At the end of 1975, John Wyer retired and sponsor Gulf pulled out. But it wasn’t the end of the Mirage story. American lawyer and Ferrari dealer Harley Cluxton III took over the team and had new prototypes built based on the Gulf GR8 for Le Mans – marking a return of the Mirage name.
After the end of the Gulf Research Racing Company, the two Gulf GR8s were put up for sale, but at first nobody was interested in paying the asking price. Harley Cluxton III from Phoenix had bought a GR7 in 1975, and was now interested in the GR8s, which had been left in Maurice Gomm’s hands in Old Woking. In March 1976 the parties agreed on a price and Cluxton became the new owner of the cars and spares. John Horsman was hired to prepare the renamed Mirage M8s for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He put together a team made up mostly of his former employees.
1976: A new start in the USA
Cluxton talked Anthony Bamford, owner of construction machinery manufacturer J. C. Bamford Company, into sponsoring the Mirage programme. Total Oil and Goodyear were also on board. The team was named after Cluxton’s Phoenix-based Ferrari dealership – ‘Grand Touring Cars’. Four drivers were signed for Le Mans: Derek Bell, Vern Schuppan, François Migault and Jean-Louis Lafosse. A short testing programme took place at Silverstone on 25 May, and then it was off to Le Mans. Wyer, who was enjoying his retirement in the South of France, returned to help out with timekeeping. The Cosworth engines were tuned closer to Formula 1 specification, only limited to 9,000 rpm for the sake of reliability.
The competition at Le Mans was considerably stronger in 1976 than it had been the year before. The works Porsches and Renaults were regarded as the favourites. Jacky Ickx and Gijs van Lennep won in their Porsche 936, as the Renaults battled with technical issues. The two GTC Mirages put in a respectable performance. The 400-odd horsepower weren’t enough to compete with the Porsches and Renaults on speed, but the cars were reliable. Lafosse/Migault finished second, despite Lafosse defying an order to pit late in the race after his car’s rear bodywork flew off at speed. It took several requests from Horsman before he relented, the ordeal costing the car time to the leaders. Bell/Schuppan came home fifth…
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by Thomas Nehlert
Photographs: Kräling, McKlein, Renault, Motorsportimages