Motorsport Legends – Under the Skin

In this Under the Skin we’re taking a look back at some of our favourite racing cars from motorsport history and taking a look at what made them successful, particularly in regards to suspension.

We’ll cover a broad range of racers from touring cars and Le Mans prototypes, to drift and rally cars. Suspension is always crucial in making a vehicle competitive regardless of what motorsport discipline it is competing in.

So without further ado, let’s jump in!


The late 1990s was an exciting period for Le Mans prototypes, as the World SportsCar regulations of the early 1990s gave way to the emerging LMP900 category that saw manufacturers around the world build cars to compete. The LMP900 period was characterised by a period of relative freedom in regards to regulations which resulted in a variety of different powertrain layouts and designs, a great example being the front-engined Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S. Notable manufacturers included Audi, Cadillac, Courage and Nissan.

Arguably one of the most iconic LMP900 cars is the BMW V12 LMR. Powered by a version of the 6.0 Litre BMW V12 used in the McLaren F1 – designated S70/3 the V12 LMR was an improvement on the earlier unsuccessful V12 LM. 

BMW LMR V12 at Le Mans

Built by Williams F1, the V12 LMR helped BMW to their only overall victory to date at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999. The V12 LMR used bespoke MOTON Suspension which provided the extreme endurance required to give the BMW stability and grip over the gruelling flat-out conditions of Le Mans. 

Suspension systems used at Le Mans must be highly advanced due to the unique conditions of the race. Dampers must be tuned for stability at both maximum speed, and during the heavy braking zones as the downforce bleeding off the car can cause the steering to feel ‘light’ and unstable. This, combined with the mix of corners, from ultra-high speed kinks, to low speed corners that require good mechanical grip and the famous Porsche Curves – that require exceptional chassis balance – make Le Mans the ultimate test of a car. Fortunately MOTON’s advanced technology was more than a match.

MOTON’s vast experience in endurance racing enabled their bespoke units to function flawlessly over the 24 Hours, helping BMW to take victory by over a lap.

Mitsubishi Evo 3-6

The next car on our list is one of the most famous rally cars in history: the Mitsubishi Evo. The Evo’s dominance of the World Rally Championship began when Tommi Makinen won the WRC title in 1996 using an Evo 3, and then proceeded to win the ‘97, ‘98 and ‘99 world titles with the Evo 4, 5 and 6 respectively. 

Tommi Makinen jumping his Mitsubishi Evo 6

The suspension of choice for Mitsubishi’s world rally team was Öhlins. Using its extensive knowledge of off-road racing, particularly with Motorcycles, Öhlins worked closely with Ralliart Mitsubishi to develop a bespoke suspension kit for the WRC Evos. 

The Öhlins’ superior performance over a variety of terrain from tarmac, to gravel and snow enabled Tommi Makinen to carry speed where his opponents could not, which enabled Mitsubishi to defeat rivals Subaru, Ford, Toyota across over the world.

Chrysler Viper GTS-R

The next car on our list is one of the most iconic GT racing cars ever: the Chrysler Viper GTS-R. A massive 8.0 Litre V10 gave the Viper the torque and horsepower to dominate its rivals. The V10’s huge displacement meant even the racing engine was relatively unstressed, making the Viper very reliable – an essential trait in endurance racing. This allowed it to claim endurance victories including Spa 24 Hours; the Nürburgring 24 Hours; and an outright overall victory at the 2000 Daytona 24 Hours against much faster Daytona prototypes. 

Chrysler Viper of Team Zakspeed at the Nurburgring

The Viper we are focusing on in this series is the car campaigned by Zakspeed at the Nürburgring 24 Hours which took overall victory from 1999-2002. We chose this car as it highlights the awesome V10 of the Viper and Zakspeed’s craftiness in fighting against regulations designed to limit their Viper’s competitiveness. The organisers of the Nürburgring 24 Hours took steps to reduce the Viper’s pace by limiting the size of the Viper’s fuel tank to 90 litres. Zakspeed overcame this by devising a replaceable quick-swap fuel tank. This ingenuity was disapproved of and quick-swap tanks were banned as soon as the organisers first laid eyes on it.

