The Cannibal shared the grid with another odd-looking machine in 1998. Financier Warren Mosler had been building sports cars, firstly under the Consulier name since the early 1990s, and buoyed by success in the World Challenge series, he decided to take on the Rolex 24 with the Chevrolet-powered car known as the Mosler Intruder. Or that was the original plan. By the time it turned up for the big race, it had undergone some major revisions that drastically altered its look.
The Intruder had become the Raptor (ABOVE), courtesy of a bizarre twin-windshield design and giant roof-mounted air scoop. The inspiration for the strange design came from the boatyard next to Mosler's composite shop in Florida, or at least that's what Shane Lewis, the team's lead driver at the time, believes.
“Warren had told me that we were going to take the car in which I'd won races in the World Challenge to Daytona, but when I turned up at the workshop, the guys were looking at me kind of funny,” recalls Lewis. “Then they showed me the car, which suddenly had this pointy windscreen.
“Someone had seen Warren staring at this boat and the next day he comes up with the idea for the windscreen. Look at the front of the boat and turn it upside down, and you've got the front of the Raptor. His thinking was if it can get through the water that well, it can get through the air, too.”
And Mosler's logic wasn't too far off. The Raptor, named after a small, predatory dinosaur from Jurassic Park, flew around the banking at Daytona.
“Warren wanted a big number, a high top speed, so we trimmed and trimmed the thing,” recalls Lewis. “I remember flying across the start-finish line at more than 200mph, so maybe it proved that windshield configuration was pretty good after all.”
The Mosler far from disgraced itself, qualifying just three tenths slower than another strange, but certainly better funded, Daytona contender in the GT1 class, the Lister Storm GTL. The Chevy-engined Raptor didn't make the finish, however, with overheating problems putting it out shortly before midnight.
Unconventional-looking machinery can be successful, very successful. Witness the early GTP contenders from British racecar constructor March.
The March 82G of 1982 had its roots in a car commissioned by BMW for a North American campaign in 1981, the GTP class M1 lookalike known as the M1C. The aerodynamics that gave both cars their radical look came from the mind of Frenchman Max Sardou and featured what Graham Humphrys, who was responsible for the rest of the 82G, calls “the world's biggest splitter.”
“The start of the nose was the splitter or the leading edge of the undertray,” explains Humphrys, who would subsequently design the 1999 Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR. “The aerodynamics were based on the combination of a position and length-adjustable splitter, a variable slot gap between the rear of the splitter and the undertray, and the air intake for the radiators.”
The March 82G was far from a flop. Bobby Rahal claimed a first-time-out pole at Daytona for a Chevrolet-engined version of the car run by Bob Garretson, and that entry, plus another with BMW power run by Dave Cowart's Red Lobster Racing Team, both notched up second-place finishes over the remainder of the season.
It was only when one of the bright young minds at March, a certain Adrian Newey, revised the aerodynamics for 1983 that the car became a winner, however. The Briton, who had briefly tasted the world of grand prix racing with the Fittipaldi team, but was still some years away from starting his Formula 1 career in earnest, reworked Sardou's avant garde thinking and did away with the vacuous open front end.
“There was probably too much going on at the front with the original car,” reckons Humphrys. “Adrian watered down Max's ideas and came up with a much more conventional design.”
Newey's work on the March suggested that he was a star of the future. The 83G claimed the IMSA GTP title with Al Holbert, who ran with both Chevrolet V8 and Porsche turbo power over the course of the season, and went on to win the following year's Daytona 24 Hours (LEFT) in the hands of an all-South African driver lineup under the banner of Kreepy Krauly (a kind of robot for cleaning swimming pools, no less).
The Red Lobster team continued with an updated car – now with Porsche power – into 1983 and came up with a livery that made it look every bit as dramatic as its predecessor. The shape of those March prototypes, with their giant front pontoons, might have been tailor-made for the team's sponsor.
“Everyone had been calling the car the lobster claw anyway,” says Humphrys, “so it really was the perfect sponsor.”
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