Last Dragon - 1999 Sintura S99 GT1 Judd
Following the demise of the World Sportscar Championship and prototype racing in general in 1993, the GT-class became the focus of top level endurance racing. The vacuum left by the WSC was quickly filled by the BPR Global GT Series, a championship revolving around mildly modified sportscars from famous brands going wheel to wheel at Europe's finest racetracks.
However, as with any race series, BPR's increasing popularity brought an influx of funding and manufacturer interests. As a result, the formerly humble formula conceived by Porsche Cup organizer Jurgen Barth and Venturi Cup officials Patrick Peter and Stephane Ratel was quickly corrupted.
With GT cars being added to the roster at Le Mans as well, the publicity and glory a win would yield became a strong incentive to play a little dirty. In order to become more competitive, manufacturers were furiously searching for ways to work around the rulebook. Since the cars were required to be analogous to their road-going equivalents, whatever shortcomings the road car had, the race car would have to deal with as well.
This didn't sit well with German motorsport legends Porsche, as their 993 GT2 Evo had proved unable to keep up with the Ferrari F40 LM and McLaren F1 GTR in GT1. In response, they once again went through the rulebook, and discovered they could essentially build whatever they wanted, as long as they made 25 road legal models of the same design.
The mad 911 GT1 was one of the first of a new breed of GT-racers.
The end product of this line of reasoning was the 1996 911 GT1, a purpose-built racecar derived from Porsche's back catalog of successful prototype racers. Curiously, Porsche's apparent breach of the spirit of GT-racing wasn't followed by a ban or an amendment to the regulations. In fact, the rules would eventually be relaxed even further.
And with that, a new era of GT1 homologation specials was born. Soon enough, Mercedes-Benz, Lotus, Panoz, Nissan and Toyota responded to the raw pace of the 911 GT1 with their own bespoke super GTs. The latter two only had a single road legal equivalent, setting the precedent for even more extreme interpretations of the rules.
As the war for supremacy raged on in what was to be renamed the FIA GT Championship for 1997, the influence of the influence of the homologation specials was also slowly bleeding through into national championships. One of the largest and most popular of these was the British GT Championship.
In stark contrast to mainland Europe, the British series wasn't yet the exclusive domain of large brand names. As Britain was the home of numerous tiny low volume sportscar factories and specialist motorsport firms, it was no surprise names like Caterham, Ascari, Morgan, Darrian, Marcos, Quaife and TVR appeared on entry lists.
The 1991 Harrier LR9
Another of these firms was Harrier Cars. Founded in 1983 by engineer Lester Ray, the company started out with the small Mazda rotary-powered RX83C C2-prototype in the World Sportscar Championship. In 1991, Harrier moved into road car production with the LR9, a small mid-engined sportscar powered by a 3L Alfa Romeo V6.
In 1993, the new National GT Championship formed the perfect stage for Harrier to make a name for itself. The LR9 was raced with Alfa power until 1995, until the advent of the Cosworth YB 2.0L turbo-powered LR9C.
Stirling Moss christens the improved LR9C, 1997.
The 540 hp turbo engine brought the car to the front of the field in terms of pace, but by 1997 used 911 GT1s had arrived. A further GT1-98 evolution followed, but the combined might of three 911s and a McLaren F1 GTR Longtail saw it relegated to fifth place at best.
Having fallen in love with the car and wanting to do much better for 1999, Harrier's team boss Richard Austin decided to purchase the company outright from founder Lester Ray. Austin had made a fortune with Evesham Micros, a major computer manufacturing and retail company he had co-founded in 1983. His second love was racing however, as he spent his spare time maintaining and racing a classic Lotus 19.
Under Austin's direction, the Harrier would take a radically different direction. First of all, since Ford had the rights to the Harrier name on lease to Lester Ray, Austin was forced to think of a different one. He elected to use his own name as an anagram (R. Austin), creating Sintura.
