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 them.

The driving 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.

The ambitious 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.

But suddenly 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.

It’s an 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!
Graham Goodwin

 

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