Sports-car racing, form of motor racing involving cars built to combine aspects of racing and touring cars. Although there are many conflicting definitions of sports cars, it is usually conceded that in normal production form they do not resemble Grand Prix (Formula One) racing machines. Whereas the latter is a single-seat design carrying spartan cockpit furnishings and utterly functional equipment throughout, the sports car is usually a two-seater, sometimes a four-seater, characterized by its nimble abilities (if not speed and power) together with general suitability for high-speed touring on ordinary roads. Unlike a Grand Prix car, it is usually series-produced, seldom handmade. Some manufacturers of Grand Prix machines, such as Ferrari and Lotus, also make sports cars. Other makes include MG, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Austin-Healey, Triumph, Porsche, Lancia, Morgan, and Chevrolet Corvette. Although not usually designed exclusively for racing, sports cars are, nevertheless, able racing machines and are often entered in competitions with others of their class. Most of the world’s sports-car racing is conducted for amateur drivers by local and regional organizations. Some of the world’s most famous professional races are sports-car events, however, and may even be designated as Grand Prix. (When the term Grand Prix is used in this context, it does not refer to the type of car used but rather to the race’s being a major automotive event of the nation in which it is held.) The development of sports cars for racing, especially in such commercially important events as the 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans, where the reputations of participating manufacturers are very much at stake, brought about some prototype sports cars that are, in reality, little different in their power and speed potentials from Formula One machines. A world sports-car championship was awarded from 1953 to 1961. It was replaced in 1962 by a manufacturer’s championship, for which grand touring and prototype cars also compete, awarded annually to the make of car that achieves the best record in a specified series of races.
Unlike most European and other countries, the United States has no single automobile racing body. The governing bodies noted above for various kinds of racing are members of the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States-FIA, basically an advisory and liaison organization.
Grand Prix Racing
After the first French Grand Prix race of 1906 at Le Mans, a frequent early venue and also the site of 24 Hours of Le Mans, run from 1923, the race was run in 1907 and 1908 and then not again until 1912. The first Italian Grand Prix was run in 1908. When racing resumed after World War I, the French and Italian Grand Prix were held in 1921. The Belgian Grand Prix began in 1925, the German in 1926, and that at Monaco in 1929. The national clubs had formed a governing body in 1904, the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (renamed the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile in 1946). The cars of each nation were all painted one colour for easy identification: French, blue; Italian, red; German, white; and British, green. Entries were made by manufacturers, usually two or three cars, and drivers were professional. Races were on closed circuits of 5 or 6 km to a lap with total distances of from 250 to 650 km. Through 1934 French and Italian manufacturers won most frequently, but throughout the rest of the 1930s, German manufacturers dominated. Racing resumed in 1947, and from the late 1950s British-made cars were dominant. In 1950 a world championship for drivers was instituted, usually involving point tallying for some fifteen Grand Prix races, including those of Monaco, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Mexico, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. A championship for Formula I car manufacturers was begun in 1955.