May 26, 2023: Matteo Panini drove the Marcos Mantis to victory in the first round of the Youngtimer Cup at Mugello. The Marcos gave a first glimpse of its potential on the spectacular Tuscan track, but performance is not the only strength of this English car appreciated by its passionate gentleman driver, because the Manta is special by virtue of its shortcomings.
The first round of the Youngtimer Cup at Mugello brought us stunning machines like this English car, described to us by its owner-driver, Matteo Panini.
“This is a Marcos, Mantis model. Its name derives from its particular shape. It is a handcrafted British car, and 38 of them were made.
It was created in 1996 for a one-make trophy, and this is one of the five built with left-hand drive, still in the trophy configuration.
In addition to the trophy, the build quality of this British car has resulted in various private teams using it for GT3, GT2 and even GT1 races!”
It even raced the 24h of Le Mans.
This model also raced at Le Mans, in a slightly different configuration, but the basics of the car were still the same, namely: tubular chassis, American Ford 4,600 cc engine positioned behind the front axle, sequential gearbox, differential and a skimpy fiberglass shell, like a girl dressed for the beach. All this adds up to a weight of just 1000 kg.”
You’re sitting on the rear axle, you have a huge bonnet in front and, therefore, you are driving it with your bottom, as Niki Lauda put it.
“Let’s start from a premise: the car has no controls, it’s all about driving technique and it remains a very traditional rear-wheel-drive car with big tyres.
Basically, the Mantis has a few faults, but it is very intuitive to drive and even back then there was hydrodrive, so from a physical point of view it is not stressful.
Overall, it remains a challenging car because it is very fast.”
Is this car one of the models we will see in all the races of the Youngtimer Cup?
“Yes, the goal is to compete in all the Youngtimer Cup races. For us, the car is new and we had to do a bit of mileage to discover the micro faults and make all those small improvements so that it will drive better. As they say, in these cases, the stopwatch is both your enemy and your friend…”
Where did you find your Mantis?
“It has an interesting history. It was in England, then it was sold in Holland and later ended up in Belgium.
When I went looking for this type of car, which I wanted in an absolutely original, trophy configuration, I was told there was one in Belgium and then when I spoke to the owner on the phone, I realised it wasn’t at a motorsport workshop or a dealer’s.
When I went to see the owner, it was 2020, the car had been idle since 2008 and was in a storage room covered with cloths.
It had something like 10 layers of cloths on it and when we uncovered it, the owner said to me: “I haven’t used the car for several years, but it’s practically new.”
To be honest, I was a bit dubious, because the car had been lying idle for 12 years.”
You didn’t just look for and buy a racing car, you also experienced a bit of history.
“You get too meet some real characters. The old owner, in fact, had never used this Marcos – he bought it because he was fan of American engines.”
The Youngtimer Cup is the ideal championship to give these treasures a new lease of life and relive stories like yours.
“The Youngtimer Cup has the right spirit and I hope that the group gets bigger and bigger, so that we can provide a lot of action and put more good cars on show, with overtaking and enjoyable racing.
Having said that, we will see you in Austria (Red Bull Ring, June 9-11), on a fantastic track.
Tucked into the cockpit of his curvaceous Mantis, with the driver’s seat on the left, Matteo explains what it feels like to step on the gas behind that endless bonnet.
“The car is very simple, in the front we have this bubble, this big bulge on the bonnet to accommodate the 4,600 cc engine underneath, which is very tall, even though it is a dry sump.
The instruments are all moved to the right, starting with the digital display, where we can check the oil and water temperatures and the fuel pump. Then we have the sequential gear selector (showing the huge smooth aluminium lever with incorporated knob).
Other than that, all you have to do is get in the car and drive.”
You are sitting in a car that embodies the concept of the Young Timer racing car at its purest.
“The car is very efficient in the true British spirit, in the sense that it is designed not to cause problems. It allows you to drive without having to push loads of buttons and so on.
If you look closely, they have left all the original Ford controls, which is actually a bit ridiculous. I’ve got windscreen wiper levers, indicators etc., all controls that don’t work but have not been removed.
The original idea was to build a car for a Challenge that, although it has its faults, these are not a problem because they are the same for everyone. Following this logic, a defect actually becomes a feature.”
You’ve really taken to this no-frills approach that cuts straight to the chase.
“I really like the English spirit. A spirit that says, first take it to the track, then we can take care of the frills later, in the evening back at the garage…”
Engine: 4.6 V8 32 valve, dry sump lubrication
Front Brakes: 4-pot calipers, 360mm discs – fully floating
Rear Brakes: 2 pot calipers, ventilated discs with handbrake attachment
Pedal assembly all adjustable, full floor mounted and fitted with brake balance control operating from the cockpit
Gearbox has fifth gear uprated to .870:1 to make it much closer and usable to the fourth gear
FIA roll cage, bag tank (100 litres)
Weight : 950 kilos