Sports car racing, particularly tin-top GTs, has been rapidly moving through a vicious cycle of inflated costs and reduced grid sizes lately, and once again, Corvette Racing has been left holding the bag. It used to be that GT1 was the king shit, but following the 2008 financial crisis, Corvette was the only team left in the class. Now that GTE/GTLM—née GT2—is dying an ignominious death at the hands of a financial crisis, once again Corvette is the only team interested in keeping the party going.
On Thursday, ahead of the kickoff of its 2021 season, IMSA announced that its WeatherTech Sports Car Championship would abandon its GTLM category for 2022 in favor of a GTD Pro class, explicitly for factory-supported entries and gold or platinum-rated driver squads. With the death of factory-backed GTLM programs from Ford in 2019 and Porsche at the end of last year, plus waning interest from Ferrari and BMW, the class is down to just Corvette racing and a privateer Porsche for most of the 2021 rounds. Without cars, the class is pointless, so it’s been given an honorable death scheduled for the end of this season.
So GTLM is dead here in North America. It’s likely that GTE will follow shortly behind it in the FIA WEC, where Aston Martin’s recent abandonment means the 2021 season will be contested by factory-backed Porsches and Ferraris alone. Porsche very much likes to make money from its lower-tier motorsports operations, like GT3 and Carrera Cup, and would likely not mourn the passing of the GTE-classed 911 RSR program which costs the company nearly as much as its Formula E program does. And Ferrari’s entry in the class remains half-assed at best.
How did we get here? Well, it has long been a cycle of manufacturers to continue to pressure sanctioning bodies (in this case both IMSA and FIA WEC) to allow some new part which will make their cars faster and more competitive. Despite the balance of performance adjustments given by the race directors, teams are always looking for ways to mitigate whatever changes will slow them down. So every year the cars get faster, more expensive, more fragile, and difficult to build. Manufacturers flock to the series, bend all kinds of rules, request all kinds of special dispensation, and then abandon the program as soon as budgets don’t align.
There was a time, fifteen years ago, when GT1 was the top class for cars that looked like street-going sports cars, and GT2 was a slower and less expensive class below it. Factory teams got sick of GT1 budgets, so they started joining GT2. When GT1 was killed, and GT2 became the fastest, GT3 was created below that to make room for all of the privateers who could no longer afford to keep up with factory GT2 efforts. GT2 was renamed GTE/GTLM, has now gotten too expensive for factory efforts to continue, and they’ve all abandoned that class for GT3. Luckily GT4 was created below GT3 for privateers to compete with each other in a less expensive playing field.
It won’t take long for the factory-effort GTD/GT3 cars to balloon their budgets out of control, and privateer GT4s will be called up to the big leagues to fill waning grids. But before that happens, we’re going to see some really amazing and close racing between some of the best drivers and teams in the known galaxy for two or three years before it all collapses like a cheap shed in the first snow storm of the year.