Grand Throwback #1 - 2006 Venturi Heritage GT3 Audi
The homologated heretic
In 1984, two former Heuliez engineers embarked on the realization of a life-long dream. As true patriots, Claude Poiraud and Gérard Godfroy felt the need to represent France in the world of fast, exotic and luxurious sportscars.
In a bid to take the fight to Ferrari, Corvette, Aston Martin, and Porsche, the pair founded Manufacture de Voitures de Sport (literally: Factory for Sportscars). Later that year, the first MVS vehicle was presented.
Dubbed MVS Ventury, the mid-engined, Lotus-like machine wasn't much to write home about. Though easy on the eyes, a 1.8L, 118 horsepower four cylinder engine taken from the Volkswagen Golf GTI left much to be desired. However, Poiraud and Godfroy were pragmatic enough not to try and release the car immediately.
The original MVS Ventury, 1984.
instead focusing on the search for more power. After fitting a 200 horsepower, 2.2L turbocharged straight four out of the Peugeot 505 Turbo in 1985, the production version was finalized around a turbocharged 2.8L Peugeot-Renault-Volvo V6 in 1986 providing between 200 and 260 horsepower.
By the time the car went on sale in 1987, the named had been amended as well to spell Venturi. The car was offered as a Coupe and the unique folding metal roof Transcup convertible. Engine options were also diversified, with the addition of a 160 horsepower naturally aspirated version and a 200 horsepower Renault 2.0L straight four turbo engine intended for the Italian market, where taxes were based on displacement.
Despite the large variety of offerings, Venturi generally kept a low profile. Though sales were sturdy for such a small company, Godfroy and Poiraud yearned for a big break which would allow them to challenge the established brands. Luckily, the men had hired racing driver Stephane Ratel as director of competition services.
Ratel ensured publicity by entering a title-sponsorship deal with the Larrousse Formula One team for 1992, but he realized the link with Venturi's road cars was tenuous at best. In an effort to connect the cars with a competition image, he kicked off the Venturi Gentlemen Driver's Trophy.
The 400 Trophy forged Venturi's bond with GT racing.
The series was intended for wealthy motorsport enthusiasts to go head to head in a less professional setting, allowing for reduced budgets. Additionally, the participants would be given identical vehicles to level the playing field.
A specialized version of the standard 260 Coupe was developed to support the series, sporting a 3.0L twin turbo PRV V6 producing 408 horsepower. Dubbed "The French F40", the 400 Trophy heralded the arrival of Venturi into the world of motorsport.
The Venturi Gentlemen Driver's Trophy provided great exposure for the brand.
With the demise of the popular World Sportscar Championship in full swing, Ratel's timing couldn't have been better. The grids filled up in no time at all, giving Venturi enough business to produce a road going version of the Trophy. This car, the 400 GT, would get the honor of being the first road car to sport carbon-ceramic brakes.
Just as the GT was presented by renowned French racing driver Henri Pescarolo in 1994, Stephane Ratel used the championship as a springboard to something much greater. After talks with Porsche Carrera Cup organizer Jurgen Barth, he and his partner Patrick Peter agreed to fuse the two series and create the BPR Global GT Series.
Venturi was one of the building blocks of the highly successful BPR Global GT Series.
BPR was set up to fill the void left by the death of endurance racing in 1993, and was open to modified versions of road-going sportscars. Venturi Trophy and Porsche Carrera Cup cars took up most of the grid in the early races, but soon Ferrari, Jaguar, Honda, Toyota, Morgan, Nissan, Aston Martin, Bugatti, Lotus, Chevrolet and Marcos all joined the format in some capacity.
However, Venturi couldn't keep up with the fire it had started itself. With much bigger budgets, better facilities and more personnel, the larger brands swiftly outclassed the small French factory. The 400 would go through several revisions in an attempt to keep up, but even the brutal 650 horsepower 600SLM was unable to make an impression against the might of McLaren.
The ultimate Venturi: 600 SLM.
With manufacturer involvement growing and budgets exploding into the stratosphere, Venturi was forced to concede. The gentleman driver and the modified sportscar were making way for the former F1-driver and purpose-built racing machines, leaving no room for the tiny company.
As a result, Venturi retired its racing program, and focused on a heavily updated version of their road car, the Atlantique. However, just four years after the launch of the new car, Venturi filed for bankruptcy in 2000.
Gildo Pallanca Pastor, savior of Venturi.
In 2001, the company was revived by Monegasque entrepreneur Gildo Pallanca Pastor. Under his direction, Venturi developed an unusual split strategy. On the one hand, Pastor aimed to invest heavily in electric powertrains, starting development of what would become the Fetish electric sportscar in 2005. But at the same time, he set out to revitalize the brand's sporting credentials in a more traditional way.
After seeing his brilliant ideas hijacked by large car companies and the FIA, Stephane Ratel was once again busy creating a new milestone in GT-racing. Under FIA direction, his championship had been allowed to escalate to the point where full-blown prototypes with tacked-on license plates dominated the series into extinction by 1998.
GT-racing had stumbled a couple of times since then, with several class restructures occurring, but it remained the domain of large manufacturers. Hoping to bring back the gentlemen drivers aspect, Ratel formulated Group GT3. Placed below the more extreme GT1 and GT2 categories, GT3 followed the spirit of the original BPR Global GT Series by only allowing lightly modified road going sportscars.
GT3 vs GT1 in a nutshell: Maserati Gransport GT3 vs MC12 GT1.
