Photo credit: BMW, Ferrari, Renault
It was somewhat comical at first, those clumsy, identical saloon cars, blue with twin white stripes, competing from 1966 on French circuits. However, Renault's idea of creating a championship with identical cars to highlight the best talent soon proved to be a masterstroke. The small Renault 8 Gordinis offered thrilling spectacles, drawing crowds to racetracks and showcasing promising young drivers in leading positions. Pioneering this cost-effective racing approach – identical, race-ready cars under the wing of a manufacturer and an oil company already involved in Formula 1, like Elf – Renault started with vehicles tuned by Amedé Gordini. This approach was eventually adopted by other manufacturers, though not immediately. The series gained international status in 1975 with the Renault 5. Initially in Europe and later in the USA, the compact Renault 5s exemplified how, in races with equal cars, it's the driver's natural talent alone that wins.
Renault was the first brand to organize a one-make race that debuted in 1966 with the Renault 8 Gordini and from 1975 with the Renault 5.
To appreciate the significance of this history, consider today's Formula 1 drivers, who, like Jean Pierre Jabouille, Mauro Baldi, and Jean Pierre Jarier before them, emerged from one-make races: the single-seaters that lead drivers to professionalism are all identical – same chassis, engine and tyres, a practice also seen in Renault's championships with Michelin. Today's Formula 2, 3, and 4 series are essentially modern iterations of one-make formulas, like those by Renault, Ford, VW, and numerous others.
The BMW M1 Procar Championship was held for two seasons in 1979 and 1980. Many Formula 1 drivers participated, the first edition won by Niki Lauda and the following year by Nelson Piquet.
Looking back at championships with production models, it's hard to list them all. However, some are unforgettable, like the Alfa Romeo championship with Alfasuds that brought Gerhard Berger into the limelight, the BMW-initiated series with the M1 model racing alongside Formula 1, and the more renowned and now historic series: Porsche Cup and Supercup, regularly accompanying Formula 1 races, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, and the highly-revered Ferrari Challenge, now over thirty years old. Remembering the modest 50 horsepower of the first Renault 8s and comparing it to the 700 horsepower of the upcoming Ferrari 296 for the 2024 Challenge illustrates just how quickly the pace of progress in racing has accelerated!
The Ferrari Challenge, the Prancing Horse's one-make championship, debuted in 1993 with the 348 followed by the 360 Modena, the 430, the 458, the 488, and from next year with the newly introduced 296.