The world of high-level international motorsport has gotten too expensive to continue at its current pace of development. That’s just a fact. Porsche has reduced its GTE plan from four cars to just two, pulling out of IMSA effective at the end of this season. BMW similarly withdrew from FIA WEC at the end of last season. Ford pulled its entire GT program. Corvette isn’t even going to race at Le Mans this year! And who knows what’s going to happen to Aston Martin’s team. The full effects of the current economic depression are yet to be felt, but it’s going to hit the GT classes hardest.
Over the course of the last decade costs have reportedly exploded in both IMSA and the FIA WEC, the two primary international categories to host a category for GTE racing cars. It’s difficult to get exact costs, as manufacturers tend to keep their cards close to the chest, but the going word in the paddock is that a GT2 car in 2010 could run a full season of either the American Le Mans Series (now IMSA) or the Le Mans Series (now FIA WEC) for less than $3 million. As GT2 has evolved into its current GTE/GTLM spec, the cost to run a season of either IMSA or WEC is rumored to cost between $20 million and $30 million.
This is instantly obvious with a single glance at the difference between the entry lists in 2010 and the entry lists in 2020. Back a decade ago the ALMS GT2 class was packed with privateer teams like Walker Racing, Robertson Racing, and Extreme Speed Motorsports. Of course there were some factory-backed efforts like Corvette Racing, and others like Flying Lizard Motorsports, Risi Competizione, Rahal Letterman, and Rocket Sports Racing received factory backing from Porsche, Ferrari, BMW, and Jaguar respectively.
Today the GTE grid is completely filled with factory-entered efforts, having pushed out the privateers with fatter budgets and larger engineering programs. For the current season, Porsche, BMW, and Corvette run full time in IMSA, while Porsche, Aston-Martin, and Ferrari run full time in the WEC. Technically Risi Competizione runs part time in IMSA, but with significantly more factory help today than a decade ago. Interestingly, the Porsche RSR-19 and the Ferrari 488 GTE are based on last-gen cars that aren’t currently available in dealerships anymore.
With these huge budgets, factory entries are going to dwindle and die on the vine in a post-2020 economy. Will Porsche even bother building a 992-generation RSR for GTE competition? Chevrolet invested in a new Corvette C8.R for the GTE and GTLM classes, but all of the others in the class are at least two seasons old at this point. So how do we move forward?
GT1 got too expensive and manufacturers moved to GT2 (now GTE). The obvious answer is that GTE is now too expensive and GT3 should be promoted to the fore. While GT3 has also gotten significantly more expensive over the last decade, it’s still largely the place for privateer teams who purchase cars from manufacturers and run them ostensibly independent of factory backing. Obviously the Lexus and Acura teams are examples of teams with at a minimum factory blessing, so the system isn’t perfect, but cutting costs for a season from the $30 million of GTE down to $5-ish million for a season of GTD/GT3 is a great way to start.
The second answer here is to get OEMs and their greedy little fingers out of GT racing and again make it the place where privateer teams run gentleman drivers with a chance of winning the class. There was a time not long ago when a dentist could win the GT class at the 24 Hours of Daytona if they were reasonably harmless behind the wheel, paired with a good pro-level driver, and backed by a good engineer and team. It’s time for that to not only return, but to be the case at all major GT endurance races.
With a new LMDh class for prototypes coming soon to be shared across IMSA and the WEC, all of the existing GTE manufacturers should jump into that category to fight it out for the overall victory and leave the GT class to fend for itself. It’s time that both series ditch the expensive GTE/GTLM class not based in reality and adopt a shared GT3 class for pro-am drivers. It would be even better if GT3 cars were subject to a cost cap from the factory. Porsche’s GT3 R has ballooned from about $317,000 in 2010 to around $522,000 for the current spec car introduced in late 2018.
While we’re at it, racing is way too complicated for normal non-anorak viewers to understand, so let’s get rid of LMP2. One class of weird space-ship looking fast things, the LMDh hybrid prototypes full of factory-backed efforts with full pro driver lineups. And another class for cars that look like the sports cars you read about in magazines at the dentist office, GT3 for privateer efforts with lineups composed of a mix of professional and gentleperson driving talent. God, is that so hard?
For the record, GT3 eligible cars are currently built by Porsche, Lamborghini, McLaren, Audi, Acura, Lexus, Aston Martin, Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG, BMW, Nissan, and Bentley. In fact, the only GTE manufacturer that does not also build a GT3-spec car is Chevrolet, which allowed Callaway Competition to build a C7-generation GT3 car in the past and could do so again with the C8.
This is a good idea and I will not be taking questions at this time. Thank you for coming to my symposium.