A critical element of the formula was the ability of the governing body to demand technical modifications to the cars based on their performance. If one car proved to be dominant, a smaller intake restrictor or extra weight would be mandated to ensure parity among the different competitors.
This "Balance of Performance" also prevented excessive spending by manufacturers, as any performance gain they would achieve would immediately be negated. Furthermore, full factory teams were banned, with manufacturers forced to take on a more distant supplier role. This way, Stephane Ratel hoped to avoid suffering the same fate the original FIA GT Championship had undergone.
However, with no existing series to draw from this time around, Ratel needed to shop around looking for participants for his new class. Naturally, his former employer was on the shortlist. Invigorated by Pallanca Pastor's healthy bank account, and with fond memories of his experience racing the exotic Bugatti EB110 SS at Le Mans 1995, Venturi joined the preliminary roster for the inaugural FIA GT3 Championship.
In stark contrast to the recently presented Fetish, the GT3 machine would hearken back to Venturi's glory days. The car's silhouette was clearly based on a blend of the Atlantique and the 400/500/600 Le Mans racers, but underneath it was fundamentally different.
Designed under the direction of former Matra, Ligier, Lotus and Larrousse F1 designer Gerard Ducarouge, the aptly named Heritage harbored a more modern steel monocoque chassis instead of the steel backbone example seen on the original racers. Full carbon fiber bodywork helped bring weight down to 1170 kg (2579 lbs).
Furthermore, the outdated PRV V6 had been replaced by a 4.2L Audi V8, which was then supercharged by renowned tuner Motoren Technik Mayer, providing 485 horsepower and 600 Nm (442 lbs ft) of torque. Power was transmitted to the rear wheels by a CIMA six-speed sequential transmission.
Despite being effectively a brand new car, the Heritage GT3 was granted homologation on the basis that it was a continuation of the Atlantique-range. Without this link, Venturi would have been required to produce 25 cars to qualify.
Sadly, Venturi had started development of the car a little too late. The first wave of GT3 cars was set to take part in press event at Paul Ricard. Unable to complete the Heritage in time, the firm was forced to miss the event entirely.
An old LM was hastily brought in as a stand-in.
With the official grand presentation of the GT3-category planned for December 2, 2005 at the world famous Casino Monte Carlo, Venturi needed to think fast to avoid missing out again. Work on the Heritage was still too slow to make the deadline, so drastic measure needed to be taken.
Venturi responded by buying an old LM from a private individual. The car had led a hard life as a club racer, and had been substantially modified from its original spec. The LM was quickly fitted with wheels, bumpers and a wing intended for the Heritage, and sent on its way to Monaco.
There, the car hid in plain sight among the other GT3 hopefuls, the Dodge Viper Competition Coupe, Maserati Gransport Light GT3, Ascari KZ1-R, Reiter Lamborghini Gallardo GT3, Callaway Corvette Z06 GT3, Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S, Aston Martin DBRS9 and Lotus Sport Exige GT3. Luckily, the LM spent most of its time on static display, making it easier to hide the fact it still housed the old PRV V6.
The Heritage GT3 preparing for the official test at Paul Ricard.
The car was finally finished in time for the first official FIA GT3 pre-season test at Paul Ricard on May 2-3. Monegasque outfit JMB Racing was brought on to run and develop the car, which was driven by former F1-driver Olivier Beretta, also from Monaco.
With no actual testing done beforehand, the test went amazingly well given the circumstances. Beretta was able to complete a substantial number of laps, but was hampered by gear selection issues throughout.
After the mixed results from the first test, it was time for the second session on April 11-12. This time around, the track was open to all three GT-classes, giving an interesting mix of cars. Unfortunately, Olivier Beretta was unable to return due to commitments to Corvette Racing in GT1. He was replaced by 1993 Le Mans-winner Christophe Bouchut and Dominique Dupuis.
Although the lack of driver continuity didn't exactly help the car's development, Bouchut turned out to be able to extract plenty of performance from the car. After two days, the car ranked second on the GT3 leaderboard. However, its best lap of 1:21.845 was still some 1.232 seconds slower than the leading Callaway Corvette.
The Heritage mixing it with GT1 and GT2 cars.
Sadly, the encouraging second showing would ultimately lead to nothing. As everything went quiet around the Heritage, JMB Racing was seen moving on to another project. Having run GT2 Ferraris in the past, the squad moved down with the Scuderia into GT3.
When pressed for comment on the future of the car, Gildo Pallanca Pastor alluded to difficulty with the homologation process, and his wish to emphasize the development of forward thinking technologies. A supercharged V8 GT-racer didn't really fit into his business case after all, though Pastor did not rule out running the car on some sort of alternative fuel.
And with that, the Heritage GT3 faded into obscurity. A second chassis was built before the program ended, but both cars were mothballed until they were purchased by a wealthy French collector several years later.
One of the Heritage GT3s in club competition, Circuit Fay de Bretagne, 2016.
Since then, Venturi hasn't made another attempt at returning to the discipline they created. As one of the founding fathers of modern GT-racing, a return to form over a decade later would have been a fitting achievement for the illustrious brand.
Instead, Gildo Pallanca Pastor shunned the revived racer, and kept his company on the environmentally-friendly, alternative propulsion path he originally envisioned in 2001. This ultimately resulted in a presence in Formula E instead of the global GT-stage, thoroughly abandoning Venturi's heritage.