The Future Of GT3 Racing In Motorsport
When the GT3 platform arrived on the international sportscar scene it quickly revolutionized the entire industry. The cars are just close enough to their streetcar counterparts, but still enough of a racecar to make them quick and loud so that drivers and fans would fall in love with them. As the popularity built and the racing improved year over year the costs of the platform have consistently risen with them. As great as the platform is it’s only a matter of time until the rising costs will lead to its death. If this is to happen, GT4 is the next natural progression, but how do we stop the same problem that happened to GT1, that is currently happening to GT3, to then happen to GT4? Or has it already happened to GT4 without us noticing?
There is no questioning that racing is an expensive sport, but even in a land of high budgets there is a limit before enough is enough. Sportscar racing has survived the years by keeping the balance between the interests of manufactures and those of the gentleman drivers that are active in our sport. That balance occasionally tips in favor of one or the other and we end up in an inevitable cycle. In the current motorsport world I believe we are in the middle or somewhat late stages of a cycle benefiting manufactures. Manufactures are heavily involved, and currently spending more money than average, this has given us fantastic racing over the past few years. But is it sustainable? I don’t believe it is. I believe many series have now put too much focus on making manufactures happy, which is driving up the costs massively. In only 3 or 4 years we have seen budgets in GTD increase by nearly 150% for the full season, and the Daytona 24 Hour alone is up almost 200%. This rate of cost expansion is simply not going to last, especially in a class that gets its longevity by the influx of gentleman drivers who come into our sport and support it by paying for the chance to do what they love to do.
The secondary problem that comes from these rising costs is that they generally snowball. A smart gentleman driver recently changed my mind on how I look at the dwindling number of gentleman drivers around. Initially I thought the number of the gentleman drivers was the end all be all, but he pointed out that the rising budgets make it nearly impossible for teams to run profitably as well, unless they find significant support from a manufacturer. So now we are not only taking possible drivers away that can fund a good portion of the sport, but also taking away many of the teams who put cars on our grids consistently. This all leads to further increasing costs. Without that supply from having many teams the remaining ones can demand more money for them to race, after all motorsports is just like any other type of business.
With how far developed the GT3 platform has become and how many manufactures are involved I don’t see a way that significant change involving the cutting of costs could happen. So looking forward where can we find our next international GT platform, and how do we make it sustainable? GT4 is the first platform that comes to mind. The class in the Continental Tire Challenge is spectacular this year; the cars are very similar to the GT3 platform but a little less “racecar” and a little more “streetcar”. On the surface the cars are a good bit cheaper initially, but as we scratch past the surface we start to find some issues. Looking at the GS class we see costs have also consistently risen here as well, in fact some teams have budget requirements that are higher there than what teams needed in the old GTC class in ALMS. And in GTC the teams had to do the 12 Hours of Sebring and Petit Le Mans! In speaking with some teams recently if you take away the initial cost of the car; and only look at the running costs for the car, (which is the by far the biggest part of a budget) they are not significantly different than the GT3 platform. What are the major parts of these running costs? Travel, salaries of team members, tires and fuel, and parts for running the car. In GT4 3 of these 4 points are the same as with the GT3 programs, and according to teams the 4th point, the cost of parts, isn’t a big difference throughout the season.
So if GT4 isn’t the answer either, is there one in existence today? Many have looked at the resurrection of the Trans Am series as a new model that is relatively inexpensive. One great thing that one class in the series does is implementing a cost cap on certain parts. These parts are not a “spec” part so different vendors can compete on cost in making the same part. Now I can imagine manufactures not liking this as they make most of their money off of selling parts to teams, and will not want vendors being able to create parts for their cars. My initial thought is could a series impose a cost cap on certain parts that manufactures sell to teams and this would achieve the same outcome? I am not certain if this would create some unwanted side effects that are even worse, but it’s a discussion I would love to have.
Another important factor on season long budgets is tires. Right now when a tire manufacture sponsors a series they can essentially make all the money back on the sponsorship from the teams, by having the teams pay full cost for the tires. The series is benefitting from this financially, the tire manufacture pretty much gets a lot of the money back from their sponsorship, as well as having the ability to take a tax write off on their sponsorship. The teams however, are not getting a fair share of this deal. You can argue that the money the series receives goes towards TV and marketing to help the teams, but I would argue every team in the paddock (apart from the Penske’s and Gannasi’s of the paddock) would rather see cheaper tire budgets to significantly reduce their running costs. It would take a selfless series, but I would love to see sponsorship from a tire manufacture come in the form of giving teams tires for events as their cost of the sponsorship, rather than a lump some of money going to the series.
To sum this up I don’t currently see a perfect formula out there today to take the reigns from the current GT3 platform. With the continuing talks of a GTLM and GT3 world wide merger I would love to see a pro and manufacture class where everything is open, and then a customer class where we see an implementation on two main cost control ideas: cost caps on certain parts being sold from manufactures, and a significant decrease in tire budgets for teams by sponsorship of a tire manufacture. I believe these two points will allow more teams to enter the space again, which will in turn further lower costs as more teams compete on margins to get on the grid.
A pie in the sky dream of mine would be to have a series that returns the balance permanently between manufactures and gentlemen drivers. They can do this by a focus on the four budget issues I have listed above. I currently don’t see any of our major sportscar championships being in a place to make the necessary changes. This championship would have cars that are still fast in the straight line and don’t have the best brakes. The money needed is focused on two things: safety of the cars, and on prize money. If you can make the racing cheap enough and the prize money large enough to where teams can actually make a profit by winning a race and collecting prize money, I will guarantee you that you will see large grids with great racing from great drivers. Oh and a maximum of two classes in the race!
These are just some of my thoughts on an incredibly complex problem. The focus of major sportscar series over the past four or five years has shifted to the manufacture and we have lost the delicate balance of gentleman drivers and manufacture influence in our sport. How do you see this changing or not changing moving forward? How would you like to see this fixed? I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts! Also, as my weekly blog comes out I would love to answer questions from fans! If you have any motorsport related questions please comment below and on next weeks blog I will have my answer for you!
See you guys on track soon!
Dion von Moltke