The goal of the class is to merge the 2013 ALMS GTC and 2013 Grand-Am Rolex GT classes. Never mind the fact that the existing cars in the ALMS GTC class ARE NOT EVEN LEGAL in the new GTD class, but let’s ignore that for now (hell, they may as well have combined GTC with DP).
The ALMS GTC class has always been a “Pro-Am” class and while the Rolex GT class was a full “Pro” class, the bulk of the field consisted of Pro-Am driver lineups (Am footing the bill— since there are very few outside sponsors, but that’s another topic). While the lineups were similar in most cases, the cars themselves were vasty different. The ALMS GTC cars are spec 997 Porsche GT3 Cups with very few modifications allowed. The Rolex GT cars are from multiple manufactures with different types of constructions — tube framed race cars, heavily modified Porsche GT3 Cups, and a short list of modified FIA GT3 cars (basically everything that makes them FIA GT3 is removed).
The lap times at various tracks where both classes raced was actually pretty similar. In general, the Rolex GT cars have a LOT more power and a little less downforce and drag versus the ALMS GTC cars. This results in the Rolex GT cars being about 1-2 seconds per lap faster than the ALMS GTC cars at most tracks. The Rolex GT cars when running on the Continental “R” sprint tire are actually pretty close to the Yokohama run by the ALMS GTC cars. The Continental “I” speedway tire is a completely different piece of garbage and we’ll save that for another discussion.
Consider this, the Rolex GT Porsche has a 4.0L UNRESTRICTED engine with an open exhaust, a smaller spec rear wing (less drag) and is allowed a lower front ride height. The ALMS GTC Porsche has the factory 3.8L engine as delivered from Porsche WITH a restrictor (so we don’t drive around the ALMS GTE cars on the straights) catalytic converters and mufflers. This is the difference in straight line speed. And keep in mind, even the current ALMS GTC cars can out run all the ALMS GTE cars at the end of a long straight (> 150MPH.. Sebring, Road America, COTA, VIR, Road Atlanta).
Now let’s talk costs.
I’ve posted this info before, but let me give another quick overview.
A new Porsche GT3 Cup direct from Germany is around $180k. It costs around $15k to ship it to North America. You spend another $25-50k in modifications to turn it into a ALMS GTC car. Let’s just say, at around $230-250k you end up with a competitive car and some spares.. ready to go racing.
To Build a Rolex GT Porsche you start with that same GT3 Cup from Germany. You have to buy a 4.0L engine, RSR gearbox, different brake package (completely different caliper, rotors, master-cyls, brackets, etc), cockpit adjustable anti-roll bars, modify the tub to fit the larger Continental rear tires, and a bunch of other things for endurance races. All in, you’re normally looking at around $450-$500k to have a car to go racing. Hell, let’s not even include the $80-100k inerter damper which is legal in Rolex GT** but not in GTC (well, it was until recently). Add that to the cost of a GTD car and it’s way more expensive than an off the shelf FIA GT3 car (which if you follow FIA GT3 regulations, wouldn’t be allowed since every component is homologated…).
[**edit: Thanks for the tip from Spencer Pumpelly — inerter style dampers were banned in Rolex GT after the 2013 Roar before the 24!]
You can also just go buy a brand new Grand-Am Rolex GT legal Ferrari or Audi for a little less than the cost of the custom built Porsche. Or, save a lot of money and buy a used FIA GT3 Ferrari or Audi and modify it to be Grand-Am legal yourself.
Either way, it simply costs more to go Rolex GT racing than ALMS GTC racing. That’s fine.. the cars are faster, the fields are mixed with various manufactures and you can have full “Pro” lineups. I don’t really have a problem with that.
So now back the current situation.
The final regulations for the new TUSC GTD class haven’t even been announced yet (and we’re 2 1/2 weeks from the first official test.. lol?). But, they’ve given many public interviews and have given us a glimpse into where they’re going. These are the facts so far:
* Porsche developed a “GT America” car to replace the current home-built Rolex GT Porsches. It is the base car for the class and everything else will be performance balanced around it. The GT America starts off as a base 991 GT3 Cup and is then given a 4.0L motor, spec rear wing (same as the current Rolex GT cars), reduced front aero (ie: less downforce and less drag), and some endurance parts that people would have to install themselves anyway. The car will retail for $260k USD (plus shipping and spares before you can go racing). Makes pretty good sense to me if there was still going to be a Rolex GT class… but there isn’t, more on that later…
* The target lap time for the new TUSC GTD class will be the current (2013) ALMS GTC pace.
* ALMS GTE class is staying exactly the same next year in TUSC.
