Few brands owe as much of their identity to motorsports sponsorships as does Gulf Oil. The company has undergone a multitude of changes since its once-dominant position atop the corporate heap as a member of the Seven Sisters oil cartel, but the orange and blue has been a mainstay in racing for generations.
While many corporate liveries have made their mark over the years, Gulf is among the few with a timelessness that transcends and transforms each of the adorned cars into another mark of the legendary Gulf Racing story.
What’s more, the brand is the only one in the top ranking liveries that directly relates to motorsport. The products it promotes are those same ones that help it win – it is a symbiotic relationship where development and competition go hand in hand, and one that further warrants its standing among motorsport folklore.
With a special emphasis on endurance racing, Gulf has dressed some of the most iconic cars of our time, won some of the most prestigious championships, and done so in one of the toughest, most demanding motor sports in the world.
1967 Mirage M1/ 1968 Ford GT40
The #3707 Zenith Blue and #3957 Tangerine made their first joint appearance on the 1967 Mirage M1, a prototype sports car based off the Ford GT40 and built by John Wyer Automotive Engineering (JWAE). After Ford withdrew from sports car competition at the beginning of the year, Wyer saw the opportunity to take advantage of the chassis using a modified design that included a pinched, rounded rooftop, narrow windshield and more aerodynamic body, most evident at the tail end of the car. In just its second race the M1 had its first victory at the 1,000 km of Spa, piloted by Jacky Ickx and Dick Thompson. The design was retired just a year into its life due to regulation changes.
Due to the success of the Mirage, JWAE continued its involvement with the GT40, building a total of five chassis for competition. Of these models, chassis P/1075 lays claim as the most successful GT40 ever, winning back-to-back victories at the 1968 24 Hours of Le Mans under Pedro Rodriguez and Lucien Bianchi, then again in 1969, when Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver beat the Porsche 908 Coupé across the finish by mere seconds at the 24 hour mark.
1970 Porsche 917
It’s difficult to argue the beauty of the 917. At the 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans, it was dubbed the 24 Hours “Car of the Century,” largely due to its iconic silhouette and design built solely for the race in the south of France.
The 917 was born out of revised Group 4 regulations, which reduced engine capacity to 3.0 litres for prototypes and 5.0 litres for sports cars. But the selling point for the creation of the 917 came when the FIA dropped sports car production homologation from 50 units to just 25. Just 10 months before the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche had developed the 917 with the intent of selling the car to privateers and thus, a legend was born.
JWAE’s dominance over Porsche with the GT40 in the previous two years prompted the manufacturer to hand operations over to Wyer’s team. Porsche also offered factory support to Martini Racing and Porsche KG Salzburg that year. The 917 was initially plagued with handling issues, but the Wyer-Gulf team experimented with a shorter tail from the similar 917 Can-Am Spyder. The result was the 917K, which raced at Le Mans in 1970 and ‘71.
Interestingly, despite the 917’s popularity and the story told in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans film, the Gulf 917 never actually won the enduro. The 917s that were victorious in 1970 and 1971 flew under the red and white of KG Salzburg and Martini Racing. The closest a Gulf 917 came to victory at Le Mans was in 1971 when it placed second under the tutelage of Richard Attwood and Herbie Muller.
Despite its Le Mans record, the 917 and its design remains one of – if not the definitive Gulf racing icon.
1995-1997 McLaren F1 GTR
Undoubtedly ahead of its time, the McLaren F1 was an F1 car built for the road. Surprisingly, it was never designed to race. The first GTR variant was designed three years after initial production for the 1995 season, and in just its first 24 Hour race, it took four of the top five spots, including victory by two laps.
Finishing in fourth was the Andy Blackmore-designed Gulf car, which was notably darker than its traditional Gulf predecessors. In an effort to improve its performance, the next year it was stripped of all non-essential materials and used revised aerodynamics. It failed to improve, but still managed an impressive fifth behind the TWR Porsche WSC-95 and the two new factory Porsche 911 GT1s.
In 1997, the FIA introduced the GT Championship, and with it came an onslaught made up of the 911 GT1, Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR and Panoz Esperante GTR-1. McLaren hit back with an aerodynamically-optimized longtail modification, brand-new sequential gearbox and engine capacity was dropped to 5.99 litres for added durability. It also marked the return to the traditional light blue and orange with Gulf Team Davidoff.
The F1 GTR Longtail stood its ground among the world’s best, taking the 1997 GT1 Class victory at Le Mans, which included second and third overall amongst an incredibly strong field.
The car also finished second in the FIA GT Championship, claiming five wins (including three straight to open the season), and the 6 Hours of Vallelunga, Italy by an astounding 21 laps.
2008 Aston Martin DBR9
Using the same nomenclature as the DBR1, named after previous company owner David Brown, the DBR9 returned to Le Mans in 2005. The factory Aston Martin team had been absent from competition since its AMR1 prototype in 1989 when it finished 11th, and prior to that hadn’t fielded a car since 1959 when it finished one-two in the DBR1/300.
