Since their 24H SERIES debut in 2014, MARC Cars and their customers have taken nine class victories, claimed five class championships, and fell just 10 points short of winning the 24H SERIES outright in 2015. As we find out with company founder Ryan McLeod, that’s just the start….
|V8, quad-cam, 5,163cc||615bhp @ 7,000rpm||500lb ft (678Nm) @ 5,00rpm||TBC||TBC||1,160kg (530bhp/ton)||TBC|
If there’s one thing the McLeod family knows, it’s motor racing. Peter McLeod for instance, one of the Australian Touring Car Championship’s most respected competitors and a former Australian Endurance Champion in his own right in 1983, famously co-drove a Holden Commodore SS to victory at the Bathurst 1000 alongside the late ‘King of the Mountain’ Peter Brock in 1987. Ryan meanwhile – son of Peter and brother of fellow racer, Gerard – began his single seater career in Formula Ford NSW in 1993 before moving on to, among other programs, the Australian GT Production Championship, Konica Lites (now the Super2 Series), and the Australian Drivers’ Championship, alumni of which include five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, reigning Indy 500 winner Will Power, and former Grand Prix winner / World Endurance Champion, Mark Webber. Later on in 2005, Ryan founded Racer Industries, the Queensland-based parts supplier that still caters to most teams on the Supercar Championship grid to this day.
Among this celebrated history though, one race above all others is synonymous with the ‘McLeod’ name: the Bathurst 12 Hours. Having been on the grid for the inaugural run in 1991, Peter would later be joined in the Citroën BX by Ryan in 1994 (the father-son duo also entered the first of three consecutive Bathurst 1000s that year), and barring the event’s 1996-2006 hiatus, they haven’t missed a race since. Indeed, between 2009 and 2013, Racer Industries-entered Holden Astra Turbos claimed three class wins and two further class podiums, while Ryan’s new venture – MARC Cars – was undefeated in the event’s Invitational class for five straight years thereafter. Three of them were podium lockouts.
It’s Bathurst in 2010 though where the MARC Cars story begins, as Ryan, looking for a fresh challenge, learns of a 24-hour race halfway across the world in the Middle East: the Hankook 24H DUBAI.
“As a family, we’d competed in the Bathurst 12 Hours since 1991, and we’d won in our class so many times. But after a while we were looking for a longer race, and for an opportunity to race, competitively, outside Australia. There was a Bathurst 24 Hours in 2003 and 2004, but that didn’t last very long. And then around 2010, some customers of mine were competing in a new 24-hour race in Dubai, and the idea of that really intrigued us.”
Even up against the likes of future 24H SERIES champions Duel Racing and former World Touring Car Championship Teams’ Trophy winner SUNRED, Racer Industries’ maiden outing in Dubai was a solid one, with the Astra VX-R finishing 4th in the A3T class. Though Racer Industries were unable to replicate the result one year later – a turbo hose worked itself loose, dropping the Astra to 6th in SP3-GT4 – key lessons had been learnt, and plans for an ambitious project, one that spelt the VX-R’s imminent retirement, were already in the works when the team returned home to Norwell.
“We learnt so much about 24-hour racing from Dubai, and we did Barcelona that year too. So when we came back for 2012, we made the car a bit lighter and a bit faster. But it was still a modified road car. With the new category CREVENTIC was introducing – SP2 – we could see there was great potential in these regulations to make a car that was completely tailored for endurance racing. That’s when we went back with a pen and paper, and started to make a car for the SP class. One that could race fast without technical issues, and, most importantly, could be funded by our drivers and not require massive budgets.”
Fast forward to early 2014. Racer Industries is now ‘MARC Cars’ – “MARC is an acronym for ‘McLeod Auto Racing Competition’, but because we make our own cars, it’s also ‘McLeod Auto Racing Concepts’ ” – and, minus a couple of test days at Queensland Raceway, the team’s brand new, purpose-built endurance racer is ready for its first official race, fittingly, at that year’s Bathurst 12 Hours. Home turf.
It’s a formidable machine. Yes, the modified bodywork is from a Ford Focus, but underneath is a bespoke CroMo4 chassis, ‘penned’ via Computer Aided Design software (CAD) and produced using Computer Numerical Control (CNC) for maximum accuracy (“there are no hand-made parts”). Designed and built by PACE Innovations, it’s a platform that accommodates panels from almost any production hatchback, and is a robust, cost-effective and, crucially, efficient way to go endurance racing.
“As a family, we’d competed in the Bathurst 12 Hours since 1991, and we’d won in our class so many times. But after a while we were looking for a longer race, and for an opportunity to race, competitively, outside Australia.”
Aero components like the front splitter, wheel arches and rear wing are standard across all MARC Cars for multilateral handling. The Brembo brake discs are purposefully larger to improve performance, and thus durable enough to last two if not three 24-hour races. The suspension arms are identical front and back, as is the Bosch ABS system (save bespoke mounting points) meaning componentry is interchangeable, reducing the need for spares.
