There have been a lot of very good racing cars in the history of motorsport. Some have won titles, some have slipped just short. But there is another legendary set of cars that includes some true greats and some which happen to be in by chance. These are the cars that stood astride the competition in their respective arenas, the cars that utterly dominated. Some saw success for a single season, some were unbeatable for many, but all in this list share one thing in common: that they were basically untouchable by the competition. That doesn’t always mean there was good competition, but whatever these cars came up against, they beat it.
The 10 most dominant racing cars
From 1981 to 1987 nothing won Le Mans from any manufacturer other than Porsche. From 1982 it was the fiefdom of the 956 and its hard-to-differentiate follow-up, the 962. The World Sportscar Championship – later called the World Sports Prototype Championship – was also clinched every season from ’82 to ’86. While Group C is, quite rightly, lauded as one of the true peaks of sportscar racing, with manufacturer involvement and prototype numbers unparalleled since, it’s hard to argue that it was anything other than a Porsche walkover for much of the era.
The 956 was powered by a 2.65-litre flat-six engine, turbocharged until it produced around 625PS (474kW) – which is around the same as the engine you’ll find in the latest top-level Le Mans Hypercars put out. It was designed to exploit ground effect and even tested the first ever dual-clutch gearbox. To say it was ahead of its time would be an understatement.
As if to top off just how dominant the 956 was, in 1983 nine of the top 10 finishers at Le Mans were 956s, and in 1984 the top seven were Porsches (and so was ninth). It’s pretty safe to say that the 956 is the most dominant sportscar ever. The cherry on that multi-tiered cake would be Stefan Bellof’s lap record at the Nordschleife, which stands to this day.
It’s often argued that Audi had it pretty easy in the 2000s, dominating at Le Mans and in various regional sportscar categories with little outside challenge. But it’s a bit of a myth. From its first year Audi wasn’t alone by any stretch of the imagination. In 2000 it was challenged by Panoz and Cadillac, in 2001 Bentley and Dome joined. These programs might not have been as successful or well put together as Audi’s, but that is more about how well done the R8 program was.
Powered by a 3.6-litre V8, debuting Audi’s new FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) technology, 610PS (449kW) was backed up with some revolutionary design features. While the R8 was aerodynamically excellent, it’s the way that the R8 worked for its team that really changed the game. Working on the idea that the least amount of time spent in the pits would win, Audi made almost every part on the R8 easily interchangeable, culminating in a ludicrous five-minute gearbox change that ended with the ACO – which runs Le Mans – changing the rules.
Whether or not you think the R8 had enough opposition, you can’t deny it was dominant. The Audi program only actually lasted for three seasons – 2000-2002 – winning Le Mans every time and adding American Le Mans Series crowns to the list. From 2003 on the R8 was run by (admittedly Audi-assisted) privateer teams – and it still won twice. The only year from 2000 to 2005 that an R8 didn’t win was in 2003, the year that VAG threw all its weight behind Bentley and the Speed 8. The only thing that stopped R8s from winning, was Audi turning up again with the first diesel to win Le Mans – the R10.
Skyline GT-R R32
It’s hard to think of the Skyline as a touring car, but it did compete in the Japanese Touring Car Championship in the early-1990s. In fact to say it competed is a little of an understatement, because it dominated. The R32 won every JTCC championship from 1990 to 1993. In 1990 the Skyline won every single race, a feat it repeated in 1991. And 1992. And 1993.
That streak of 29 race wins from 29 races effectively ended Group A touring car racing and is the main reason behind the “Godzilla” nickname the Skyline and now GT-R carry to this day. To add to the JTCC success the R32 also won the Bathurst 1,000 in 1991 and 1992 and the Australian Supercars crown three years in a row, the Spa 24 in 1991, and the Macau touring car race in 1990.
The Penske PC-23 was so outrageously good it caused complete uproar in the IndyCar world. The basic car was a monster, winning all but four rounds of the 1994 championship and strolling to the Constructors’ Crown by nearly 100 points – Penske drivers Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr. and Paul Tracey locked out the top three championship spots. But that season-long domination wasn’t really what caused Penske’s rivals to fly completely off the handle.
In fact, it was a one-off performance at the most important race of the season – the Indy 500 – that really angered the other teams. Already clearly the best car on the grid, Penske found a regulatory loophole that allowed them to be even better at Indy. Because Indy was technically run by a different governing body to the rest of the season Penske and engine-builder Ilmor built a one-off engine built around a stock-block pushrod design that produced around 150-200PS (110-147kW) more than any other on the grid. The PC-23’s Indy domination was total. Only one car finished on the same lap as Al Unser Jr’s winning Penske car, and that was only because Fittipaldi had crashed out while a full lap clear of the whole field.
