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Michael & Andrew Cotton

Aston Martin and Mercedes consider return to Sports Car Racing

London, September 4, 2003

Maserati confirmed
Aston Martin almost certain
Mercedes new playground ?
Le Mans Endurance Series a popular concept
Audi  considering a Diesel

Two major manufacturers will, at the end of this month, make their decisions
regarding their racing activities and, pending the outcome of high-level meetings,
the future of sportscar racing will be sealed. For a few years now we have had, in
particular, Porsche and Ferrari steering the regulatory bodies towards a top class
of sports car that resembles the cars that they sell, and they have succeeded.
575 GTC s/n 2106
Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT

Maserati confirmed
Maserati has already confirmed that it will build a new car, a carbon-tub GTS
machine related to the Ferrari Enzo, which will run in direct competition with the
officially sanctioned, N-Technology-built Ferrari 575 in the FIA GT Championship.
The Maserati will also face competition from the privately-developed Pagani
Zonda, powered by a version of the Mercedes V12 engine, the only other carbon-
tub GTS car in existence.
Aston Martin almost certain
Aston Martin will make its announcement at the end of this month after a few years
of looking into sports car racing. The British manufacturer commissioned a study
by Graham Humphreys to look into the viability of the discipline and, it seems, they
liked what they saw.

They are now in discussion with Prodrive as partners in the project and the
likelihood is that Swiss oil shipping magnate Frederic Dor, who financed the
development of the Prodrive Ferrari 550 Maranello, will be involved. French team
ORECA withdrew from the discussion with Aston Martin as the proposed deal
required the company to take a substantial stake in the project.
Mercedes new playground ?
The other manufacturer considering this month a return to top flight endurance
racing is Mercedes, though the top brass are said to be very jumpy about anything
appearing in print, but should have a thicker skin than that. The German
manufacturer is building a carbon tub road car, in association with McLaren, which
has been tested by journalists, and sources within the company report that those
with racing in their blood desperately want to take it racing.

There are obvious obstacles to such a plan, including the marque's history at Le
Mans and certain company line on Formula One and the DTM series, but the car is
there and it must be in the back of their minds that someone will turn it into a
racing car regardless. Look at Ray Bellm and the McLaren F1 project, and Toine
Hezemans with the Pagani.

If those two top line-manufacturers take the decision to race, the whole shape of
sports car racing will change with a return to closed-top, manufacturer-backed
super cars, the "dream cars" that Stephane Ratel has been advocating for many

Now, for the first time in many years, there are already established platforms in
which to race these cars in the American Le Mans Series and the FIA GT
Championship, and these stable platforms are drawing the manufacturers back. A
stable set of regulations is a contributory factor, with an alliance, or rather an
understanding, formed between the ACO and the FIA.

There is also considerable interest in the discipline, from Stephane Ratel who has
put his heart and soul into the FIA GT Championship, and Don Panoz who has
worked similar wonders in the US with the American Le Mans Series.
Le Mans Endurance Series a popular concept
The FIA GT Championship has grown in stature, attracting Ferrari and Maserati
over the next two years, the Le Mans Endurance Series is proving to be a popular
concept, and the American Le Mans Series is still going strong with private Audis,
Panoz, MG, Ferrari, factory Corvettes, semi-factory Porsches, and some fine,
household-name drivers.

Porsche's plans for a return to racing are, we understand, a little circumspect
despite its obvious and ill-hidden interest in the new rules. While the enthusiasts
are horrified that the company can build the Carrera GT, a car already based on the
still-born prototype project, and not automatically take it racing, the decision of
Mercedes and Aston Martin may be enough to persuade even the most atheistic
hearts in top-level management.

We can draw some comfort from the fact that, if you talk to different departments,
you get a different opinion on the racing activities. That is because some are
working on racing parts for the car, others aren't, and they are all independent of
each other.
Audi  considering a Diesel
Audi is considering a closed-top challenger to succeed its R8, but will probably
concentrate on the LM-GTP class and is rumoured to be considering a diesel. We
will know more in October regarding the VW Group's plans. SEAT has a concept
car on the drawing board, Lamborghini is building a car through German tuner
Reiter Engineering, and Bentley has a proven race winner with a 'hardly raced or
rallied' sticker attached.

Aston Martin, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, Bentley, Ferrari. These are the
manufacturers who have formed the backbone of sports car racing in years gone
by, who have supported the growth of the ALMS and the FIA GT Championship in
its various stages. These are the manufacturers who are looking to return again.

They are the cycle, and they are evaluating coming around again

Andrew Cotton

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