On top of all that, every spare part is ‘off the shelf’ standard, and can be sourced and fitted from any supplier without modification. The MARC I’s Recaro bucket seat for example is lifted from a Porsche 991, and you’ll find myriad examples of the steering column and six-speed Albins sequential transmission on the Supercar Championship grid. Then there’s the rear-wheel driven 5-litre ‘Coyote’ V8 powering the 1,230kg hatchback. It’s capable of punching 500bhp, and has been lifted, complete with throttle and manifold, from Australia’s Ute V8 Racing Series because, as Ryan explains, “that engine was popular, it had been fully developed, and it was readily available.”
The approach is considered, the attention to detail absolute, and the success, as a result, immediate. Not only did all three Focus-bodied MARCs finish the 2014 Bathurst 12 Hours on their maiden run, they locked out the ‘Invitational’ class podium. Success wasn’t without compromise, however…
“Bathurst traditionally had never allowed cars like that to race. They were always modified road cars or a factory-built GT car rather than specially tailor made for endurance events. So to race was a big feather in our cap, and I don’t think the organisers would have let anybody else do that. The problem was that we had to commit at least three cars for the first time. That was a big deal: three cars, from scratch, in a high profile race and on a tight budget.
“You could tell straight from the box that the car was going to be good. We went to Bathurst having done only two test days with the cars, and all three cars ran exactly to the lap time we thought they would, and performed with no problems.”
“Every spare part is ‘off the shelf’ standard, and can be sourced and fitted from any supplier without modification. The MARC I’s Recaro bucket seat for example is lifted from a Porsche 991.”
Three months after the team’s Bathurst triumph, and with its first 24H SERIES class podium claimed at the Hankook 12H ZANDVOORT in May 2014, the ‘Gen I’ MARC went on to secure category wins at the 24 Hours of Zolder and the Hankook 24H BARCELONA on consecutive weekends in late August. And all for half the price of a brand new Mercedes-AMG, Porsche or Ferrari GT3 car.
“Take a Porsche or a Mercedes GT3. They’re fantastic cars, and tons of development has gone in to them, but they’re still road cars that have been modified by the manufacturer to race. The MARC car is different, because the Ford Focus panels on the outside are literally just that: some panels that are fixed to the frame of a completely bespoke racing car. When we need to get a component for the car, we can look globally at every supplier and we can fit it to the car. If it doesn’t fit, we modify the car to make it fit. All that means preparation is better, the supply of components is completely unrestricted, and you can race a MARC more affordably than production-based cars.”
With a proven class-winning pedigree and two years of furious development now safely tucked beneath the Focus / Mazda3 body panels, the MARC I was entered for its first full season in the 24H SERIES in 2015. The year started with four consecutive class wins in Dubai, Mugello, Zandvoort and Paul Ricard for ‘MARC Cars Australia’, and there was even time for class victory at the Britcar 24 Hour at Silverstone in April. Heading into the series’ penultimate race, the SP2 title was already a foregone conclusion, and MARC Cars Australia was on the brink of an outright maiden championship glory at its first attempt. It was not to be though…
“On paper, our car was designed to win, and we should have won the 2015 title one round early in Barcelona. But as happens in endurance racing, there was an accident on-track, a rock got caught in the belt in the motor, and the engine stopped. So that meant we had to go to Brno for the final round. We were competitive again and the cars ran 1-2 during practice, but then Scuderia Praha turned up with a Ferrari [run under the RPD Racing banner] that was put into our class, which went on to win. We came 2nd and 3rd rather than 1st and 2nd, and we lost the championship by just a few points.
“Heading into the penultimate race, the SP2 title was already a foregone conclusion, and MARC Cars Australia was on the brink of an outright maiden championship glory at its first attempt. It was not to be though…”
“That was difficult to take because we’re not a big team – there’s only four full-time members and a lot of volunteers – and we’d put so much work in. We’re still very proud of what we achieved though, looking back at the positives.”
Though disappointed, the pace and potential of the custom-built MARC I was unquestionable: further class wins at Bathurst and in the Australian GT Trophy Series proved as such across 2016, and skyrocketing customer interest meant that 20 identical MARC I’s had already been built by the end of 2017, each one identical after the car’s development was strategically frozen.
Ryan McLeod and his team though would not return to defend their newly won 24H SERIES title in 2016, their focus – pun very much intended – having already shifted to the design and construction of a brand new, more aggressive ‘Gen II’ model for 2018.
“After 2015, the seed was planted. The new SPX class was coming, and we could see there was another opportunity to make a faster car. So we went home, got the pen and paper out, and started again.
“With MARC I, we already had a customer base and suppliers, so communally, I was able to go to each of them and say, ‘look, we have a car, it’s fantastic, and it’s achieved a lot, but wouldn’t you like to go to the next level with something a little faster and a little more bespoke?’ Everyone said yes!