The Harrier's engine and chassis combination was deemed insufficient.
Even though the company had changed name, Austin still saw it as a continuation of the Harrier project. As such, he aimed to fix all of the Harrier GT1-98's shortcomings in one fell swoop.
Though the Cosworth engine was sufficiently powerful for the featherweight car, the large turbo required to produce that power resulted in a large amount of lag and very peaky power delivery. This was fine for high speed circuits, but detrimental anywhere else.
The search for a more usable powerplant ended at John Judd's Engine Developments, where Richard Austin purchased the newly designed GV4 72-degree 4.0L V10. This engine had originally been developed in 3.5L for Formula One use, debuting in 1991 mounted to the Dallara F191. Later on, it also found a home in the back of the short-lived T92/10 Group C prototype.
Austin turned to F1-technology in the search for speed.
The GV4 evolution was a lower revving, more civilized version intended as a Le Mans prototype engine. In unrestricted form, it produced over 700 horsepower at 10.500 rpm and 508 Nm (375 lb ft) of torque at 8500 rpm. For competition use however, a 48 mm intake restrictor would be fitted, bringing power down to around 660 at 10.250 rpm and 474 Nm (350 lb ft) at 8500 rpm.
Besides the power and drivability advantages, the 135 kg (297 lb) Judd was also much lighter than the Cosworth turbo used previously, as it did not require the associated ducting and intercoolers. Moreover, the V-layout and F1-heritage made the block suitable to be mounted as a stressed member.
The Judd GV4 V10.
This feature was a vital part of Austin's plan, as the new car would feature a carbon fiber monocoque chassis instead of the Harrier's outdated steel tubular spaceframe. Whereas the GT1-98 was forced to incorporate its straight four in a separate cradle, the new car had the V10 bolted straight to the back of the tub, with the gearbox and rear suspension attached to the engine itself as well.
This arrangement made for a much stiffer, more compact and far lighter package, at just 900 kg (1984 lbs). The chassis was the work of chief engineer Phil Bourne, who headed a nine-man design team. Initially, Bourne had envisioned a steel spaceframe clad in carbon panels, but realized this approach was counter-productive.
The S99's all-carbon chassis on display.
He then outsourced carbon fiber fabrication to a local composites company, but their failure to produce in time lead him to contact famous racing brand Lola Cars. As luck would have it, Lola had a gap in their schedule and could take over where the other firm had left off.
Additionally, they were able to supply Sintura with numerous off-the-shelf parts, such as pushrod suspension assemblies and a six-speed sequential transmission. A set of carbon ceramic brakes finally completed the package.
The S99 "road version".
The beautifully finished chassis was subsequently covered in swooping carbon fiber bodywork, reminiscent of the legendary Group C prototypes of the 1980s. The long, flowing lines gave the car the appearance of a much bigger vehicle, but like the Harrier before it, the S99 was actually very small.
With the car finished, Richard Austin was faced with another hurdle. Getting the car to comply with the regulations. Like any GT-car, the S99 would have to be linked to a road going equivalent. However, since Sintura's budget wasn't as vast as Porsche or Mercedes, Austin couldn't actually afford to build a second car just for road use.
So he didn't. Instead, the S99 was presented to the officials unpainted, but with a license plate and road tires fitted. For good measure, a mock-up of a second chassis was placed beside it to suggest there were more than one example. Somehow, the ruse worked perfectly. After being cleared, the car went right back into the workshop, and was further developed to become a genuine racecar.
As a result, the S99 was its own homologation model. The car was painted with slashes of green across a black background, featuring sponsorship from Evesham Micros and Voodoo3 3dfx, the latter adorning the nose with creepy zombie eyes. With all the paperwork in order, the car was entered into the 1999 Privilege Insurance British GT Championship.
The S99 was accompanied by an all-new driver lineup, with Richard Austin signing 1998 British GT2 champions Kurt Luby and Richard Dean. Slow development lead to a debut at the fourth round of the series at the famous Brands Hatch circuit.
