FIA GTs & The LMES
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
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.
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:
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.