Great cars, great drivers, great location. Not a great success.
Story and photos by Steve Erlichman
I’ve been to a heck of a lot of major races over the years. Some F1 and lots of prototype sportscar racing in IMSA and the SCCA. I saw many memorable races in that time. But one of the most memorable was the 1990 Montreal Group C race. Not for close racing though. Because it was well and truly weird.
Twenty-twenty three is the dawn of a new era for Endurance Sports Car racing. IMSA GTP cars and WEC HyperCars are able to race together for the first time in a long, long time. At the same time I’m drawn back to a fantastic previous era of sports prototype racing.
From 1982-1993 the IMSA Camel GT series in the US and the World Championship Group C shared a mostly common formula for ground-effect sports racers. Factory entries from Porsche, Jaguar, Nissan, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot competed alongside small manufacturers such as Spice, ALD, Alba, and Courage. The formula evolved and diverged during this time veering toward F1-based/high revving V8s and V10s in Group C. The cost of which ultimately killed the formula in 1993.
Road trip to Montreal
I’d attended a number of IMSA races but had never seen the international Group C version in person. So I was overjoyed to learn that the cars would be racing at the Grand Prix circuit Ile Notre Dame in Montreal. This was first time any series besides F1 had visited the picturesque and challenging circuit on an island in the St. Lawrence River. The island had been created for Expo ’67 and had sprouted a track around the edges of the island. Best of all, you can take the Metro right out to Ile Notre Dame and the circuit.
The race in question was held in September 1990, in cool and drizzly weather. There were 37 cars entered, driven by many internationally known drivers from F1, LeMans and beyond. It was quite the field of cars too.
However, the big news of the weekend was the debut of the factory Peugeot into international sports car racing for the first time other than powering other racers at LeMans. They would go on to win LeMans twice within the next four years. Their 905 was built to the new 3.5 liter Group C rules with engines based on normally aspirated F1 powerplants. New slimline bodywork placed the driver in the center of the car inside the tiny cockpit. The car’s V10 engine made a terrific sound; the car itself looked like a go-kart compared to the other Group C cars.
Favored Sauber Mercedes entered 2 cars but there were no factory Porsches. However there were many customer teams with 962s. Kremer had one car for Bernd Schneider and Joest Racing brought three 962s. Walter Brun brought 3 cars too, plus singleton Porsche entries from Richard Lloyd Racing, Almeras, Konrad, Obermaier, Salamin, and Davey.
The factory Nissan team had two cars as did Toyota. Tom Walkinshaw’s Silk Cut Jaguar team left their LeMans winning V12 powered XJR12 LMs at home and pitched up with 2 of the new V6 Turbo XJR11s.
Yves Courage brought two Porsche powered Cougar C24s and Spice Engineering entered 2 cars but only one started. Chamberlain Racing also entered 2 Spice SE89Cs. Again, only one started. There were also entries from small teams with more Spices and car constructors such as ALD and Alba.
It was supposed to run 500kms and it almost did. I can’t tell you very much about the race to be honest. Due to on and off rain throughout the race, the circuit did not drain well and there were many accidents. The race came to a halt at the 480km mark after a most bizarre and scary accident.
One of the many manhole covers around the circuit had been sucked open by the ground effect race cars. The cover came loose and before it could be spotted, a couple of the cars ran over it. But one of the Brun Porsches took a major hit. The manhole cover came right up through the chassis and into the fuel tank, igniting the contents. Fortunately the driver was able to bail out and was unhurt. But the cleanup created such a mess that the race had to be red-flagged. It was never restarted.
The result was Sauber Mercedes C11 #1 with Schlesser and Baldi being declared the winner after starting on pole. A Nissan came 2nd and the Richard Lloyd Racing 962 took 3rd.
The 1990 Montreal Group C race was one and done for Group C at the circuit.
For more racing stories and a whole lot of photos, click here.
See the new generation of GTP prototypes at your nearest IMSA event.