After the 1955 season Lancia withdrew from road racing completely, the endurance racing cars were abandoned and the Grand Prix racers sold to Ferrari. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Lancia focussed on the Wold Rally Championship with a lot of success. The Lancia Fulvia, Stratos and other cars used are still considered the most legendary of all rally racers. The rally success inspired Lancia to return to road racing at the end of the 1970s.
Lancia's first all-new road racer in over 20 years was the Beta Monte Carlo silhouette racer. It was powered by a 1.4 litre Turbo-charged four cylinder engine, making it eligeble for the under-two-litre category of the Group 5 class. It excelled like the make's rally racers and won the 1979, 1980 and 1981 class World Championship. Lancia decided to up the ante and go for overall victories with a new race car for the 1982 season.
A new prototype racing class was launched for the 1982 season; Group C. One of the class' most important regulator was the restricted amount of fuel available for the races. The new car was still powered by the four cylinder engine, but the chassis was now clothed by a spyder body. Dubbed the LC1, it was designed much along the lines of the old Group 6 regulations, updated to Group C class specification. It was down on power compared to the new Porsche 956, which was powered by an engine almost twice as large as the LC1's.
To take on the Porsches, Lancia needed a much bigger engine, bigger than any engine available. As with the Stratos of the 1970s, Ferrari was picked as an engine supplier. The engine was based on the 32 valve V8 engine used in the 308 QV, downsized to displace 2.65 litres and fitted with two KKK Turbochargers. The displacement was not randomly picked, but specifically chosen to make it a potential Indy engine as well. Abarth was chosen to fine-tune the engine. In its final 3-litre form it produced 850 bhp in qualifying trim.
The V8 was bolted directly onto an aluminium monocoque as a stressed member to form the heart of the new LC2. Responsible for the chassis design was Gianpaulo Dallara, who had previously designed the chassis of Lamborghinis like the Miura. After his Lamborghini employment he formed his own company, which today is one of the leading racing car constructors. The rest of the design was quite straightforward with double wishbones and vented discs on each corner. The power was delivered to the rear wheels through a Hewland 5-speed gearbox.
Designed much along the lines of the LC1's body, the LC2 body was made from carbon-fibre and kevlar. Mounted low in the nose was a big radiator to cool the engine. Each side-pod was fitted with an intercooler to cool the hot air from the Turbos. A sophisticated ground effects underbody was fitted to create additional downforce. Livered completely in white with Martini stripes, the LC2 looked good and quick right away. It proved just that at its first 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1983.
Three cars were entered in the 1983 running of Le Mans against 9 examples of the proven Porsche 956. In qualification two of the LC2s were almost on par with the 1982 winners, resulting in a second and fourth starting position. The speed was clearly there, but the LC2's reliability record was not something to write home about. By the 13th hour all of the Lancias were out with failures caused by various problems. With no other serious threat, Porsche dominated and broke Ferrari's record by filling the first eight places at the end of the 24 hours.
The next year Lancia had the best cards for a victory in the legendary 24 Hours race. The two works entered LC2s were equipped with a larger and more fuel efficient engine and better aerodynamics. Porsche was in a quarrel with the event's organisers and decided to boycot the race, leaving Lancia as the only competitive works team entered. As in the previous events the LC2s were stunningly quick in qualifying, resulting in a front row qualification for the two works cars. After leading the race, it all went sour again for the Lancia team. Bob Wollek did manage to record the race fastest lap in the LC2 he shared with Alessandro Nannini, but teething gearbox problems hampered them throughout the race. They did not manage to finish higher than an eight position, behind seven privately entered 956s.
Third time lucky then for the Lancia team in 1985? Alas, no! More modifications were carried through, but the engine remained the car's strong and weak point, being immensely powerful but equally unreliable. With a rumoured 850 bhp on the tap, the Nannini/Wollek car qualified third on the grid. After a good start the LC2 stormed to the front and led for the first three laps, but again engine related problems struck the cars back. Eventually the two works cars finished sixth and seventh, the rest of the top ten was made up of Porsches. At the end of the season Lancia decided to retire from road racing once more.
In the first couple of years of the Group C, the LC2 was the only serious threat to Porsche's domination. Two championship races were won by the LC2 and in its three years of activity Lancia finished second in the World Championship behind Porsche. It was not until 1988 that Porsche's stronghold on Le Mans was finally broken. The LC2 remains as the only Group C car built and raced by a major Italian manufacturer.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on October 15, 2012
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