There, the Sintura team faced competition from a pair of 1996-spec Porsche 911 GT1s run by Blue Coral Slick 50 Racing (Geoff Lister / Magnus Wallinder) and G-Force Racing (John Greasly / John Morrisson), a pair of McLaren F1 GTRs campaigned by EMKA (Steve O'Rourke / Tim Sugden) and AM Racing (Chris Goodwin / James Munroe and a works Lister Storm GTL driven by Jamie Campbell Walter and Julian Bailey.
The Blue Coral 911 lead the way despite its age.
Though these cars were up to three years old by the time the Sintura faced them, all were proven race winners designed by larger, bigger budgeted teams. With very little actual testing work done, the S99 face quite the challenge.
The lack of testing showed in qualifying as the car placed 9th, behind three GT2 cars. A best time of 1:27.561 resulted in a gap of some 6.629 seconds to the pole-sitting Blue Coral Slick 50 911 GT1. Further issues were encountered on race day, as the Judd V10 overheated after just two laps.
The Sintura shadowing the 911 ahead of the Lister at Silverstone.
The next round at Silverstone saw Sintura improve in qualifying, mingling it with the rest of the GT1 cars by clocking a time good enough for 5th. Curiously, the GT1 field had been complemented by a privately developed 911 GT1, based on the GT2. Predictably, the car wasn't very competitive, placing 30th in qualifying behind most of the GT2 field.
Starting ahead of the G-Force 911, Richard Dean and Kurt Luby made up ground in the race, principally due to a collision between the EMKA McLaren of Steve O'Rourke and the G-Force 911 of John Greasley. The team hung on to clinch third place, being the last car on the lead lap. Sintura's first podium was a fact.
At Donington, the GT1 class again saw changes. AM Racing's McLaren was withdrawn due to financial difficulties, but it was replaced by the unique all wheel drive, Ford V8-powered Quaife R4 GTS. The new car proved too heavy to compete with the genuine homologation specials however, and it was relegated to the top of the GT2 field in qualifying.
For Sintura however, pace had improved even further. Where before the gap between the S99 and the fastest cars of the field had been measured in seconds, Donington saw it decreased to .140 of a second. A very close second to the Blue Coral Porsche was the result.
The grid for round 2 at Donington.
The competitive qualifying pace carried over in race trim, as Kurt Luby was able to take the lead and build a gap. Unfortunately the team dropped to 3rd when brake issues occurred, coupled to a botched pit stop due to the door refusing to close, and Richard Dean stalling the car in response halfway down the pit lane.
The finishing order for round one determined the starting grid for round two the next day, once again putting the Sintura into a competitive position. However, heavy rain put paid to the team's chances in a big way.
While touring on intermediates, Richard Dean got it all wrong in the run up to the Old Hairpin. The car swung around and hit the tire barriers backwards. Luckily, both Dean and the S99 were relatively unharmed.
Back at Silverstone for round 8, Kurt Luby and Richard Dean enthused their team by securing Sintura's first pole position. Just .028 of a second separated the S99 from the second-placed EMKA McLaren F1 GTR.
The team's momentum carried through on the Sunday, with the Sintura taking the win 2.54 seconds ahead of the Blue Coral 911 GT1 after a hard battle. Sintura had well and truly arrived. The S99's teething issues seemed to be under control, and the team aimed at adding another set of victories to their tally with just three races left.
At Croft, this target seemed to be feasible. A second pole position gave good hope for back to back wins. However, the Blue Coral 911 GT1 was just .231 of a second behind. The start went without a hitch, and Richard Dean started to build an advantage over the Lister of Julian Bailey.
The car picked up a vibration however, and he brought the car in early for a pit stop and a check up on lap 17. Kurt Luby then jumped in and opened the hunt for the Lister, with the Blue Coral close behind. Tripping over traffic and losing the Lister, Luby's misfortune was completed as the S99's gearbox exploded on lap 27.
