1993 – 1996 : from the 500 LM to the 600 LM-S
The 4th February 1993 saw the presentation of the Venturi 500 LM with its aim, the Le Mans 24 Hours
The new regulations allowing GT cars to take part in the Le Mans race opened up new prospects for the Venturi firm. The purchasers of the 500 LM were guaranteed to receive help and support from the firm, which had every intention of seizing this opportunity to further develop their renown.
In 1993, no fewer than seven Venturi 500 LMs were entered for the Le Mans 24 Hours. The chassis were therefore numbered CLM0001 to 7. During practice, only three cars were race-ready. It was thus with scant preparation that the cars lined up for the start of the race.
At the end of the 24 hours, five out of the seven cars managed to cross the finishing line, coming from 23rd to 92nd, which prompted JM Teissedre to write: “Congratulations to Venturi, who took a risk with more to lose than to gain”.
Venturi enters for a new endurance championship: the BPR
1994 saw the birth of the BRP championship, a series of endurance events specifically for GTs. The first race took place on the Paul Ricard circuit on 6th March 1994. Two Venturi 500 LMs lined up at the start, amidst a stream of Venturi 400 Trophy cars which completed the lineup.
Appearance of the 600 LM and a full strike for Venturi
It was during the second race of the Jarama 4 Hours that two 500 LMs, upgraded to 600 LMs, made their first appearance.
The improvements were aerodynamic, due in particular to the rear spoiler being lowered and a new design for the front fascia, based on the results of wind-tunnel tests. The gearbox was given reinforced pinions (Hewland DGN), the exchangers were modified and the engine was reworked from top to bottom by EIA to take full advantage of the new regulations (new inlet restrictions). Power was raised to 570 hp at 1.2 bars of turbo pressure.
During the Jamara practice sessions, the 600 LM of Ferté – Neugarten clocked up the second fastest time behind the Ferrari F40 of Olofsson – Della Noce. The other two 600 LMs qualified in 4th and 6th positions. The sole Venturi 500 LM entered for the race recorded the 12th fastest time. There was hence a large difference in performance between the 500 LMs and the 600 LMs, which confirmed the firm in their choices.
For the third race in Dijon, the pressure of the 600 LMs’ twin turbos was increased to 1.3 bars, for a delivered power of 600 hp. The 600 LMs, significantly more competitive, notched up their first international victories ahead of Ferrari and Porsche. In fact at Dijon, the 600 LMs took the first two places.
In 1994, a single 600 LM was produced, bearing chassis number CLM0008. The car was run by JCB Racing and claimed victory in the Paris 1000 km race on 29th May 1994, with no less than five 600 LMs in the first six places on the starting grid. In the end, two 600 LMs finished on the podium. If there had been a “Constructors” ranking during the 1994 BRP season, Venturi would have finished first.
The 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours
Despite Venturi’s good results of the year before, out of the eleven cars submitted for entry, only five were selected by the ACO, with three cars accepted as possible replacements.
After promising practice sessions in May, during which the Tropenat-Ferté 600 LM recorded the 6th fastest time, the race results were disappointing. Even worse, the mid-June practices were a real killer: to reduce fuel-consumption, EIA, which prepared the engines of all the teams, had modified their richness, with the result that the engines blew up one after the other. At that time, the Venturi firm was not involved, even if No° 39 was entered under the works name, with the car not managing to qualify.
In the end, six Venturis qualified, from the 15th to the 46th position. During the race, the engine failures continued and it was finally one of the two Venturi 400 GTRs which saved the day by finishing 17th.
Four victories in 1994
Venturi’s dented honour was repaired at the Spa 4 Hours Race, with a 600 LM winning the event. It was Venturi’s third victory, to Porsche’s two and Ferrari’s single win.
At Suzuka, the results of the Venturi cars were mixed. Following a minor collision, then a mechanical failure, the Grouillard-Bouchut 600 LM (CLM0003), starting from 5th position on the grid, was forced to retire. For his part, Ferté driving the Jacadi CLM0007 left the track and crashed. Only three Venturis finished the race, with the best-ranked finishing 6th.
On 2nd October 1994, the Jacadi team entered a 600 LM for the final of the British GT Championship, at Silverstone. The team car (chassis No° CLM0007) had been badly damaged in its crash at Suzuka and it was not ready to race. The Jacadi team therefore hired the Lécuyer 600 LM (chassis No° CLM0003), which was repainted in the Jacadi livery for the occasion. Their efforts were not in vain, since Michel Ferté won the race, his third victory of the season at the wheel of a 600 LM.
And finally, the last BPR race of the season took place at Zhuhai, in China. Despite the considerable distance involved, no less than eight Venturi cars were entered for the race, six 600 LMs and two 400 GTRs. Only three of them crossed the finishing line. The best-placed car, the CLM0005 driven by Graham-Birbeau, finished 6th.
The 1994 season was thus a good one for Venturi, with three race wins, against four for Porsche and only one for Ferrari.
In 1995, the development of the 600 LM into the 600 SLM
The year 1995 marked the advent of a new era, with large budgets being dedicated to the constructors’ teams, to the detriment of the private teams, and the arrival of the McLaren F1 GTR prototypes.
The Venturis were struggling. Faced with the exponential inflation of the constructors’ racing budgets, the private teams had a job following them. For the record, the purchasing price for a McLaren was 6 million francs and just 1 million for a 600 LM. It was this takeover by the major operators and the huge increase in racing budgets which brought a premature end to the BRP championship.
During the 1995 season, the Venturis played a second role, while the McLarens stamped their supremacy, with no fewer than ten victories out of twelve.
For the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours race, the Venturi firm developed a 600 SLM model (chassis CL0009). New feature included a 650 hp engine, improvements in aerodynamics, new suspensions and a weight of only 1,066 kg thanks to extensive use of carbon Kevlar (the statutory minimum weight being 1,050 kg).
Jean-Marc Gounon and Paul Belmondo succeded in qualifying the SLM 600 for the fifth line of the grid, whereas the other two 600 LMs qualified in 29th and 35th position. The 600 SLM thus started the race alongside the McLaren which finally won the race at the end of the 24 hours.
Shortly after the start, Gounon hoisted the 600 SLM up into fifth place but a clumsy gear-change (down into 2nd instead of 4th) caused over-revving, which ruined any chance the 600 SLM might have had of finishing in the top places.
The other two Venturis entered for the race were 600 LMs which both had the distinction of being Art Cars: the CLM0006 was painted by César and the CLM0005 was painted by the Italian artist Gianni Celano Gianicci.
During the rest of the 1995 season, the 600 SLM was entered for BRP races in China and in Japan, finishing 7th at Suzuka.
Before Venturi’s demise, the 600 LM CLM0003 became the 600 LM-S
On 21st February 1996, the Venturi firm was put into compulsory liquidation. The firm equipped the Lécuyer 600 LM (the CLM0003) with the final developments of the 1995 600 SLM car and it became the works car. It was renamed 600 LM-S for the occasion, in reference to the 600 SLM.
For the first BRP event, which took place at the Le Castelet circuit, the car managed to qualify in 8th position, in the face of some extremely sharp competition. As it was fighting for a place on the podium, the car was forced to retired after leaving the track. In 1996, Eric Graham’s Venturi (the CLM0005, also conserved by Ascott Collection) led a rear-guard action and managed to finish 17th at Jarama, as the Venturi firm went into ultimate decline.