If there’s an interesting issue in the modern era of GT-style motorsports, it’s the inevitable challenge of running “manufacturer” versus “customer” driven racing teams and cars. While nothing new, and while most fans of sportscar are familiar with the differences, the business philosophy behind an automotive marque’s involvement may not be as obvious to the casual fan.
First off, let’s identify the obvious: manufacturer versus customer driven teams. Most already know this, but a manufacturer, usually known as a “factory” team, is typically an entirely professional, spare-no-expense type of effort. Millions of dollars poured in to research and development, top-level engineering and mechanical support, topped off with the best available drivers. In the modern GT scene, a perfect example would be the Corvette C6.R program. Pratt & Miller Engineering, long known as the motorsport engineering arm of General Motors, performs the majority of R&D behind the effort. You will only find two of these vehicles in North American racing, competing in next year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with a strong roster of professional drivers.
Customer driven teams, however, are driven by private money with much looser ties to the vehicle they compete with. The most famous example is Porsche. The majority of Porsche teams in professional GT racing: Alex Job Racing, Magnus Racing, NGT, Park Place, receive little to no financial support from Porsche, in fact it’s the opposite. In the case of all these teams, they literally purchase their race vehicles, as well as majority of spares, from Porsche. The team’s have to provide the majority of their own mechanical and engineering personnel, and the funding for all of this typically comes from an enthusiast team owner, or a driver who provides funding (or in many cases both).
This all leads to a fundamental question that every sportscar manufacturer must ask themselves: to market street cars, or to sell race cars. General Motors chooses to use their efforts in sportscar to push their street car fleet. There are very few “private” Corvette entries raced worldwide, simply because there appears to be no interest in putting the required capital in to developing a production line (and staff) required to sell multiple race cars to private teams. Thus, Corvette’s racing efforts are a true marketing effort for GM.
Porsche on the other hand, is in the business of selling race cars. Every racing iteration of their 911 is built to sell to private race teams. Where as General Motors appears to write this all off as a marketing effort, Porsche has built an entirely separate company, Porsche Motorsport, meant to sell racing cars, racing parts, and support. Porsche Motorsport is staffed and organized to operate as a self-sustained, profitable company.
Throughout the GT scene, you’ll find much of the same. Despite some private entries, Dodge’s SRT division operates their Viper as a marketing effort. Audi, currently fielding multiple cars in the TUDOR Championship as well as Pirelli World Championship, sells their machines through a special division known as Audi Sport customer racing.
This leads to one fundamental issue for the future of GT racing, which likely won’t be resolved anytime soon. How does IMSA accommodate both philosophies? Currently, the series operates two GT classes: GTLM (formerly the ALMS GT class) and GTD (formerly Rolex GT). IMSA has wisely mandated “pro-am” requirements in GTD in order to allow lesser experienced funded drivers through, meanwhile that restriction does not exist for the more high profile GTLM.
It’s a situation that works for 2014, but there’s been a slow, underlying current of media and fans pushing for one GT class in the future. It’s also a problem with virtually no solution. So long as some manufacturers use their efforts to spend towards promoting their street programs, and others use it to sell more race cars, the series will be forced to align two completely divergent business models.