62 SEPTEMBER 2017
At its worst, spec racing is a fast (well, not always...), noisy
manifestation of a bad marketing gimmick. But at its best, it
can stand toe to toe with anything in the motorsports world.
hat is the greatest spec car – or spec
racing series – of all time?
The question sounds like an exercise
in dueling banalities, like being asked to
choose your favorite shade of beige.
A favorite grade of office paper.
Or even a favorite Maroon 5 song...
Can a car even try to stake a claim to
greatness if it only ever competed against
itself? It can, but to stand shoulder to
shoulder with its non-spec brethren it
must somehow transcend the purpose for
which it was designed. This might seem
unfair, because a spec car is constrained
by limitations that a non-spec car isn’t. But
who says that those limitations have to be
bland? The 4. 2 liter V12 Menard engine
utilized by Superleague Formula – a series
that was derided on nearly every other
level – says the answer to that is, nobody.
Done right, spec racing can be great.
The glories of IROC or the BMW M1 Procar
Championship are still sung today, years
(make that decades for Procar) after
their demise. Spec competition also
allows us to enjoy racing at its most
wonderfully idiosyncratic, as anyone
who was privileged to witness the
Portuguese one-make championship for
Wrace-prepped Ford Transit vans will tell you.
(Series slogan: “Extremely fast delivery.”)
Perhaps the easiest way to determine
what spec is, is to work out what it isn’t.
First, let’s eliminate series that naturally
gravitate toward a single package. The
2007 Indianapolis 500 field featured just
two Panoz chassis against 31 Dallaras, but
even if there were no Panoz cars at all, the
fact that someone could run a Panoz keeps
that era of IndyCar Series racing out of the
spec column. Similarly, look to the 2003
British Formula 3 Championship, where
one Lola and one Ralt started the season
against a field full of Dallaras. By round six,
both the Lola and the Ralt (the latter driven
by Will Power) were gone. So a series that
evolves toward a single package because
that’s what is proven to be competitive
isn’t spec. It’s natural selection.
It is true that IndyCar and NASCAR
have developed in a more spec-oriented
direction than a generation or two ago.
But saying that a series is more spec than
it used to be is like saying that A.J. Foyt has
mellowed with age. It’s probably true to a
degree, but “more mellow” doesn’t mean
“mellow.” And “more spec” is not “spec.”
As tightly constrained as they are, IndyCar
and NASCAR teams still have scope to gain
a performance advantage through
equipment choice and development.
So let’s go hardline. Where the car
itself is concerned, spec means identical.
You can swap any parts between any car
on the grid, and have exactly the same
potential for performance. But we’ll relax
that definition slightly when it comes to
preparation: a series with multiple teams
can qualify for spec status alongside
those where the cars are centrally-
prepared, as long as the cars themselves
are the same. Formula 2, Porsche
Supercup and Indy Lights duck under the
velvet rope and get in the spec club.
(ABOVE) Inaugural IROC season featured
two weekends, a fleet of Penske-prepared
Porsches – and glory for Mark Donohue.
HELMED BY THE CAPTAIN
WORDS Mark Glendenning MAIN IMAGE LAT archive