Further efforts were made to kerb the Viper’s potency, including limiting the engine size of entrees to 6.2 Litres. Not to be dissuaded, Zakspeed removed the rods, pistons, valves, cams and rocker arms for the front two cylinders, transforming their 8.0 Litre V10 into a 6.2 Litre V8, whilst remaining within the rules by using the original engine block. The now V8-powered Viper managed to remain competitive, finishing first in class and third overall in 2003 and 2004.

The Zakspeed Viper required a very special suspension setup to cope with the demands of the bumpy Nürburgring. KW was the logical choice for Zakspeed thanks to KW’s use of the Nürburgring as a critical research and development tool. The Nürburgring is the most demanding track in the world for suspension, and KW is more experienced at this circuit than any other suspension brand. The bumps, jumps, kerbs and rough tarmac of the Nürburgring require very special dampers that are able to perform relentlessly whilst also giving good driver feedback. This made the big Viper stable and easy to drive, two characteristics that made it so competitive at the ‘ring. 

Aston Martin DBR9

From a GT car at the turn of the century to one that howled to class victories at Sebring in 2005 and Le Mans in 2007 and 2008. This is the Aston Martin DBR9. The DBR9 is perhaps the best looking GT racing car in history, and that – considering the DBR9 competed against the Maserati MC12, Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT and the Corvette C6R – is saying something!

Aston Martin DBR9 at Le Mans

The DBR9 used custom-designed Koni dampers bespoke to the DBR9 in combination with Eibach springs in a double-wishbone configuration. This double-wishbone design provides continuous negative camber gain throughout the compression phase which is useful during hard cornering. The double-wishbone makes calculating the forces going through each component, making it easier to optimise the suspension system as a whole. This ability to refine the DBR9’s suspension system allowed the car to remain competitive for a long time, with a DBR9 winning the FIA GT1 World Championship in 2011, six years after the DBR9 first made its debut.

Worthouse Nissan Silvia S15

Worthouse Nissan S15s competing in Formula D championship

We’ve focused on many circuit racing cars in this post, but now it’s time for something completely different. Drifting places rather unique requirements on a competition car’s suspension and geometry as the driver’s need a car that is progressive, accurate and easy to manipulate. Several aspects of geometry that would be considered ‘bad’ on a circuit racing car – such as positive rear camber and reverse Ackermann steering – are, in fact, essential for making a competitive and nimble drift car.

One of the most iconic drift cars in recent history is actually a set of near-identical twins. The two Nissan Silvia S15’s campaigned by Worthouse in Formula Drift dominated the championship for three years, with Irishman James Deane taking the driver’s title in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The Silvia’s used highly-modified versions of Toyota’s legendary 2JZ, with an output of 820bhp and an additional 150bhp shot of nitrous used to eliminate turbo lag.

The Silvias’ used FEAL coilover units in a ‘staggered’ setup, with two-way independently adjustable FEAL 442 units at the front and three-way independently adjustable FEAL 443 coilovers at the rear. Three-way adjustable coilovers enabled race engineers to fine-tune the rear axle’s kinematics with even more precision and subtlety, which allowed drivers James Deane and Piotr Więcek to drive with complete confidence and accuracy.

BMW 320si (E90)

Touring car racing is renowned for its competitive door-to-door racing and large grids. No championship represented this better than the World Touring Car Championship in the mid-2000s. The World Touring Car Championship had previously existed for a single year back in 1987 before external pressure from Formula 1 caused its demise, but it made its successful return in 2005, where it existed as the pinnacle of touring car racing for the decade that followed.

The years of 2005-2007 were dominated by the next car on our list; the BMW 320si (E90).

Andy Priaulx's WTCC BMW 320si

Campaigned by BMW Motorsport, the 320si dominated the championship in 2006 and 2007 with Briton Andy Priaulx behind the wheel. The 320si was the only rear-wheel drive car in the championship and was frequently handicapped to offset the dynamic benefits of a front-engine rear-wheel drive layout.

Interestingly, KW Suspension was a championship sponsor for the WTCC during this time, with all teams expected to run KW Suspension kits. Wanting to gain an advantage over their competitors, BMW Motorsport opted to fit MOTON 4-Way coilovers instead, which led them to victory in the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship.

Without grip, all the power and technology in the world is pointless. This is why suspension is so important in all kinds of driving: from fast road and track days to full race applications. Get in touch with us here at Suspension Secrets to transform your car’s handling today.

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