Formula E has brought back the coolest of rivalries from the 1980s
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Manufacturers are flocking to Formula E like no other motorsport out there, meaning that even the most old-school of racing fans are pricking up their ears to the current teams in the paddock. There’s Nissan, BMW, and Audi, and then there are three teams that just so happen to be reigniting a rivalry that has been dormant for over 30 years.
At the sharp end of the pits you’ll find three motorsport titans – Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Porsche.
An Audi is spoiling the party here
With driver names like three-time Le Mans-winner Andre Lotterer, Formula 2 racer-winner Nyck De Vries and GP3 champion Mitch Evans, expect to see multiple podiums and race wins from those garages this year. And if Season 6 of the all-electric series can match up in any way to the likes of the 1988 Group C sports cars season, we’ll be in for a vintage year.
What happened back in the ‘80s then?
From 1982 to 1993, the World Sportscar Championship (what we’d call the World Endurance Championship these days) was in its heyday, thanks to a new form of racing called Group C.
Based primarily on fuel consumption rates across a race distance, it was a playground for engineers to pioneer different aerodynamic and powertrain options. That led to ground effect sportscars, the birth of carbon fibre monocoques outside of F1 and even the first rudimentary dual-clutch gearboxes, now a staple in Porsche road cars.
From the get-go, Porsche dominated. Firstly with the iconic 956 and then the more developed 962, Stuttgart’s prancing horse took seven Le Mans titles in a row. Someone needed to step in and spoil the party, and in 1988, Tom Walkinshaw Racing and Jaguar put Porsche to the sword.
Bringing the carbon fibre, V12, 240mph Jaguar XJR-9 to the party, TWR had produced a car that finally toppled the steel-tubed, flat-six 962. But that wasn’t the only foe that needed smiting. Battling the Porsche’s unbelievable reliability was one thing, but the Jags also had to fend off the brutally fast twin-turbo V8 Mercedes cars, built at first by the rather capable hands at Sauber.
The Jaguar XJR-9, Sauber C9 and Porsche 962 are as iconic as sportscars get, and bloody hell did they take chunks out of each other at every race meeting in the late 1980s. There were essentially three factors that would decide which way the needle of victory would tilt — reliability, power and tactical nouse.
If all three cars didn’t break, the sheer speed of the Mercs would see them take the win. If a race became a war of attrition, the Porsches would call upon their years of development to power on home to yet another title. But if it came down to decision making and racecraft, Jag’s team principal Tom Walkinshaw would always find a way to win. Jag somehow won at Le Mans in ‘88 despite being stuck in third gear for the last hour of the race, for example.
If you look at the championship wins from that period, you can immediately see just how ferocious and competitive the racing was. Porsche took the first five titles (1982-1986), Jaguar caught up to take the ‘87 and ‘88 trophies, Merc nabbed them for themselves in ‘89 and ‘90 and then Jaguar finished with a flourish in 1991.
Group C came to an end when the cars simply became too advanced and too expensive, with the three aforementioned teams sticking it until the end of the 1991 season. But in 2020, expect to see those three badges sharing a track once again.
So what can we expect from this rivalry in 2020?
Well, if you take recent polls as a guide, Formula E fans are expecting massive things from the two Mercedes-Benz drivers. Stoffel Vandoorne and Nyck De Vries are seen as two of the most talented drivers in the field and have already shown more promise in the first couple of rounds than the previously-named HWA team had to show for themselves last year.
With Vandoorne bagging two podiums and De Vries showing some promising pace in Saudi Arabia, expect them to be fighting for the title to the very end.
Most of the paddock seem intimidated more by the guys at Porsche, with Lotterer bringing some serious experience from his time at DS TeCheetah, supplemented by the WEC and Le Mans-winning CV of Neel Jani, a man that will need to find his feet quickly to emulate anything like the success the brand achieved in Group C.
After the Formula E Christmas break, we expect to see the Porsche team ironing out any issues they had in the opening rounds, and we reckon some serious thinking will have been done after a rather lacklustre pre-season test in Valencia. The expectations are high...
And Jaguar? Well, you’d expect them to be right in amongst it in most races seeing as they’ve been part of Formula E for four seasons now. Their results in Season 5 were the best yet – including a much-needed win in Rome for Mitch Evans – but another mediocre season could be a killer blow in terms of ever seeing them as title contenders.
The late Mr Walkinshaw would not be amused.
Expect to see the two German marques going toe-to-toe then, and if the Brits can find some form, we may see these three former foes providing some serious fireworks in the upcoming meetings.
Although Merc and Porsche will be seen as the heavyweights, don’t count out Jaguar, especially with the scintillatingly-quick Mitch Evans wanting to push on from last season’s triumphs.
I hope there’s a Lotterer, Evans and De Vries podium at some point this year, but maybe that’s asking for too much from the nostalgia train.
Who do you think will come out on top between these three constructors? Cast your vote in the poll below!