Editor’s Note: This article is posted in collaboration with an outside sponsorship client. The opinions and information contained within do not necessarily represent Frontstretch and its staff.
In June of 1895, the world witnessed something unprecedented: the Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race, an event widely considered to be the birth of automobile racing. Both the cars and the sport have come a long way since then, with different competitions and classes around the world all tracing their ancestry to this initial spark.
Now, over the course of 126 years, it’s reasonable that mistakes would be made from time to time as manufacturers and governing bodies explore new technologies and approaches. Today, we take a look at some of the greatest blunders, false-steps and failed investments in the history of the sport. Now, these investment errors may not be on the same scale as Donald Trump sending six major companies into bankruptcy, or Apple firing Steve Jobs in the 1980s, but there are still some commendable faux-pas for us to explore.
The Flying Benz
Mercedes-Benz CLR was a short lived Le Mans Grand Touring Prototype car built to race in the legendary Le Mans 24-hour endurance race. In this instance, the vehicle in question managed to live up to the word “prototype” due to its experimental aerodynamic profile that had quite unexpected and spectacular consequences. In qualifying rounds of the 1999 race, driver Mark Webber, the Formula 1 legend, lost control when his CLR became airborne due to aerodynamic instability on a high-speed stretch and crashed.
Amazingly, this instability went on to happen two more times, even after emergency modifications to the cars. The final crash saw Peter Dumbreck behind the wheel of the CLR in the main event. He took to the sky, flipping five or six times before landing over 30 meters from the racetrack. Thankfully, all drivers were uninjured. Mercedes-Benz promptly withdrew from the event, letting rivals BMW win the podium the next day.
The Fast Masters racing tournament was one of the more explicitly bizarre concepts ever to see the light of day in the racing world. The deeply unlikely and short-lived series took place on the 5/8-mile oval of Indianapolis Raceway Park with a field of identical $630,000 Jaguar XJ220 supercars. What’s more, to qualify for entry to the series you had to be aged 50 or older.
If that all sounds like a recipe for disaster, you wouldn’t be wrong. While nobody was harmed competing in Fast Masters, the number of crashes involved was frankly impressive, with three cars being destroyed in the very first round of the first race.
The whole series was conceived as a televisual spectacle that was supported and promoted by ESPN. The aerodynamically slick XJ220s were profoundly unsuited to racing in an oval, with very little lateral downforce to prevent them from spinning out and causing pile-ups. The series lasted one season in 1993 before being consigned to the bargain bin of motorsport history.
Formula 1 is famous for being intensely challenging to break into, with the development costs of producing competitive cars each season meaning teams without abundant funds are often left limping near the back of the grid. Among the retinue of poorly-performing teams to try their hand at the top tier of motorsport, one shines above all others. Lola had been developing chassis for F1 teams for many years and had begun to consider the prospect of entering their own cars in the prestigious competition. The plan was to spend two years developing their F1 prototype in order to debut during the 1998 season.
Unfortunately for Lola, they had teamed up with the credit company MasterCard to secure the required investment to develop the team. MasterCard, paying no heed to the realities of developing a world class racing car, pushed Lola to debut in the 1997 championship, a full year before they were deemed ready to do so. The new V10 engine they were developing for the T97/30 car wasn’t finished, so they had to install a much less powerful Ford V8 in order to get the vehicle running.
As if the engine wasn’t enough of an issue, the T97/30 had yet to undergo aerodynamics testing. The combination of these two factors led to drivers Ricardo Rosset and Vincenzo Sospiri failing to qualify for the Melbourne Grand Prix with a pace some 13 seconds behind the pole position. MasterCard Lola subsequently withdrew from the competition, and the team never got to compete in a single race.