Round 10 of the Privilege Insurance British GT Championship gave some international flair to the series, as it took place at the famous Circuit Spa Francorchamps. Starting from 3rd on the grid in damp conditions, Richard Dean didn't waste time behind the McLaren of Tim Sugden and steamed past into second on Kemmel Straight.
Changing conditions eventually necessitated a switch to slicks, and coming out of the pits Kurt Luby mirrored his teammate by taking the EMKA McLaren again on Kemmel. Sintura would remain in the lead throughout the race, but a clumsy mistake by Luby netted the team a 10 second penalty for overtaking under yellow flag conditions. A drop to second was the result.
The outing at Spa would be the final appearance for the Sintura in the British GT Championship, despite their being another round at Silverstone left. Governing body BRDC had decided to ax the GT1 category for the 2000 season. This left Richard Austin scrambling to find another home for his car, an initiative he deemed more important than rounding out the season.
Internationally, the FIA had already abandoned the class after Mercedes-Benz had effectively bullied its competition away, becoming the only team to apply for 2000. Mercedes and Toyota had been allowed to evolve their cars into LMGTP closed top prototypes, but after the infamous flips of the Mercedes CLR at Le Mans, this transitional class was on loose screws as well.
Open top prototypes were given priority anyway, as the FIA/ACO allowed for larger restrictors, wider tires and more elaborate aerodynamic aids to offset the speed advantage enjoyed by low drag coupes. With the Mercedes accidents in mind, this situation wasn't going to change any time soon.
The political and regulatory instability within the FIA shook Austin's confidence, but he still hoped the situation would eventually calm down enough for his car to race in the most famous endurance event on the planet. Until that happened however, the only way out was across the Atlantic.
He aimed at marketing the S99 as a customer car, and one of the biggest market for sportscars throughout history has been the United States of America.
With potential sales in mind, he entered the car as an LMP-class machine in round 7 of the inaugural American Le Mans Series at Laguna Seca.
Dropping down the Corkscrew, Laguna Seca 1999.
The class change pitted the Sintura against full-blooded prototypes like the Panoz LMP-1 Roadster S, Riley & Scott MkIII, Ferrari 333 SP, Lola B98/10, and the Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR. Also on the roster was a similar GT1-refugee, a 1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Evo fielded by Champion Racing driven by future F1-driver Allan McNish and sportscar ace Ralf Kelleners.
On an unfamiliar track and in a crowded field of purpose built sportscars, the S99 was predictably outclassed. More important was its performance relative tot the Porsche. The 911 GT1 qualified 13th with a time of 1:19.583.
The Sintura placed 16th, 1.856 seconds slower. In the nearly three hours of racing that followed however, the S99 came out on top. Whereas the Porsche crashed out, the Sintura held on to finish 9th, 9 laps down on the winning BMW V12 LMR of former F1-driver JJ Lehto and touring car legend Steve Soper.
Unfortunately, this would be the last the motorsport world at large would see of the Sintura S99. As the FIA's reluctance to support closed top prototypes persisted, and the budget to fun a full ALMS program never materialized, Richard Austin decided to end the venture and turn his attention back to Evesham Micros full-time. With GT1 banned across the globe for 2000, this made the S99 the last of its kind.
The S99 in a sorry state in New Zealand.
After this, the unique car essentially disappeared. The car was presumed lost, until recently pictures of it were shared on the British GT Championship Facebook page in August of 2019. The S99 is said to be in the possession of an unnamed collector in New Zealand, who reportedly planned on reverse-engineering the car and producing a series of derivations.
The S99 being dwarfed by an R3 Renault Sport Clio.
The plan apparently never eventuated, but based on the images the original has at least received some TLC. It's currently unknown if the car in working order or at all complete, but we can only hope this one of a kind survivor will make its way back to the racetrack very soon.