Mantara LM600
Before going bankrupt and moving to the Netherlands, Marcos produced kit cars in Britain until moving to production vehicles in the 90’s with Ford engines (Though the LM600 would run a Chevy V8). And they went racing. Marcos LM cars competed in the British GT Championship, winning it 3 times from 1994-2000. Since the start of the BPR Global GT, Marcos had been competing and improving. 1997 saw several top 10’s and a few podiums and entries at Le Mans that were plagued with DNFs.
1998 wouldn’t include a Le Mans trip, but the car did DNF at the Petit Le Mans. It was a mixed bag for the season as many races were plagued by DNFs and a single DQ due to non-race fuel found in the tank. When the car finished, it was typically strong, despite the powerhouse performance of their Chrysler rivals in the Vipers and the persistent Porsches. And it took pole at several events.
Saleen Mustang SR
The Foxbody Mustang found a mixed bag of success in the late 90’s. By 1997, they had captured the SCCA Manufacturer’s championship for the 3rd time, likely inspiring a run at the FIA GT Championship which was a string of DNF’s and poor finishes, including retirements at Le Mans. British team, Citek, tried for success but also found frustration. This continued briefly into 1998 where Saleen took 7th at Sebring. Citek continued to field the car in different events but never could elevate their team up the boards. A strong 5.9L V8 powered the car from the front and helped drivers grab many regional victories in North America and another SCCA title for Saleen in ‘98.
Chrysler/Dodge Viper GTS-R
Dodge wanted to boost sales of the Viper in Europe and showcase the car’s prowess. So Chrysler agreed and the company looked to Oreca in France to help develop the car in Europe with the assistance of key components from Reynard Motorsport in the UK. The V10 engine was perfect as it was just within the upper limit of the rules. The GTS-R was unveiled in 1995 with development insights shared with the road car and racecar.
The Viper ran IMSA and Le Mans in 1996 as a reconnaissance year. 1997 was powerful & 1998 was a clinic in sportscar winning, much like Mercedes was in the GT1 class. The Viper would take class wins in all but one race for the FIA GT season, and 1sts/championships around the globe, a hat trick in class at Le Mans. Chrysler pulled support in 2001 but the cars still kept winning through 2007 when homologation ended; a remarkable achievement.
Porsche 993 GT2
Moving away from AWD systems from the early 90’s Porsche created the 993 specifically for racing. The car was finely tuned for performance, much of it coming from the rear mounted 3.6L turbo flat-6. The large rear wing was an aesthetically defining feature for the car. It is considered by many to be the pinnacle of Porsche’s modern sportscars, while the road-going version has earned the nickname, “Widowmaker” due to the incredible power it wields.
The 993 crushed it in 1996, taking several class victories and filling most of the grids in FIA GT and IMSA. 1997 was a running gunfight with the Vipers and LM600’s for class honors. 1998, Viper was in top form, leaving Porsche and Marcos to cross swords over who would take the 2nd place trophies. 12 entries for the 993 make up 25% of the entire entry list and over 70% of the class, helping them take a 3rd in GT2.