Fever Pitch - 1998 Quaife R4 GTS Ford

In the late 1990’s, the power vacuum left after the implosion of the World Sportscar Championship had been filled with the BPR Global GT Series. This championship had been formed by Porsche Cup organizer Jurgen Barth and Venturi Cup officials Patrick Peter and Stephane Ratel as a low-cost alternative to prototype racing.

Revolving around relatively cheaply modified road going sportscars, the series quickly attracted the attention of numerous smaller teams looking for a new challenge in the wake of the prototype apocalypse. As the grids and the series’ popularity grew, the bigger names in the business simply couldn’t ignore BPR. Ferrari, Nissan, Chevrolet, McLaren, Lotus, Toyota, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz soon joined the fray, causing the FIA to assume control and found the FIA GT Championship in 1997.

 Major manufacturers engaged in a GT1 feeding frenzy in the late 90's.

Major manufacturers engaged in a GT1 feeding frenzy in the late 90's.

As the GT1-war raged on the world stage, a company with no real business in the category started to take inspiration from the immensely popular discipline. British drivetrain manufacturer Quaife witnessed the resurgence of GT-racing firsthand, as it was heavily involved in motorsport through its line of transmissions and limited slip differentials.

 Experience gained in British Thundersaloons gave Quaife a good base for a bespoke car.

Experience gained in British Thundersaloons gave Quaife a good base for a bespoke car.

Seeing an opportunity to further promote their products, the good people at Quaife decided to build themselves a spectacular technology demonstrator. The principal focus of the car would naturally be on the drivetrain, with the rest of the car nothing more than an attractive package to wrap it in.

Taking from lessons learned racing an all-wheel drive Ford Escort in the popular British Thundersaloon series, Michael Quaife, son of founder Rodney, decided the company’s first car would feature a similar layout. A six-speed sequential transmission coupled to a range of differentials driving all four wheels was deemed enough to grab some headlines.

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A 6.0L, 16-valve Ford V8 found its way into the project, and was promptly employed to fire 600 horsepower and 750 Nm (553 lb ft) of torque into the new driveline components. The engine was placed in the middle of a tubular spaceframe chassis, directly driving the transmission/transfer box combination mounted in the very center. From there the power was distributed through driveshafts running towards the front and rear differential, which then transferred the grunt to the wheels.

The car was suspended on double wishbones on all four corners, with magnesium alloy Koni coilovers operated by Formula One-style pushrods. An attractive lightweight body was then draped over the spaceframe, making for a total weight of 1150 kg in race trim.

The car was unveiled in 1998 in both a road going and a racing version, which was aimed squarely at the GT1 category. The crisp, aerodynamic styling, large wheels, huge diffuser and wings made the car looks like serious business, although it was still a far cry from the extreme homologation specials produced by Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Porsche and Toyota.

Although the initial media buzz was certainly satisfying, Quaife wanted more, and decided to test the car at its limits in GT1-racing. A British GT test at Silverstone in March 1998 proved mildly encouraging. Among a field of cars including a 911 GT1, Lister Storm GTL, and McLaren F1 GTR.

Even though these cars were all slightly dated, they presented a formidable challenge to an unproven car like the Quaife. Driven by Michael Quaife himself and Paul Lee (GB), the car managed to clock a 9th place out of 24 entries. Sadly though, there were only nine GT1 machines present, placing the R4 7th in class, being beaten by two GT2-spec Chrysler Viper GTS-R’s.

 The R4 GTS in its debut race, Silverstone 1998.

The R4 GTS in its debut race, Silverstone 1998.

Owing to their limited budget and the sheer might of the major manufactures active in the FIA GT Championship, Quaife opted to stick to the local championship, where their car would face only older machinery, and the occasional local development. Quaife consequently entered the car for the first round of the Privilege Insurance British GT Championship, which commenced at Silverstone on March 5, 1998.

The weight of the four wheel drive system coupled to the undeveloped nature of the car dropped the R4 down the grid significantly, as it only achieved a best time good enough for 16th on the grid. The 1:33.098 lap was a whopping 13.114 seconds slower than the pole-sitting EMKA McLaren F1 GTR Longtail of Steve O’Rourke and Tim Sugden. On race day, Quaife and Lee managed to keep things together to finish their debut race in 7th, a lap down on the McLaren.

