|March 85G Buick|
In 1981 a completely new generation of sports racers saw the light of the day. The reason for this were the Group C / GTP regulations that came into effect on January 1st that year. While the two were fairly similar, there were some distinct differences between the FISA sanctioned Group C and IMSA governed GTP cars. Group C cars were eligible for the World Championship, which included the 24 Hours of Le Mans, while the GTP cars ran in all the major endurance events in North America, which lost their World Championship status. The main reason for the IMSA to drift away from the FISA was to break Porsche's stronghold on the sport by favouring production engines. Another big difference was that the competition in Group C was leveled by limiting the fuel available for a race, while the IMSA used a displacement based minimum weight.
The IMSA achieved their objective and attracted a wide variety of machines, while Porsche was absolutely dominating Group C. In the absence of the German manufacturer, specialist companies like Lola and March thrived. Both had to make do with the smaller classes in the previous seasons and now that they could take centre stage, the two quickly developed brand new GTP cars. March brought a host of Formula 1 experience to the table and already had a first stab at building a top level sports prototype in 1981 when they developed the BMW M1C for the German manufacturer. Despite showing considerable promise, that project was binned after half a season. It was nevertheless a very useful lesson for March and the basic design was carried over for the March 82G (1982 GTP).
Under the supervision of the seasoned Robin Herd, a young Adrian Newey redesigned the aluminium honeycomb monocoque chassis used in the BMW M1C. It was designed to take a wide variety of engines, making the 82G an attractive prospect for as many customers as possible. Suspension was conventional through double wishbones at the front and rear. Taking full advantage of the ground effects allowed, Frenchman Max Sardou penned a very striking body. The most prominent element was the gaping hole between the front fenders that fed the air to the massive under body Venturis. This unusual shape quickly earned the March the nick-name 'lobster-claw'. While the bodywork evolved over the years, the car retained its distinctive shape, although the nose was not quite as dramatic in the final evolution (the 85G).
Powered by a Chevrolet V8 engine, the March 82G made a startling debut by qualifying on pole for the Daytona 24 Hours; the first ever IMSA GTP race. Unfortunately, gearbox problems put the car out of the race early. At the next big race on the calendar, the Sebring 12 Hours, the Bob Garretson entered machine continued to impress by finishing second behind a Porsche 935. A further three cars were built, two using the Chevrolet V8 and one powered by a BMW six cylinder engines. One of the V8 engined cars was raced by the factory at the Silverstone and Le Mans rounds of the World Championship in the Group C class. The brief campaign was as unsuccessful as the other cars were that season.
Lessons learned from the season that started so well, but ended in disappointment were incorporated in the 83G. Closely resembling its predecessor, the revisions of the 1983 model were in the details. Four cars were built to GTP specification and one to Group C spec with a smaller fuel tank for Nissan. Three of the GTP cars were bought by Al Holbert, who raced two cars with the Chevrolet V8 and one powered by a Turbocharged Porsche flat-six. Especially the Porsche engined machine (83G/04) was very successful, winning every race it participated in that season, bringing the IMSA Championship to Holbert. At the start of that season the same car, under new ownership, scored a victory in the Daytona 24 Hours race.
For 1984 March again did one better with the 84G, again a subtle evolution. Seven were sold and received engines as varied as the Chevrolet V8, a Buick V6 Turbo, the Porsche flat-six and a Mazda rotary. The dominance this season was complete and March Chevrolet drivers Randy Lanier and Bill Whittington were crowned IMSA Champions. There was a big, German problem looming on the horizon however that was about to end March' dominance. Ironically it was the flat-six engined March that helped Porsche develop their own GTP car, the 962. Introduced halfway through the season, the Porsche 956 based prototype racer racked up five victories in the hands of Al Holbert and Derek Bell.
The final evolution based on the 82G came in 1985 and building on the success of the previous season March managed to sell 11 examples of the 85G. Among the customers were BMW and again Nissan, who ordered three Group C spec chassis. Powered by a twin-Turbo V6 engine, one of the 'Nissans' scored a World Championship victory at a rain-soaked Fuji. The major European manufacturers withdrew from the race because their tyres were not up to the monsoon conditions, unlike the Bridgestones fitted to the March Nissans. Kazuyoshi Hoshino put a startling performance by lapping the entire, down-sized field at a startling pace. Another 85G managed to clinch the GTP class honours at Le Mans in 1986.
After four successful years, the 'lobster claw' was finally abandoned and replaced by the all new 86G. This car was jointly commissioned by Nissan and BMW for use in Group C and IMSA GTP respectively. Only one example was sold to a customer, which would be the last Group C/GTP car built by March. In the following seasons the British company worked exclusively for Nissan until they were replaced by Lola in 1989. The first generation March GTP cars were among the finest machines of their era and the only really successful privately developed prototype racers of the last decades. All other top level sports racers in the Group C / GTP era and since have had some sort of factory backing.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on February 11, 2013
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