Monday, 29 February 2016

Speculation about the distant future...

I’m not really one to peer into crystal balls and make predictions about the future, but I do listen to and read what a lot of people are saying and writing about motorsport, whether it is Formula 1, WEC, GT or whatever. I also spend time on my own thinking about those things and the things that history can teach us. One thing that has been gnawing away at me recently is where we might be in, say, eight to ten years’ time. I was half-considering a blog post on the subject, and then this photo from Martin Spetz was posted on twitter – with a caption by Graham Goodwin (the editor of “Spot the prototype!” - so here I go:

Although I would hate to see it happen, and at the moment I’ll admit it seems extremely unlikely, but just suppose that the LMP1 technology race self-destructs: that Porsche, Audi and Toyota move out, leaving the playing field to the privateers. Meanwhile, the manufacturers that have been pouring their multi-million dollar R&D budgets into GT programmes want more exposure on the world stage, particularly at Le Mans.

Then reflect on the extent to which sportscar racing categories are already controlled by regulation, and consider how difficult it would be – or not – for the FIA Endurance Committee to come up with a formula that made a full-house manufacturer GT car able to compete with a privately-entered prototype over a long distance race.

It’s not a fanciful possibility. Twenty years or so ago, readers may recall – and if you’re too young, then buy Quentin Spurring’s “Official History” for the 1990-1999 decade – there was such a balance of performance. The Dauer 962 was a GT car (officially), and won the 24 hours in 1994 ahead of prototype opposition from Toyota. In 1996, the Joest-entered TWR-Porsche beat the works 911 GT1’s. In between, of course, a McLaren (entered ‘privately’) triumphed against Yves Courage’s prototype in the hands of Mario Andretti, Eric Hélary and Bob Wollek.

Balancing performance has come a long way in twenty years, and I don’t see any good reason why the ‘privateer prototype’ class that we have in the WEC, along with the American IMSA prototype class, should not be restricted (by different amounts) so that a less-restricted GT class could be within 5% of each other’s lap time. That 5% difference could then be equalised by allowing the GT cars a larger fuel tank and faster refuelling procedures.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is going to happen in 2017, or even in 2018. But it strikes me that a solution has to be found to the two struggles going on in endurance racing at the moment: first that the privateer wants to enter races with more than just a class full of privateers as competition; and second, that there seems to be as much or more interest from manufacturer teams in GT racing than in prototypes.

Although Toyota, Audi and Porsche claim relevance of technology transfer from race-track to road car, both Audi and Porsche are already active in the GT3/GTE arena, and Toyotas competes successfully in GT500 racing in Japan with the Lexus brand and surely would not be slow in converting to a new, uprated GT class on the world stage?

Just imagine the prospect: here is a purely speculative entry list for the 2022 Le Mans 24 hour race:

Prototypes: GT Cars:
Rebellion-Oreca Audi
Courage-Peugeot Aston Martin
Strakka-Dome Bentley
Ligier Porsche
Alpine Lamborghini
Gibson McLaren
Oreca Ford GT
Kolles-Lotus BMW
Manor Mercedes
Mazda Nissan
Riley Jaguar
GM-Corvette Ferrari
Ginetta TVR

Inevitably, I fear, there would be debate about whether manufacturer teams should be allowed in the Prototype class. My suggestion would be that it should be restricted to private entries, but that becomes a difficult definition to regulate, especially when things as important as Le Mans victories are concerned. But then Le Mans’ history is littered with examples of works entries masquerading as privateers (as 1995 and 1996 show), so maybe we shouldn’t get too precious about this.

There is also the whole matter of crew composition, amateur drivers and grading, which I have deliberately avoided. Despite my misgivings, there are quite simply not enough world-class drivers available to crew fifty or sixty cars with three drivers per car – so non-professional drivers will inevitably be part of endurance racing for many years to come. Rightly so, for herein lies a good deal of the attraction of the place and the event.

The important aspect of this vision is that while the concept of multi-class racing has been key to the success of endurance racing over the years, it may be that – just as in the world of touring cars – equalising the top of some classes might have some benefit.

What do you think? Am I barking mad?


  1. Spot on! That's exactly what I was thinking. As far as LMP vs. GT balance is concerned, manufacturers shouldn't be upset, because they tend to have superior talent, reliability, pit pocedures etc. on their side. As Pescarolo said, privateers will be happy to be at least within a chance whenever things go wrong for the works teams. Also I believe that this situation would call for a global 'true GT' class to replace the current GTE-Am and GT3. Something like GT4 in philosophy, but just fast enough to be the 3rd class at Le Mans, as well as the top class at N24 and Bathurst. Let's face it, GT3s are becoming too fast for some tracks (and drivers, frankly) too far removed from their homologation roadcars and too expensive.

  2. Alexander van der Griend7 March 2016 at 13:31

    You make some very good points.

    I think it would benefit manufacturers when they can show the general public a Le Mans winning race car that looks like a street car instead of a space ship.

    As for top drivers: I think it wouldn't be a problem to fill 60 cars with world class drivers. The current FIA driver ranking already counts 183 platinum drivers and is far from complete.

  3. Marvellous idea, Mr Truswell. That GT entry list would be a very saucy dream indeed.