 The R4 GTS looked to be on the losing side of the GT1-battle.

The R4 GTS looked to be on the losing side of the GT1-battle.

At Oulton Park, they started 25th and last after problems in qualifying, followed by an unceremonious retirement in the race proper. Snetterton saw an improvement to 9th on the grid however, with the gap reduced to 5.896 seconds to the pole-sitting works Lister Storm GTL of Julian Bailey and Tiff Needell. Unfortunately though, the car would again suffer mechanical issues and failed to finish.

Poor qualification results and failures to finish became something of a running theme for Quaife, with their best result of the season a tenth place at Donington, some 3 laps behind the winning Blue Coral Porsche 911 GT1. Following the Snetterton round, Paul Lee was sacked in favor of Graham Hathaway, who came directly from the Escort Thundersaloon program. Nevertheless, performances failed to improve.

 The Quaife ahead of the factory Lister Storm GTL of Ian McKellar and Ian Flux, Spa Franchorchamps, 1998,

The Quaife ahead of the factory Lister Storm GTL of Ian McKellar and Ian Flux, Spa Franchorchamps, 1998,

Missed finishes lead to missed rounds as the team feverishly tried to improve the car, but to no avail. For 1999 Graham Hathaway was in turn replaced by experienced GT-racer Simon Duerden. In the meantime, GT1 had been banned thanks to the crushing dominance of Mercedes-Benz, which made the British championship a refuge for exiled supermachines.

Lister responded in turn by bringing in an updated Storm GTL, and newcomer Sintura fielded a Judd V10-engined monster able to give the ageing Porsche’s and McLarens in the series a bloody nose. As a result the Quaife failed to make any meaningful progress, although Quaife/Duerden did manage to improve on their best result. At Spa and Silverstone, the pair recorded a set of eight places, with the Spa result even being on the same lap as the winning Lister, with only a 2 minute and 37 second deficit.

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The disappointing results moved Quaife to take the car out of competition for a full year to iron out its flaws. After two missed rounds, the car was back for the Donington round of the 2001 British GT season. GT1 had now officially been abolished in British GT, meaning the exotic homologation specials were effectively banned.

GT1 and GT2 cars were merged in a homogenized class simply dubbed GT, while a secondary GTO class took the spot formerly occupied by GT3. The confusing changes and the one-year sabbatical had done little to improve results though for Quaife, as Michael Quaife and new partner Philip Hopkins were stuck in 8th place, some 4.7 seconds from the pole-sitting Chrysler Viper GTS-R. A collision early in the race ended their hopes prematurely.

The rest of the 2001 campaign went predictably awfully, as the car finished just two races. At Croft, the R4 GTS crossed the line in 11th place, 3 laps down on the works Lister Storm GT of David Warnock and Mike Jordan.

Another driver change for Brands Hatch to swap Simon Duerden for Graham Morris provided the team with their fourth and final top 10 finish, albeit 3 laps down on the victorious Hayles Racing Viper GTS-R of Rob Wilson (NZ) and Tim Harvey. Quaife and Morris only raced together one more time, but the final venture at Silverstone again proved to be fruitless, resulting in another bitter DNF. A third failed season proved too much for Quaife, and they silently withdrew the car from competition.

The Quaife R4 GTS was a thinly veiled marketing ploy used by a renowned drivetrain company to gain publicity in a climate fixated on GT1-racing. By taking the time to homologate the R4 GTS for competition complete with the mandatory road version, Quaife intended to show the world just how capable they actually were.

Unfortunately the car’s racing exploits provided exclusively bad press, as it either broke down or fell far behind the leaders. With its complicated,heavy and power-sapping all wheel drive transmission assembly, the R4 was outgunned by far lighter machinery able to use more of their restricted 600 horsepowers.

As such, the R4 GTS sadly remained nothing more than a stylistic exercise aimed at turning heads. Even so, the car remains the only GT1-car built specifically with all wheel drive in mind. Because of that small piece of trivia, the Quaife name will be etched into motoring history forever, just as the company had intended.

As such, the R4 GTS sadly remained nothing more than a stylistic exercise aimed at turning heads. Even so, the car remains the only GT1-car built specifically with all wheel drive in mind. Because of that small piece of trivia, the Quaife name will be etched into motoring history forever, just as the company had intended.