Car companies with their own motorsports division are not uncommon these days. Porsche has its own event, Mercedes is currently dominating Formula 1, and the M-Sport World Rally Team is now called the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team again after earning the company’s full support by winning the 2017 WRC season.
For some car brands, however, racing credentials are more than just wins and stats. There are car companies with a racing heritage so fascinating that racing is a part of their brand. We are going to dig deeper and take a look at the best car brands whose motorsports roots you cannot ignore.
Lancia is now owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and produces only one car: the Ypsilon. The car is only sold in Italy and management at Fiat seems to think that the brand is on its last leg. Experts and car fans around the world, however, are in unison when it comes to keeping Lancia going. There is one reason for that: its racing heritage.
Lancia’s stunning story in the World Rally Championship began when they won the last ever International Championship for Manufacturers in 1972. It was the Lancia Fulvia, a beautiful and capable car, that brought the title home for the company.
The WRC was Lancia’s playground. Even today, Lancia is still the most successful team in the history of the WRC, winning the constructor's titles 11 times. The most successful Lancia in WRC was the Delta, another beautiful car made by the company. It won the WRC title six times, from 1987 to 1992.
Lancia’s battle with Audi was recently commemorated in an episode of Amazon’s The Grand Tour. It showed how the brand dominated WRC, despite Audi’s 4WD approach and the many challenges Lancia faced during that time.
We can’t talk about car companies with strong racing heritage without talking about Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz may be dominating Formula 1 at the moment, but their journey into the world of motor racing began when the company was still two separate entities.
Benz competed in the first ever motor race back in 1894; racing heritage doesn’t get any better than that. Eight years after the first ever race, Mercedes produced a racing version of the Mercedes Simplex. With that car, Mercedes made its mark in the world of motorsports and immediately dominated racing.
While Mercedes-Benz, had a stellar racing career in the 20s and 30s, but the company’s venture into motorsports ended when, in 1955, 83 spectators were killed in a tragedy known as the Le Mans Disaster.
Mercedes’s AMG division started supplying engines to Formula 1 teams in 1994 and played a big role in the success of McLaren-Mercedes in Formula 1. However, the company didn’t return as a team until 2010, when Mercedes GP and its two German drivers – Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg – debuted during the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix.
You only need to read a comprehensive history of Alfa Romeo to understand how racing fills the veins of this car company. There is a saying that you cannot be a true gearhead until you own an Alfa because of the company’s strong ties to motor racing.
Alfa Romeo’s first step into racing was made when the company entered the Alfa Romeo into the Targa Florio in 1911. Back then, the company was still known as A.L.F.A., but it was immediately clear that Alfa Romeo was serious about motorsports.
As a matter of fact, Enzo Ferrari drove an Alfa Romeo in the 1920 Targa Florio. Antonio Ascari, whose name is also used to name a car company, also drove for Alfa Romeo and finished second in the 1923 Targa Florio.
Alfa Romeo 182 is still considered one of the best cars in Formula 1 history. The company entered Formula 1 in 1950 and stole the spotlight for two years with its Alfetta. While the team withdrew from Formula 1 at the end of that second season, it supplied engines for other teams until 1988.
I was torn between Ferrari and Ford as the last car company to include in this list, but Ford is the underdog in many of the motorsports it competed in and it remains one of the best car companies in racing today; that’s a feat not many car companies can achieve.
The biggest racing story around Ford is its battle against Ferrari in the 60s. The two teams competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and turned several years of the competition into a racing story like no other. It was Ford GT – after several iterations – who ended the reign of Ferrari in this event.
The start of that rivalry? Enzo Ferrari’s refusal to give up it's racing team when Ford was trying to buy Ferrari. Many racing and car enthusiasts were glad Ferrari rejected Ford’s offer because what ensued was the greatest, most legendary rivalry in racing history.