It's the 24 Heures du Mans this weekend and for today and tomorrow I'll be featuring to cars that never really managed to cut it at one of the world's biggest races. Today's was suggested by the awesome automotive photographer Kevin McCauley.
Sadly, the SARD (Sigma Auto Research & Design) MC8-R is a reminder of the many interesting cars and teams that have showed up to Le Mans and been steamrolled by the competition.
Founded by Makoto Kato in 1972 as a semi-factory Toyota racing team, SARD focused on Le Mans from the beginning. Designing their own chassis, they debuted with a Mazda rotary-powered car and then quickly moved to Toyota.
After a hiatus as they campaigned in the All Japan Touring Car Championship (JGTC), SARD returned to endurance racing in 1989 with the Toyota 89CV, a fast but ultimately unsuccessful race car.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, the Group C sports prototype category—including cars like the all-conquering Porsche 962C—ended with a great number of advanced racing cars…but little connection to road cars.
Manufacturers, long the life blood of sports car racing, helped change the rules: from 1994, the top class would be based on production cars. With Toyota's backing, SARD had an ace up their sleeve for 1995, when the other manufacturers would also debut the first round of cars built for the new regulations.
Sorry, they thought they had an ace. Following regulations, they used the chassis of a second-generation Toyota MR2 and elongated it to accommodate a twin-turbocharged 3.95-litre Lexus 1UZ-FE V8 engine with 600 horsepower. Er, sorry for geeing out: it's the motor you could get in the Lexus LS sedan, SC coupe, and GS sedan.
Now, modified and larger (at 4.7-litres), you can get it in the Toyota Tundra pickup truck.
Even though the car managed only 14 laps in the race, you can understand how doomed it was when you remember the 1995 trophy was won by the McLaren F1 GTR.
In 1996, a modified SARD MC8-R finished the race in 24th place, a mere 98 laps behind the winner. Afterward, the car was modified again and used in SARD's familiar stomping grounds: JGTC.
Road cars are more interesting than race cars, right? Here's the best part: to comply with regulations, SARD was required to build a road car. This regulation helped bring us hypercars like the Porsche 911 GT-1 and Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR, by the way.
Christened the MC8 and fitted with a non-turbocharged Lexus V8 engine fitted to a Porsche 6-speed transmission, the car debuted in a few magazines and was promptly lost. Road testers noted its digital dashboard, that could report fuel level, water temperature, maximum speed, cornering speed, and lap time.
A "satellite-linked route finder" was also in the works.
I think that, in this case, the road car was a better idea than the race car. Imagine how differently Toyota's image would be today among enthusiasts if they'd taken the SARD MC-8 and produced their own mid-engined supercar.
SARD had some Toyota muscle behind them, but couldn't find success. So why did other firms think they'd fare any better? But that's a story for tomorrow.