The phrase ‘powder blue and orange’ is guaranteed to bring on feverish symptoms among sportscar fans of many generations. The iconic colours of the Gulf Oil company resonate extremely strongly among the cognoscenti of endurance racing and routinely feature at the very top of most fans’ favourite racing liveries.
News this week that Gulf Racing, the private team run by unashamed blue-and-orange fanatics Roald Goethe and Mike Wainwright, will be tackling the World Endurance Championship with a GTE Am-class Porsche 991 RSR has certainly brought on the aforementioned symptoms in me: a devout disciple of all things blue-and-orange!
And with ace hands Adam Carroll and Ben Barker joining Wainwright in the squad, there’s bound to be a great deal of British interest in the effort.
Fellow followers of the Gulf fashion will know that the 2016 Gulf Porsche tie-up marks the first time in 45 years that one of the German sportscars will run in blue-and-orange colours in the world’s most famous endurance race, the Le Mans 24 Hours. We’re not counting the the 1994 Gulf-sponsored Kremer K8, a prototype built by Porsche veterans Erwin and Manfred Kremer using bits of a Group C 962, as it wasn’t really a Porsche in the traditional sense.
Back in 1971, the Gulf Porsche 917K entered by J.W. Automotive took second in its final appearance in the French classic, with Richard Attwood, Herbie Muller and Brian Redman finishing two laps behind the winning, Martini-branded 917.
But it’s not just Porsche with which Gulf was associated in long-distance competition. Several other manufacturers enjoyed an association with the US fuel-and-oil giant. These are our five favourites, in alphabetical order.
A collaboration with the Prodrive-run Aston Martin DBR9s in 2008 produced Le Mans glory for Aston, thanks to the efforts of David Brabham, Antonio Garcia and Darren Turner in the GT1 class. More success for Gulf and Aston at Le Mans came a year later, this time with the Lola-built DBR1-2 prototype, which finished fourth overall and best of the petrol-class runners, courtesy of Tomas Enge, Jan Charouz and Stefan Mücke. The trio also clinched the Le Mans Series title that season. The iconic Gulf colours are still associated with the prestigious British firm’s V8 Vantage machines in the World Endurance Championship.
A single-year deal between Mike Earle’s Arena Motorsport operation and Gulf meant a blue-and-orange Audi R8 prototype wowed fans in Europe and America during 2001. The privateer machine was driven by ex-Formula 1 racer and Le Mans winner Stefan Johansson in both the American and European Le Mans Series, with the Swede winning a race, alongside Patrick Lemarié, and taking strong podium finishes in other races to secure the European title. The car also competed at Le Mans that year, with Tom Coronel joining Johansson and Lemarié, but retired early on with electrical woes. Its final hurrah came in the end-of-season Petit Le Mans American Le Mans Series enduro at Road Atlanta, with Johansson and Lemarié taking second behind the factory R8 of Le Mans winners Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro.
It was with the American motor manufacturing giant that the Gulf colours first captured fans’ imagination. In the late-1960s, the J.W. Automotive squad took Ford GT40 chassis number 1075 to back-to-back wins at Le Mans, with Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi in 1968 and Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver a year later. In just two seasons before JWA switched to the fearsome Porsche 917, the blue-and-orange GT40s also enjoyed success in the World Sportscar Championship, with victories in the 1,000km races at Brands Hatch, Monza, Spa-Francorchamps and Watkins Glen and the 12 Hours of Sebring.
McLaren (lead video)
Once McLaren had been persuaded to build racing versions of its F1 supercar in time for the BPR Global Endurance Championship of 1995, a queue of customers, some of whom had been behind the lobbying, were ready to go into battle. And one such operation ran a pair of the six-litre V12 BMW-powered beasts in Gulf colours. Its lead car, driven by Brits Ray Bellm and Mark Blundell and Brazilian Mauricio Sandro Sala, took fourth overall. Gulf McLarens continued to thrill spectators at Le Mans for the next few years, with a fifth-place finish for David Brabham, Lindsay Owen-Jones and Pierre-Henri Raphanel in 1996, second overall in ’97 for Jean-Marc Gounon, Anders Olofsson and Raphanel, and fourth in ’98, courtesy of Bill Auberlen, Steve O’Rourke and Tim Sugden.
Mirage was the brainchild of J.W. Automotive, which would go on to win countless sportscar internationals with both Ford and Porsche. The original car, the M1, was based on the GT40 and came about in 1967 after various last-minute problems with Ford pulling out of top-level sportscar competition. Resplendent in Gulf colours, it took victory in the Spa 1,000km that year, courtesy of Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson. Mirage racked up its biggest wins during the three-litre prototype era, which had come about following the outlawing of the big five-litre cars at the end of 1971. Derek Bell and Mike Hailwood won at Spa in 1973 in the M6 and Bell and Ickx triumphed at Le Mans two years later in the GR8. Gulf pulled out of motorsport sponsorship in 1975, meaning fans would have to wait more than three decades to get another blue-and-orange fix.
Images courtesy of Gulf Racing and LAT