The Future Is?
Michael Cotton has stated the case for GTS/GT1 cars to be the future of endurance racing - here - even suggesting that Audi won’t go ahead with the R9(10) prototype for 2006.

We’ll state the opposite case now – by speaking up for the current ACO format, with prototypes a vital ingredient, we believe, of modern endurance racing.

- The ACO is very good at one particular aspect of endurance racing: juggling the relative speeds of the three / four classes. There was an indicated intention in June of this year that the GTS cars were getting a little too fast: 3:48 in qualifying was too quick, too close to the prototypes, which had had their performance adjusted slightly. So as part of the new GT1 rules, we should probably expect the Corvettes, Maseratis and Aston Martins to be qualifying in the 3:53-55 bracket next June, and racing at nearer four minute laps. With prototypes turning 3:35s and GT3s 4:10, there’s the ‘balance’ of the classes about right. LMP2 is muddying the waters of course, Jean-Marc Gounon playing a part in placing the LMP2s pretty close to the LMP1s, but having French cars going so well is no bad thing.

- So we should have the three / four classes running at speeds of which the ACO approve next year (although time and engineers’ skills will see the balance alter again, it always does). It’s the mix of classes that ‘makes’ this kind of racing. What a contrast between the LMES field at Spa, and the FIA GTs a month or so earlier. With prototypes in the field, there was constant passing in September – all thanks to the ACO’s insistence of having prototypes in their races, and by ensuring that the relative speeds are about right. For the 24 Hour event in Belgium, a five second gap between GT and N-GT saw relatively little passing, and as we know, a wet track a year before completely negated any speed differential altogether. Much of the drama of ACO-regs. racing is created by the constant passing on the track, that is, by the ACO’s speed differentials. Take away prototypes and instantly there is less activity (passing / action) on the track. Ironically, the drama of mixed class racing is greater on an ‘LMES’ track than it is at Le Mans itself, where 50 cars are spread around eight miles.

- French interest. Yves Courage seems to be the man who can do no wrong at the moment – and he’s a local man. Can you imagine the uproar? “Monsieur Courage, we have decided to do away with prototypes, so you’ll have to design and build a GT1 car, build at least 25 of them, and compete against Corvette, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Maserati.” Likely? Of course not. Henri Pescarolo has fought as hard as he knows how against the Audi tide, and he brought that C52 home to fourth place for France in 2000. The French have to have entries that can compete at the front. Where is the French GT1 car looming on the horizon? There isn’t one. Or do Peugeot or Citroen have plans? Could they have prototype plans?

- Perhaps short-term (in 2005), there will be a French entrant going for the overall win though? Add in a French driver, and the ACO has the next best thing to a Renault or Matra win.

- Through all the confusion of changing series, of FIA meddling, of BPR, Porsche 911 GT1s, ISRS, SRWC, FIA GTs, ELMS etc., the one constant has been that 24 Hour race in June. Don’t underestimate the role of that race in forming the structure for endurance racing. And don’t ignore the fact that whenever prototype constructors voice a concern about the future, they’re told in no uncertain terms that there will always be prototypes at Le Mans.

- There’s logic in the ACO’s thinking in another respect too: manufacturers do tend to come and go as their plans change, but racers with prototypes – Maraj, Lammers, Courage, Pescarolo, Short, Jankowski, Pearce, Dawson, Welter, Field, Newton, Belmondo – will always be around. Racing is (in most cases) their livelihood. Would you like to be the one to tell this lot that they’re not wanted at Le Mans? We would like someone to step up and attempt what Cadillac tried to do – take on the might of Audi. Presumably Dr. Ullrich would like some factory opposition too.

- And where are all these GT1 customers going to come from?
Malcolm Cracknell

 

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