As the 2016 WEC season enters its second half, there would appear to be some unrest in the GTE-AM camp. On the surface this restlessness may seem questionable, after all, the GTE-PRO class is healthy which should guarantee a good crop of cars in the GTE-AM class in 2017. This year’s Le Mans 24-Hour race saw the highest number of entrants in the PRO class we have seen for years, which should all bode well for next year.
But alas, it seems that not all is well in the GTE-AM camp as teams begin to make their plans for the new season. For starters, Porsche did not have a new GTE-PRO car for this year, and the factory only made an appearance at Le Mans because it is the most important event on the WEC calendar. Porsche were not convinced that their new GTE-PRO racer would have sufficient time to be developed and tested. The launch of their new car was therefore pushed out a year, and will now only appear in 2017. And so Porsche stayed out of the WEC this year with the exception on the Le Mans 24-Hour race, where just being present is important in itself (but were no more than making up the numbers through lack of pace, due to an unfavourable BoP).
But the fall-out of this development is that this year’s GTE-AM Porsche RSR, which is actually the 2015 spec car, will now have to be raced for another season in 2017 as Porsche don’t have a 2016 model to hand down. Seeing how dominant the GTE-PRO Ferrari 488 has been in 2016 (straight out of the box, generating frenetic BoP activity at every race so far this season), it will certainly dominate next year’s GTE-AM class when it is handed down to the teams for 2017. Ford have said that their GTE-PRO car will not be sold to customers to compete in the GTE-AM class in 2017, which leaves just Ferrari, Corvette and Aston Martin in that class. Judging by the Ferrari’s superior PRO class performance in 2016, it will be rather like a Ferrari-only class in 2017, with the others perhaps just making up the numbers, if they can be persuaded to turn up.
Some of the AM teams are calling for a technical freeze in the class, which would see the whole class fielding 2015 machinery in 2017. That would be fair for some, but understandably not for all. For example, Ferrari would be at a disadvantage simply because they have a good car eligible for the AM class in 2017, and they of course want to sell their 2016 cars to those teams willing to buy these from the factory. They argue, in fact, that deals have already been struck and a technical freeze would mean that they would be forced to renege on those contracts. Reading deeper into this situation, whichever way this situation is resolved, there will likely be some unhappy teams come 2017.
Back in April 2014, in our blog entitled WEC season hots up, we spelled out the precarious make-up of the different GTE classes. In that blog we said that unless the GTE-PRO class was kept in a healthy state, you would end up with a depleted AM class…and we are now potentially facing that situation.
Many would argue that the GTE class is the most exciting because people can identify with the brands being raced. Should not the GTE class then be the one that receives the most attention from the race organisers and promoters? With that age-old phrase ringing in our ears, “Win on Sunday sell on Monday,” it is by manufacturers proving their products in competition that moves the cars off the showroom floor. One could then ask the question, why do manufacturers accept an unfavourable Balance of Performance (BoP) index that would almost certainly see them at a disadvantage against their rivals both on the track, and on the showroom floor?
This question of BoP is a contentious one. If a manufacturer hopes to sell a batch of GTE-PRO cars at the end of a season to the AM teams for the following year, teams could be influenced by the success of those cars the previous season. With an unfavourable BoP, and therefore a less than impressive record of achievements, that could negatively influence the sale of these cars to the AM teams. More importantly, it could also depress the sale of road cars through their dealership network which would not please the suits, thereby placing future factory race campaigns at risk. How then can the series be called a ‘World Championship’ when the success or failure of a certain car can be influenced by the addition of a victory weight penalty, or a decrease in the air restrictor size, on a race-by-race basis? The ability to win is then taken out of the hands of the drivers and team personnel, as it then rests with the race authorities. It’s a bit like giving Usain Bolt a 5kg penalty in each shoe to slow him down and to make sure that the other competitors are not left behind, thereby preventing the world from witnessing this sprinter’s awesome capabilities. To penalise a competitor for winning and being the best in class, surely goes against every logical reason for that car or team to compete in the first place.
Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at the GT class and to allow greater freedom for manufacturers and teams to develop their cars to the best of their ability. This would bring back the intense on-track competition and rivalry between manufacturers, just like the GT racing that many witnessed in the ‘60s/70s/80s, which is surely more attractive to the paying spectator.
Please leave a comment and let us know what you think about what is happening in the GTE-AM camp.
Written by: Glen Smale
Photos by: Glen Smale & John Mountney