October Editorial

Ever since Max Mosley made an appearance at the FIA GT Championship (LG Super Racing Weekend) event at Donington Park in July, we’ve observed and watched and wondered…….

Mr. Mosley made some remarks then about allowing manufacturer cars into the Championship, but in a strictly controlled way: they would have to make a minimum number of cars available to privateer teams, for example.

Nearly three months later, and the Le Mans Endurance Series has now become rather clearer, with the release of the 1000 Km entry list yesterday. “The FIA GT Championship is for privateers and the LMES is for manufacturers,” is one (semi-official) view we’ve heard expressed recently. Oh yes?

Now, here’s the novelty: the teams can decide (which series is for whom). Some will run both, of course, as we’ve already reported.

The whole puzzle dates back to 1999 and before, with the 911 GT1-98, the Mercedes Benz CLR, Audi’s reluctance to race the R8R in a series, the abandonment of the International Prototype Championship (remember that name?) and the decision taken then that the FIA GT Championship would henceforth be for privateers, not manufacturers.

Is the tide gradually turning though? Two examples already exist to suggest that the evolution of a privateer series is already happening. The Ferrari 575 won its first race ever, not all of the mechanics were JMB employees, and the 575s ran without carrying any ballast.

The rules are (almost) perfectly clear on this point (2003 FIA GT Sporting Regulations):
”In each category, cars that have not been entered for the whole of the Championship will be allocated a minimum handicap weight according to the following scale:
a) GT
At the third Event in the Championship +20 kg
At the fourth Event in the Championship +30 kg
At the fifth Event in the Championship +40 kg
At the sixth Event in the Championship and others +60 kg.”

Then there’s the Lamborghini Murcielago GTR-S for Monza – to be driven by Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello. It’s entered by a private team of course, but it will race against privateer 575s driven by drivers of equally immense talent.

So the gentlemen drivers in the series will think…what, exactly? Oh, we’re racing for fifth or sixth here, at best. That’s not much fun, is it? The three hour races are sprints, and the loss of two seconds per lap in the middle stint is irrecoverable.

A glance at the 1000 Km entry list would suggest that there are only two manufacturers directly (or indirectly) involved in the race on November 9 – Spyker and Lamborghini. Every other entrant is a genuine privateer – and even the Spyker team could be classed as privateers. Of course Lister and Courage and Panoz all build cars, but they’re not manufacturers in the sense of massive, global road car manufacturers (and neither is Spyker – so perhaps that just leaves one).

So the evidence at the moment would suggest that the LMES will exist to provide a series of four races a year for the benefit of privateers to enjoy 1000 Km races, with the ultimate objective of either earning a spot on the grid of the Le Mans 24 Hours (thanks to excellent results), or impressing the ACO sufficiently that they receive an acceptance when the list appears in March (the following year).

There are limited places for successful teams from the FIA GT Championship, but that system won’t come into play for another year. JMB want to enter Le Mans next year, with two 575s? Perfect: there’s a gap in the FIA GT calendar and they’re in.

42 entries (50 applications) is certainly less than we thought, and some will point out that they come from four classes. The FIA GT Championship is a strong championship, with an average entry this year of over 30 top class GT and N-GT cars (two classes) but the Le Mans Endurance Series creates a different opportunity for entrants.

The dilemma for the ACO and the FIA GT Championship is that both would ideally like the manufacturers racing in their series – but with a degree of control required in the FIA GT Championship.

“The safest way to guarantee cars is to rely on the manufacturers. We need manufacturers, we need them to produce cars for us,” says Stephane Ratel. “I would like this (FIA GT) Championship to become a platform for the most prestigious manufacturers – the real GT manufacturers, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Maserati, Lamborghini,… all playing together on a level playing field. Although someone has to win or lose, there is no shame in losing against someone equally prestigious, whilst leaving a chance to smaller constructors such as Lister, Saleen or Pagani. We will play very strictly; the best will win, but not easily.”

It’s a very tricky job, seeking and balancing the entry of manufacturers without upsetting current privateers. It’s going to be fascinating to see who enters which and with what, in 2004.
Malcolm Cracknell


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