Should the 24 Hours of Le Mans adopt the GT3 regulations to reconnect with its Grand Touring tradition after the slow disappearance of its GTE category? This is one of the major questions hanging over international sports car racing in the advent of the new Hypercar category, which promises to move the goalposts at Le Mans and beyond in this decade.
Just five cars – two from Porsche, two from AF Corse’s Ferrari team and just one works Chevrolet C8.R – grace the GTE Pro class in the World Endurance Championship this year. In contrast, GT3 continues to thrive worldwide under the leadership of Stéphane Ratel, through its GT World Challenge and Intercontinental GT Challenge. Then consider the American IMSA SportsCar series, which will adopt GT3 rules for its GT Daytona Pro division next year, and the DTM which has ditched its own low-tech silhouette racers in favor of the class for this season. GT3 is where it’s at. So why is the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organizer of Le Mans and the WEC, dragging its heels on the GT plan beyond 2022?
“I didn’t even know there was a GT commission until they approached me!”
Ratel believes that his influence could be a factor, that the ACO only embraces classes of its own creation. In an interview for Autosport by my old friend (and regular Sports car contributor) Gary Watkins, the czar of customer-based long-distance amateur racing, also suggested that such a move would leave the GT3 “doomed” due to the increased manufacturer involvement that might follow it. Of all people, Ratel knows what he’s talking about given his vast experience of the boom and bust cycle that has marked major sports car racing in his 30 years as a racing promoter. You can’t rely on automakers if you want long-term stability, as he’s experienced the hard way, which is precisely why Ratel came up with the GT3 customer race in the first place, to break that tired old cycle once for all.
But is the GT3 now powerful enough that its adoption by multiple series around the world, and possibly even the WEC and Le Mans in the future, doesn’t lead to its own internal combustion? Leena Gade, chair of the FIA’s GT commission, has a more optimistic view.
Sports car spoke to Gade for a high-profile interview that takes place in the magazine’s July edition, on sale this week. This conversation, and subsequently our magazine article, naturally revolves around the Audi years of the respected racing engineer and the three Le Mans victories it anchored, racing R18s for André Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fässler. – especially since almost 10 years have passed since the premiere, in 2011. But among the many cuts from the interview were Leena’s thoughts on GTs after her time at Bentley and its GT3 customer program succeeded, then the role of the FIA which she accepted at the end of 2019.
“I didn’t even know there was a GT commission until they approached me!” she told us, in response to the call she received following an event at the FIA Hall of Fame in Paris. Today, Gade’s full-time job is managing Multimatic’s Special Vehicles Operations facility in Thetford, Norfolk, which she combines with her usual race engineering duties for the Mazda IMSA DPi campaign of the company in the United States. “I was told that the presidency would only last a few days a year,” she said. ” This is absolutely not the case ! My schedule is quite busy, but they are good at organizing meetings around me.
“Not everyone is going to be happy because sometimes you win, sometimes you lose”
“It was really interesting. The first meeting I did was in February last year, and although I have served on committees, I have never led one before. It’s very formal; they introduce me as ‘Madam President’ – can’t you just call me by my name? But I know both manufacturers’ reps and it’s become a much more interesting part of what I do.
A recently announced plan for an FIA electric GT class is high on his agenda, but so is the potential development of Ratel’s fabulously successful class. “GT3 is changing so much and everyone wants it,” she says. “We saw what happened in DTM and IMSA announcing that GTE Pro was to be replaced by it which makes sense. In the US it will attract a lot more customers to race as the cars are not not expensive GTEs. There is a network for spare parts and other series will take care of it. It’s a natural progression.
But what about Le Mans? “I’ve been told opinions about GT3 cars going to Le Mans and how we can’t let that happen,” she says. “But because of the way the world is going right now we have to look at the economies of scale for racing and I think it makes sense that GT3 as a grand touring class would be represented in some places and replace that. we have right now. . GTE was great when all the manufacturers were there. But we were heading into a recession before the pandemic even started and companies are feeling the pinch. You have to wonder, as do the tips of administration of the company, is racing more relevant and if not, should we do it There is also a struggle to keep people keen to go and watch races, as are d “other sports. There are a lot of questions for the future, which makes being part of a commission very interesting.”
Gade has complete respect for Ratel and what he has achieved with his eponymous SRO promotions company. “When the GT3 first appeared [in 2006], like Formula E, there were skeptics,” she says. “Why the hell do we need drivers? Mainly because outside of factory racing, most motorsports are for amateurs and they are incredibly successful. The reason is that Stéphane Ratel had the idea and he started it when everyone said it wasn’t great. He did it without going to the FIA, which I think is great because it showed that it’s possible for someone other than the FIA to run a series.
“It always stuck to what GT3 was about: that amateurs could race with pros and that the cars met the technical requirements for that need. Ultimately there was manufacturer support – and there There are pros and cons to that – and it’s become a big global player. Not everyone will be happy with Balance of Performance because sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But the formula has worked very well.