“I had the vision of what we wanted to create. We wanted a bigger, badder, faster car, something with a bit more focus on the track over the Focus or the Mazda. We wanted to keep the DNA of the MARC I car, so the core components have been put into the MARC II. But there was a remake of the chassis, and a complete upgrade of the electronics system, the engine and braking systems.” The ‘Coyote’ V8 remains, albeit as a 5.2-litre variant lifted from a GT350 Mustang that delivers 615bhp. “It’s got bigger wheels too, plus, we completely designed our own body, so for the first time, we were dealing with aerodynamics.
“I’d say it’s comfortably five seconds a lap faster, and because the car is easier to drive, we’ve closed the gap between our gentlemen drivers and the PRO guys. Before, it was around four seconds, and now it’s down to under three seconds, which is just fantastic. You can’t do that with a standard GT3 car.”
“We wanted to keep the DNA of the MARC I car, so the core components have been put into the MARC II.”
Let’s tackle the elephant in the room. Though it may boast a striking similarity, the MARC II is categorically NOT a Ford Mustang, though Ryan does admit that Ford’s halo muscle car did play a small role in the genesis of the new “bigger, badder” bespoke bodywork…
“We wanted an iconic style. For the last 20 years in Australia, if you wanted a Ford Mustang, you couldn’t buy one. But when the 2015 gen arrived, finally, they made the car right-hand drive, and when it was released, it was huge.
“I actually bought one as a road car, and the response you get from driving that car on the road in Australia is massive. I thought, ‘this is the response I want people to have when they see my car.’ Everywhere we take this car now, because it’s so low, so wide, and so angry, people just love it. I haven’t had anybody say anything negative about the appearance of the car on-track.”
Few were surprised when MARC version 2.0 took class victory – at Bathurst, naturally – on its competitive debut in 2018. Arguably a bigger challenge though awaited the second generation bruiser on its European debut at Spa-Francorchamps eight months later. Entered for the Hankook 12H SPA as both ‘MARC Cars Australia’ and under the ‘VDS Racing Adventures’ banner, the erstwhile SP2-class European Champions ultimately took their third class win of the 2018 season, fittingly, on home turf in Belgium (a fourth would follow for Raphäel van der Straten’s eponymous outfit one month later at COTA). Championship objectives not withstanding, and alongside the two debuting Gen IIs, the Australian team had a further three entries – and three customer teams – to co-ordinate in what would turn out to be a busy weekend for McLeod Auto Racing Competition.
“Spa is always challenging, but to debut the new MARC II in Europe at such a long track was really tough. But we loved it. Unfortunately one of our cars got held up with a crash towards the end, but the two MARC IIs raced on the same lap all day and ran to the pace we expected they would. It’s one thing to have photos of your car racing at a local track, or at Bathurst, but when you have your own car racing with your name on it at a circuit like Spa, and they look so good, it’s really rewarding.”
“Let’s tackle the elephant in the room: though it may boast a striking similarity, the MARC II is categorically NOT a Ford Mustang.”
Admittedly, results so far in 2019 have been mixed: the MARC II finished 4th in-class on its maiden Dubai run in January – again with VDS Racing Adventures –while fellow customers T2 Racing took the Invitational Class win at Bathurst a month later. This year’s 12-hour race at Mount Panorama, however, was the first time a factory MARC failed to make the finish since 2014. Still, team owner Ryan McLeod has little doubt the new MARC II will pick up where its illustrious predecessor left off. After all, if there’s one thing the McLeod family – and now MARC Cars – knows, it’s motor racing. And winning.
“With a little bit development, we want to dominate SPX class, and we believe we can do that. We also want to consistently push into the outright top 10 in the 24H SERIES. With the MARC I, we figured we could compete in the top 12 or 13 per cent. Now, with the MARC II, we want to be in the top 10, or even the top eight. That’s our goal, and we’re quite good at meeting those!”
*Images courtesy of MARC Cars Australia, Dirk Arthur Klynsmith and Driven Productions
MARC, Gen II (Tech Specs)
Engine: V8, quad-cam, 5,163cc
Power: 615bhp @ 7,000rpm
Torque: 500lb ft (678Nm) @ 5,00rpm
Transmission: Albins ST-6 sequential transaxle, rear-wheel drive
Front suspension: MARC Twin A- Arm Suspension System, Ohlins ILS 36 Dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: MARC Twin A- Arm Suspension System, Ohlins ILS 36 Dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes: Brembo Monobloc GT 6 Piston caliper, 390mm (front), Brembo Monobloc GT 4 Piston caliper, 355mm (rear)
Wheels: MARC forged alloy 12 x 18in (front), 13 x 18in (front)
Tyres: 315 / 650 (front), 325 / 710 (rear)
Weight: 1,160kg (plus BOP ballast)