Opinion: There is no such thing as an ugly race car

Dorky looking race cars should be celebrated too, reckons Kirby

Ugly Racecars Column Cover MAIN Jpg

Jordan 191. Porsche 917K. Ferrari P3/4. Jaguar XJ13. Do you sense a theme?

What about if I add the McLaren MP4/4, Eagle T1G, or Mercedes-Benz 300SLR. Cluing on now? For those that haven’t spotted the trend yet, these are all invariable inclusions in any list of the most beautiful race cars ever built.

Debate will continue ad nauseam about what is prettier, or the definition of true racing beauty, with the same selection of cars up for nomination. But it’s time for the spotlight to shine in a different direction, to an area where aesthetics are left to wither and wilt. Yep, lets talk about motorsport mingers.

Think the Caterham CT05 and its phallic aerodynamics, or the uniquely styled Panoz GTR-1. Another consideration is the Dallara DW12, which was introduced to IndyCar in 2012 with bulbous rear bodywork that prompted a chorus of disdain. The car would then sprout ungainly aerodynamic additions in 2014, which only intensified the ridicule.

That mocking tone becomes less palatable when you remember the bumper-like additions behind the rear wheels were introduced to prevent fatal crashes from occurring on ovals – one of which resulted in Dan Wheldon’s death two days before the car was revealed. The DW in the chassis code is actually a nod of respect to Wheldon, who helped test and develop the car.

Reactions to the odd bumpers of the Dallara DW12 were tame in comparison to what happened when Formula 1 decided it would make the halo mandatory in 2018. There was anguish and gnashing of teeth aplenty from racing traditionalists that claimed adding the thong-like structure above the cockpit would mean the magic and beauty of open-wheel racing would be lost forever.

But then Romain Grosjean pierced an Armco barrier at over 200km/h at the most recent Bahrain Grand Prix, in a crash eerily similar to that which claimed the life of François Cevert in
1973. The silence from halo detractors was as deafening as the fireball that erupted into the night sky.

The halo had already proven its worth on multiple occasions since it was introduced in 2018, but Grosjean’s desert fireball was an undeniable end note to F1’s aesthetics vs safety debate.

It’s not just safety features that get maligned though. All-too often genuine technical innovations are shoved into a corner to be laughed at. The Nissan GT-R LM has become a bit of a joke in racing for its weird proportions and technical failure during the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans. However, its front-drive design was a piece of genuine innovation in a world of all-too-stagnant regulations. It was also seriously quick in a straight line, and I remain disappointed to this day that the project was canned after a single event.

Back in 1970 Dan Gurney certainly wasn’t laughing at the Chaparral 2J – which looks like a doorstop mated with an air-conditioning unit – when it was outqualifying his dominant (and beautiful) McLaren M8D by at least two seconds during that year’s Can-Am series.

The 2J’s proportions were more akin to a cardboard box than the flowing lines of its rivals, allowing it to use ground effect to devastating advantage. Persistent reliability issues tarnished the 2J’s race record, and with other competitors fearful of being crushed should Chaparral get its car working properly for ’71, the car was outlawed at season’s end.

It’s time that motorsport fans started revering the more aesthetically challenged racers. Whether it be for a new approach to a problem or ruleset, or simply breaking away from the norm. Just because a race car doesn’t conform to established aesthetic norms doesn’t mean it’s unworthy of admiration. And as Ford proudly proclaimed when it unleashed the awkward Ford Mustang Supercar onto the world, “There are not ugly cars in Victory Lane”. It’s hard to argue with that one.

And now comes my shameful confession. I once penned an article degrading ‘Motorsport’s top six ugly ducklings’. Many of the cars mentioned in this very column were derided and mocked. In the intervening years, my opinions have matured, and I now bow humbly at the altar of Gods of Speed to pay penance. Let the record show there is no such thing as an ugly race car.


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