With 22 cars slated to start the GTD category of the upcoming Rolex 24 at Daytona, it’s fair to say the “bottom” category of IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is looking as healthy as ever.
After several years’ delay, in 2014 IMSA finally announced the adoption and 2016 implementation of the sought after “GT3” rules, a European standard of rules/homologation for many customer-based exotic GT cars. Until that point, “GT3” had quickly grown favor from many international racing series, including the Blancpain GT and Endurance Series, the top category of VLN, and here in the U.S. kicked off a recent resurgence for the Pirelli World Challenge.
With IMSA being one of the last holdouts, largely due to the existence of a few key marques that did not have GT3-compliant machinery, the presence of GT3 within the motorsport landscape is undeniable.
Currently, the motorsport world has GT3 compatible machinery from: Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, BMW, Dodge Viper, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Cadillac, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche. It’s a pretty good cross-section of major manufacturers, and by far the most OEM-contested series of regulations found anywhere in the world. Even moreso than the highly coveted GTE/GTLM category that is more of a manufacturer-contested class within the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well as WeatherTech championship.
But is it the success of the regulations, or the success of the implementation in Pro-Am categories?
If you look deeper at all of the GT3 eligible series, including Blancpain, Pirelli World Challenge, and now IMSA GTD, almost all of them have a conscious avoidance of “factory” backed team. Pirelli World Challenge is the one exception to this, with factory-backed entries from both Cadillac and Bentley, but by and large every other GT3 compatible series goes out of their way to avoid “factory” teams.
Therein lies the strength of the category. Whereas the higher profile ranks, suchs as GTE/GLTM and Prototypes, require 100% of the budget to be footed by a major manufacturer who is able to justify their budget based on a combination of marketing and R&D, GT3-spec categories are almost all customer-based series.
By customer-based, we inherently mean the manufacturer is actually selling their machinery to a private team who goes out and runs the car in a race. While this does not guarantee profitability for a manufacturer, it certainly helps subdue a lot of the risk, with the manufacturers still able to reap many of the rewards in participating in professional motorsport, but without anywhere near the financial risks.
It’s therefore, a much easier venture to swallow. Invest some R&D efforts in to developing a race car that bares similarity to your road product, however recoup many of your expenses by selling this very car you’re developing, meanwhile still enjoy the marketing benefits of being able to compete at such venues as the Rolex 24, the Nurburgring 24, Sebring, Long Beach, etc.
It’s why we continue to see the growth and expansion of the GT3 category, and likely also why we see this inherently blocked from the world’s biggest sportscar event, The Rolex 24 at Daytona, as it will mean almost certain death for the GTE category which is almost entirely funded by OEM efforts.