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Sports car racing gets a bit less complicated—the end of GTLM


A pack of GT cars at the beginning of the 2021 12 Hours of Sebring. If you needed proof of sportscar racing being too complicated for the casual fan, consider the fact that the white #79 Porsche 911 RSR is actually radically different from the blue #16 Porsche 911 GT3 R right next to it. From next year, that confusion will be lessened.
Enlarge / A pack of GT cars at the beginning of the 2021 12 Hours of Sebring. If you needed proof of sportscar racing being too complicated for the casual fan, consider the fact that the white #79 Porsche 911 RSR is actually radically different from the blue #16 Porsche 911 GT3 R right next to it. From next year, that confusion will be lessened.

Porsche

On Saturday, the North American sports car season will draw to a close with the Petit Le Mans, a 10-hour race held at Road Atlanta in Georgia. This year’s Petit Le Mans is also the last race for a fan-favorite class of cars. Known as GTLM, the category covered Le Mans-legal versions of two-door production cars, which over the years were a playground for manufacturer-supported programs and some of the world’s best racing drivers.

On the one hand, it’s a massive step for the US side of endurance racing—the end of one direct link that the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has with annual 24 Hours of Le Mans. But it also reduces some needless complication for the sport.

“Even for some of the most avid car people, they have a hard time understanding why the red BMW is so much faster than the yellow and blue one; or the red, white, and blue Porsche is so much faster than the #9 car or the #16 or the #88,” said John Doonan, president of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), the sport’s organizer.

Next year, IMSA will still have a place for factory teams, but it’s switching to cheaper, more driver-friendly cars with the introduction of a new class, called GTD-Pro. Let’s take a look at what’s going on.

Acura chose the GT3 category for its NSX race car. This year, Magnus Racing has entered an NSX GT3 in the Petit Le Mans.
Enlarge / Acura chose the GT3 category for its NSX race car. This year, Magnus Racing has entered an NSX GT3 in the Petit Le Mans.

Jake Galstad

The Weathertech series traces its roots back to the first Petit Le Mans, held in 1998. That race adopted the same technical rules used by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organization that runs the annual 24-hour race in Le Mans, France. Among those rules were categories for racing-modified versions of road cars, and this is where things get a bit complicated, so bear with me.

Originally, there were two GT classes, called GT1 and GT2. GT1 cars were more highly modified, more powerful, generated more aerodynamic downforce, and were more expensive to run. Eventually, that category became too expensive and disappeared. GT2 stuck around, getting renamed GTE at Le Mans and GTLM in IMSA competition (because having a GT2 class but no GT1 class made too little sense even for a needlessly complicated sport like endurance racing).

Over the past few years, the same problem that killed GT1 has come for GTLM/GTE. The cars have become more and more specializedPorsche went to the trouble of making a mid-engined 911 race car, for example. And that has made them more expensive to campaign, particularly for the privateer teams that are the lifeblood of the sport.

Instead, those privateers largely moved to a different category of production-based sports car, called GT3. This category was created specifically with the amateur in mind, even going as far as mandatory driver aids like antilock brakes. Performance differences between different makes of car are adjusted to keep a relatively level playing field (known as balance of performance, or BoP), and the result has been full grids at races around the world.



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