When the British manufacturer returned under the guidance of Prodrive, it appeared not to have missed a step, winning the 12 Hours of Sebring and qualifying first by four seconds over the Corvette team at Le Mans. Ultimately they finished third in class behind the two GM-backed cars. The following year the team came home second.
It wasn’t until 2007 that Aston Martin was able to repeat their 1959 Le Mans success, finishing first in class and fifth overall with drivers Darren Turner, David Brabham and Rickard Rydell.
The following season marked the beginning of a longstanding relationship between Gulf and Aston Martin, and a repeat victory in GT1 for Turner and Brabham, who were joined in the 009 by Antonio Garcia. It was the only major victory for the Gulf-dressed Aston before the company switched over to the LMP1 program.
2009/2010 Lola-Aston Margin LMP1
For 2009, Lola supplied the B09/60 chassis and Aston Martin/Prodrive supplied the naturally-aspirated 6.0-litre V12 which was based on the same engine that powered the DBR9 GT1 car.
A total of three Gulf-liveried LMP1s were entered in the Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours, two from Aston Martin (008, 009), and the other from AMR Eastern Europe (007). The 007 was the most successful of the three, winning the 1,000 km of Catalunya and 1,000 km of Nürburgring, along with the LMS team and driver championships.
When they came to Le Mans however, the story was much different.
Lining up against the high-power turbo diesel prototypes made up of three Audi R15 TDIs and our Peugeot 908 HDi FAPs, the petrol-powered, naturally-aspirated Lola-Astons faced a tough battle ahead. The 007 and 008 cars qualified lower than all seven turbo diesels in eighth and ninth place, with the 009 starting back in 17th.
The race saw the 009 car run as high as third place until a water leak on lap 252 dropped it out of the race, but the 007 AMR Eastern Europe car driven by Jan Charouz, Tomáš Enge and Stefan Mücke managed to take top honours as the highest petrol-powered finish: fourth overall with 373 laps, just nine back from the winning 908.
The 008 car of Anthony Davidson, Turner and Jos Verstappen finished 13th with 342 laps complete.
The 2010 Le Mans was nearly a carbon copy, this time with the two sole factory entries qualifying in the same positions. In the race it was the R15 TDI that drove to the top three spots, while the top Lola-Aston placed sixth. The bright spot for the LMP1 that season was a third place finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring, followed soon after with second at the LMS 8 Hours of Castellet at Paul Ricard. While it marked a sharp learning curve and a difficult two seasons for Aston Martin and the Prodrive squad, the LMP1 brought Aston Martin to its strongest finishes at Le Mans in more than 50 years. Ultimately, the results succumbed to technology regulations that were favourable to turbo diesel technology.
2012/ 2013 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE
The current Aston Martin V8 Vantage GTE made its debut last year in the first season of the FIA World Endurance Championship. It was also the coming together of Gulf and Aston Martin in a unique technical partnership that resulted in Gulf Oil International contributing more than just its trademark colour scheme to the squad.
In 2012, the GTE Pro and Am cars qualified an impressive second and third in class at Le Mans. The Pro car finished third, four laps behind the winner, while the Am entry was forced to retire with damage and just 31 laps complete. Overall the inaugural season for the Vantage GTE was a success, with a total of seven podiums, three poles and one win for second in the WEC season standings.
This year, the blue and orange is fielding its strongest effort to date. The four-car campaign includes two full-time entries in both the Pro and Am classes, with a fifth Pro car running at select events for driver points.
With a stronger field that includes the new 911 RSR, the Astons have shown their strength, with Pro drivers Darren Turner and Stefan Mücke sitting third in the standings with three races remaining. In the GTE Am category, Jamie Campbell-Walter and Stuart Hall are first.
At Le Mans, the team qualified one-two in Pro and took pole in Am, but they were dealt a devastating blow early in the race, when Am driver Allan Simonsen was involved in a fatal crash at Tertre Rouge. At the request of Simonsen’s family, the team continued with the remaining four cars. Two of the three Pro cars suffered DNFs, but Turner, Mücke and Peter Dumbreck persevered for third in the Pro class in the special-livery 97 car, while Campbell-Walter, Hall and Roald Goethe finished sixth in the 96 Am car, dedicating their performance to their fallen comrade.
Since Le Mans the team has appeared more committed than ever, taking three class wins and two seconds out of a possible eight podiums.
Technically, the Aston Martin team is also stronger than ever. Using data analysis and engineer feedback from each session, the performance of the Vantage GTE has reached new heights and, being optimized literally from the laboratories of Gulf. The sponsor works closely to supply special fluids designed specifically for the Vantage, which Prodrive Chief Engineer Jason Hill says has helped contribute to their success.
“It’s a single grade oil that Gulf has developed specifically for this car. It’s not used anywhere else. The key thing for us is we don’t get degradation in the engine components and performance throughout the life of the powerplant. Those components are as close to the original condition as possible.”
The Vantage GTE marks a technical step forward for Gulf Oil. Like each car that came before, it is a worthy addition to the storied history of Gulf racing, and will continue to provide a platform for technological advancement and beauty in motion for generations to come.