The Staircase Goes Both Ways
The Le Mans
entry list is three-quarters complete – and with almost 80
applications, again, the most important endurance race of the year
continues to have no trouble at all filling its grid.
What about GT
racing though, at a time when series are springing up, or returning,
across Europe? Glancing at the entry lists for 2005 and the prospective
lists for 2006, the thought begins to occur that international standard
GT racing has been served very well indeed by the national racing
scene and its ‘staircase of talent’.
Take the entry
list for the 2005 Spa 1000kms for instance – of the 48 cars
on the list around a quarter were entered by teams that cut their
teeth in the British GT Championship: Rollcentre, Lister Racing,
Cirtek, Graham Nash, GruppeM, Scuderia Ecosse and Team LNT among
squads up and down the grid show a similar evolution: at Spa again,
almost 20 men on the grid were ex-British GT, with similar proportions
stepping up from the likes of Belcar and FFSA, among others.
Of course the
world class stars are there too, but the fact is that without the
more readily accessible budgets and learning curves provided by
the national series, there are numerous teams and drivers that would
probably never have been seen on the international stage, and without
them the grids would undoubtedly be far thinner.
teams are still there of course – in the UK we have the likes
of Eclipse Motorsport, Tech 9, Damax, Tracksport, Cadena and now
Barwell too, all looking for the opportunity to perform their stuff
on a wider stage.
there are new challenges. The FIA GT3 Championship is a great opportunity
to gather the attention of the manufacturers, and has the prospect
of huge grids. But there is the problem of filling the seats with
appropriately talented (and appropriately monied!) drivers.
That is a mighty
task, made more difficult by the fact that the traditional options
are still available of course. FIA GT3 teams and National GT teams
suddenly find themselves in direct competition for the same drivers
and the same backers, and there is a finite market available. And,
with the prospect of 50+ FIA GT3 cars (or put another way 100+ drivers)
that’s a daunting prospect, not only for the teams that have
invested in a trio of brand new GT3 cars, but also for those trying
to tempt drivers to ‘invest’ in a domestic season.
With teams looking
willing to field cars in strong numbers in the Le Mans Series, FIA
GT and FIA GT3, the challenge is to find sufficient interest to
either take that domestic option (and there are at least seven countries
in Europe with a currently healthy national GT or endurance championship,
and more than a handful with junior sportscar racing aplenty) or
to put together a programme which gives some of the same prospects
a flavour of European competition.
equation that can work in both directions of course, as the FIA
GT Championship discovered in the past two years with a haemorraging
of entrants from a once strong GT2 class, when budgets spiraled
upwards and the national option (and the LMES) offered a more economic
and/or attractive (and/or prospect of being competitive) package.
So we’ve almost seamlessly, so far, arrived at to the creation
of the FIA GT3 Series and it needs desperately to avoid the excesses
of the recent past of the ‘big brother’ GT2 class.
There are simply
dozens of drivers with bulging postbags and email inboxes just now,
and we can expect a steady stream of announcements of the decisions
they are about to make in the coming weeks.
The simple fact
though is that if the promise of the season ahead is going to be
delivered upon, if cars are not to spend the season under dustsheets,
then there is going to have to be a substantial amount of new blood
entering the mix: there are simply not enough current competitors
to go around. If the teams are successful in their marketing efforts
you can expect to hear some unfamiliar names entering the picture,
and that is no bad thing at all.
There is though
the overwhelming sense at present that there may be just too many
options in 2006 – the new International Open Series supporting
the WTCC, plus the reborn Euro GT series, join the mix too this
year. After a weekend during which the dsc principals started to
put the pieces together on the reporting team for the season to
come, the sheer number of fixture clashes has come into sharp perspective,
with international and national racing stumbling over each other
like never before. Some weekends are frighteningly ‘clashy’:
we’ll cover everything we’ve covered in the past (and
then some), but two or three weekends in particular look difficult
– while drivers who were hoping to take in more than one series
/ championship will have discovered that they actually need to be
in two places at once.
It remains to
be seen where the winners and the casualties will lie: which teams
and championships will flourish, and which will struggle. But whatever
the decisions of the teams, the drivers and their backers, we’ll
cover it all right here – and we’ll be getting through
a hell of a lot of coffee while we’re doing it!