FIA GT3 Progress
It seems that barely a week goes by without another team announcing its intentions to compete in the new for 2006 FIA GT3 series.

To summarise where we are in terms of teams which have confirmed entries so far, we have the following marques and teams which have stated an intention to compete in the series:

Aston Martin (DBRS9): Barwell and BMS Scuderia Italia
Porsche (997GT3): Larbre, Tech 9, Autosport Promotion
Dodge (Competition Coupe): Racing Box
Ascari (KZ1R): Damax
Maserati (Light): AF Corse
Chevrolet (Corvette Z06): Riverside
Ferrari (430 Challenge): JMB, Mach One Racing
Venturi (Heritage): JMB

Lamborghini, Lotus, Nissan and also reportedly TVR are all apparently keen to be represented in the Series, and at least two of those marques are believed to have team announcements due very soon - with other teams expected to enter the fray with some of the existing marques listed above.

With Michelin control tyres and Total fuel both confirmed as part of the overall package, the major task facing the organizers now is to equalize the outwardly very different cars contending for honours. The first session to grab initial data from the various cars, with Christophe Bouchut trying each of them at Paul Ricard in December, proved a success and will be followed up by a second comparative test in March. Bouchut will again test all-comers, together with an amateur driver, to assess how best to equalize the cars.

SRO has confirmed that three cars is the minimum number per marque which each team must field, but there has been a change from the original announcement to allow three teams to enter the same car, as opposed to the maximum of two originally proposed.

It would seem therefore that subject to the successful finalizing of driver line-ups, we already have the Porsche representatives in the championship settled.

But the first race of the season is already underway – the race to sign up enough drivers to fill two available seats in every car. It remains to be seen whether this might hurt some of the ‘feeder’ national GT series, with only a finite number of 'gentleman drivers' available across Europe.

It is perhaps worth reviewing the Championship regulations to assess just who might be in the running.

Article 36 of the Sporting regulations defines the drivers' eligibility as follows:

a) The Championship is intended primarily for private teams and non-professional drivers.
b) Definition of a non-professional driver. Each driver must send, at the latest 1 week prior to the closing date for entries, his record of race results obtained until then.
c) Definition of a professional driver.
Any Driver under the age of 55 years who:
- has held a Super Licence or Grade A Licence,
- has finished in the top 10 of an F3000, CART/Champcar, IRL, GP2, A1GP or any major single-seater Championship
- has finished in the top 6 of an F3 international or major national Championship
- has won the Le Mans 24 Hours outright
- has been a Works Driver
- is a driver whose performances and achievements, despite not being covered by one of the definitions above, may be considered as professional by the bureau.
d) Dispensation: Any Driver (especially if over 45 years old) has the right to ask the permanent Bureau of the GT Commission for a dispensation of their status as a professional driver.

If we take Tiff Needell as an example (mooted for a seat in one of the Barwell Aston Martins), it could be argued that he might fit the definition of a professional driver under (c). He is however nearing the top age limit at which he becomes classified as non-professional anyway, and it seems quite likely that the Bureau will give him dispensation to race. During the launch of the championship, SRO boss Stephane Ratel was questioned on just this point, and responded using an example based on an F1 driver who has kept up his driving career almost continuously since moving away from F1 - eg Alain Prost, who has driven in GTs and ice racing, would not be eligible, but someone who has done very little since would be OK. The final decision on eligibility will be for the Bureau to decide.

The early signs are very good indeed that the GT3 series has caught the imagination of manufacturers, teams and drivers in a way that the huge budgets attached to GT1 racing couldn’t hope to match. We’ll know in just a few weeks, as more entrants become known, whether the grids, and then perhaps more importantly the quality of racing, matches up to the early hype.


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