BMW M1 Procar and IROC are making
space for you at the table. But IndyCar
and NASCAR, I’m afraid you’re going to
have to drink somewhere else.
Having sketched out where the spec
boundaries lie, the next problem is
establishing a hierarchy. Spec worlds are
usually judged by how well they deliver
whatever they were designed to, but often
those objectives aren’t particularly sexy.
The prospect of seeing cost-containment
in action has never sold a single ticket to
any race track anywhere.
So let’s start with the series that did have
an idea worth hooking onto. The BMW M1
Procar Championship was originally
conceived as a way for BMW to absorb an
unexpected obstacle while it was developing
a car for the World Sportscar Championship.
It was mid-way through developing its M1
to race under Group 5 rules when the
governing body tweaked the homologation
regulations with a new requirement that
400 examples of a model be built to Group 4
regs. What the new rule didn’t say was that
those 400 examples had to be road cars,
which is what led BMW’s Jochen Neerpasch
to the idea of creating a one-make M1
championship. Putting Formula 1 drivers
into those cars and running the series as
an F1 support event? That came later.
“The cars were very nice to drive,”
recalls Niki Lauda, who won the first
Procar title in 1979. “They were good
road cars at the time – not today – but
they were fantastic cars. It was a level
playing field, not like F1. It was a level
playing field in a normal car. I enjoyed it.”
Any series that pitches the likes of
Lauda, Mario Andretti, Hans-Joachim
Stuck and Clay Regazzoni against each
other in identically cool cars – right in the
middle of an F1 race weekend, no less – is
clearly worthy of recognition. One
argument that could potentially be made
against it was its short lifespan: it lasted
just two seasons in its original form.
Longevity in the spec world usually
means proof of concept, which is why
series built around bad ideas tend not to
last very long. But in this case, it was the
reverse. BMW closed the championship
because, by 1981, it had achieved
everything it was intended to.
Meanwhile, another of the tripwires on
the path to determining spec greatness
was revealed by an informal Twitter poll
on the subject. Among a certain faction
of respondents, the first-generation GP2
car was a clear contender. This was
curious, because that particular car was
plagued with reliability problems so
serious that they briefly threatened the
very viability of the series. But the car
was also responsible for what will almost
certainly go down as the greatest F2/GP2
race ever, and for those who saw it, an
all-time top-three race in any category:
the 2005 sprint race at the Nurburgring.
Yes, it’s confirmation bias at work:
first-gen GP2 car is associated with that
race, ergo first-gen GP2 car was amazing.
You could make a similar argument
(MAIN) F2 – and before it, GP2 –
succeeds in providing a platform for the
next generation of Formula 1 stars, such
as 2017’s “Next Big Thing,” Ferrari
development driver Charles Leclerc.
GETTING IT DONE
The Ford Transit
Trophy showcased the
durability of the Ford
Transit van because...
why not? The
series ran for several
years, but is sadly
now on hiatus.