McLaren in the 1960s was a reasonably good Formula 1 team. But what’s not always remembered is that McLaren was the absolute king of the Can-Am scene for several years. The M6 could make this list, winning a pair of titles and all but a handful of races across 1967 and 1968, making some call the championship the “Bruce and Denny show” after drivers Bruce McLaren and Denny Hulme.
But with the M8 McLaren went one better, winning every single race of the 1969 season. Then, just to show it wasn’t a fluke, the M8 won all but one race in 1970... and then, in its M8F form, all but two races of the 1971 championship. Across three seasons the M8 was only defeated twice, which puts it probably just behind the R32 in the dominance stakes.
At the heart of the M8 was a massive 7.0-litre Chevrolet V8, initially developing somewhere in the region of 620PS (456kW), that was later expanded to the frankly ludicrous 8.0-litre version for the M8F. It was an evolution of the already-brilliant M6 and showcased McLaren’s abilities not only as a driver, but as a pure engineer.
The Toyota TS050 was so good that the authorities spent multiple seasons trying to work out how to let the other teams in LMP1 get close to it. The caveat is, of course, that most of its rivals had pulled out of the sport by the time it reached its dominant era, but this list is about dominance, not great sporting seasons.
That said, the TS050 showed just how good it would be while it still had competition. In 2017 Toyotas won five of the nine races in the World Endurance Championship, a season in which Porsche’s incredible 919 was its competition. It should have won Le Mans that year too if it weren’t for some horrific bad luck. But that was only a taster of what was to come.
Once Porsche had swanned off into the sunset The TS050, with its 500PS (368kW) 2.4-litre V8 supplemented by a pair of hybrid systems adding the same again, was able to truly dominate. Other than a rather spurious disqualification at Silverstone, TS050s won every race in the 2018-19 “superseason” including two Le Mans 24 Hours. Then in 2019-20, the final year for LMP1, the ACO attempted to heavily peg back the Toyotas – so they only won six of the eight races and the title.
At the start of the 1981 season stock car racing in the US went under somewhat of a transformation. Old 115-inch wheelbase cars were ditched in favour of a shorter 110-inch chassis regulation that would help move the cars from outdated and obsolete models into the new era. That meant Ford could race its latest Thunderbird, Pontiac could campaign the new Grand Prix and, perhaps with less expectation, Buick could race the Regal.
But expectation there should have been. The Regal won the Daytona 500, its first NASCAR start, and then Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip’s Buicks shared most of the rest of the season. Walltrip took the title with an astonishing 12 wins. The following season, he did it again, and Allison pitched in with another eight, although this time he shared his season between Buick and sister company Chevrolet and in the 1982 Daytona 500 seven of the top eight cars were Regals.
You knew this one was coming. The McLaren MP4/4 dominance of the 1988 Formula 1 season has been spoken about so many times on this very website that we can practically write this section from memory.
Sixteen races, fifteen pole positions, fifteen wins, nine fastest laps. Between them drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna scored more points than the eight drivers behind them combined and McLaren finished the season with a points total more than triple that of their nearest rivals, Ferrari. The MP4/4 was designed by Peter Stevens, with knowledge added by Gordon Murray. Expanding on Murray’s super-low, out of the air concept from the Brabham BT55, but this time with an engine from Honda that actually fitted into the car. The MP4/4 was so dominant that even the modern day Mercedes F1 cars can’t get close on win percentage.
Vauxhall Astra Coupe
Here’s a car you probably didn’t expect to see, but one which has a sustained dominance over a championship that is almost unrivalled. For 2001 the BTCC moved away from its big-spending Supertouring regulations – simply because it had to, as almost every manufacturer had given up. There were to be two manufacturers competing for the title in 2001, Vauxhall with its new Astra Coupe, and Peugeot with the 406 Coupe – MG would later arrive to join in with the ZS non-coupe.
In reality, there was one manufacturer competing for the title. Splitting its efforts between two teams Vauxhall won all but one race of a 26 race season and Jason Plato took the title. For 2002 MG stepped up to a full season, Honda arrived with the Civic Type R and Proton, er, were there. So with this increase in competition The Astra Coupe was defeated six times... out of 20. As if that wasn’t quite enough 2003 brought 11 more wins and 2004 brought nine. The Astra Coupe won every championship it entered all while being gradually pegged back (in 2001 the Astras were limited to 70 per cent throttle in qualifying).
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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