* All current (2013) ALMS GTC and Rolex GT Porsches will not be legal to run in the new TUSC GTD class. (How is it a class merger if one sides’ cars aren’t even legal anymore? May as well say GTC is merging with DP)
So, just to make sure we’re all on the same page: the cars that produce the target lap time, overnight, are now obsolete and illegal for the class. The GTD cars are still going to be ridiculously fast in a straight line and for all intents and purposes moving apexes in the braking zones and in the corners for every other class. Anyone moving from a Porsche in GTC or Rolex GT will have to buy a new car which includes the 4.0L motor not found in any other Porsche race car (please, correct me if I’m wrong). I suspect after the first test the series is going to soil themselves when they see how fast the GTD cars are in a straight line so they’ll quickly mandate a huge intake restrictor. So, the Porsche teams will have spent all this extra money and run a unique motor to restrict it back down to the 3.8L level (or worse). Brilliant.
As I type this, we’re about 2 1/2 weeks away from the first official test of the new combined series, and even if people wanted to go out and buy brand new equipment there’s no rules published regarding driver requirements (which has a HUGE effect on budget. think what the cost differences are if 1 person pays for all the endurance races or it’s shared between 2 or 3 people) and specific car/class regulations.
If I had to take a guess, I’d say that Porsche was in talks with Grand-Am and had developed the GT America to replace the existing “frankenstein” Rolex GT Porsches before the merger was announced. After which, Grand-Am was pushed around and capitulated to Porsche or simply didn’t have the balls to tell them how it was going to be. To hell with everyone else, the GT America was going to be the base of the new class. Now don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before on this blog I LOVE Porsche. The guys there are awesome, they run a great business and I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am (which isn’t far!) in racing without them. But on the same token, I expect and trust the series to be the final arbiter on these types of things and to look out for the series and the entrants, not just a manufacturer. And similar to when entries and teams are caught cheating yet the series does nothing to punish them or even disqualify them, I feel cheated by those who should be the gate keeper. I don’t hold any ill-will towards Porsche (or teams caught cheating).. I hold it for those in charge who don’t stop it from happening or refuse to correct it after the fact.
Now let’s talk about the pace.
No matter which cars in what particular configuration are allowed, let’s just say for the sake of argument that the current (2013) GTC target pace is good (which I don’t think it is, but we’ll save that for another post). As I’ve said before, the current GTC cars are very fast in a straight line when compared to their closest class in the races (ALMS GTE, which will remain the same in 2014). At the end of a straight when speeds get near 150+mph the current GTC cars will simply start to out run the ALMS GTE cars (because they have similar power levels, but WAY more downforce and drag). It sucks for everyone. The GTC drivers can’t lift because it will just kill our lap time. The GTE drivers REALLY don’t want to be held up in the braking zone or in the corner because we’re so much slower it will kill their lap time. This leads to GTE drivers being SUPER aggressive under braking and on corner entry in order to get by the GTC car. The GTC drivers (even the Am’s) who run all year know this and come to expect it.. but it simply adds a LOT of risk that doesn’t really need to be there.
Just look at the big accident involving the GTC Porsche and GTE Porsche at VIR. If the GTE car had not got through before the esses, he easily would have lost 1.5-2.0 seconds on that lap. In a class that’s as competitive as GTE, that loss is staggering and is the reason why big risks are taken. Granted, crashing out cost a lot more time but you have to understand, this is racing. If there is a gap, most of the guys out there are paid to take it. The GTC driver hadn’t been racing all season and perhaps wasn’t as aware of the risk the GTE driver would be willing to take to get the pass completed. That’s not an excuse for what happened, simply an observation.
With that in mind, the series was put into a very interesting position 18 months ago. They knew they were going to have to combine the ALMS GTC and Rolex GT classes into some sort of “sub-GTE” category and most likely it would be a Pro-Am class. Instead of allowing an existing set of cars (FIA GT3) with some simple BoP adjustments (ballast + intake restrictors) on spec tires that would alleviate a big part of the GTE/GTC overtaking risk and give the “Am’s” something fun to drive… we’re left with the same GTC and Rolex GT problems: The cars are unique to the class (hence no resale value or market), they’re expensive (FIA GT3 is expensive too, but at least you have a market to get rid of it when you’re done.. and they’re way more fun to drive AND they look cooler), the cars will still be ridiculously fast on the straights leading to big risks being taken by the GTE cars (and Prototypes for that matter) to get around them before the braking zones and twisty bits, AND they’re going to have terribly slow lap times.
In essence, what the ALMS GTC and Rolex GT teams are being asked to do is spend more money (and for GTC teams, A LOT MORE) to go SLOWER (in the case of the Rolex teams). I just can’t see how this makes sense to anyone except Porsche (so they can sell 10 or 12 cars. TEN or TWELVE).
Conversely, you could allow the FIA GT3 cars with ballast and intake restrictor to keep them much slower down the straights than GTE which allows the safest and least impact in multi-class overtaking. You give the guys paying the bills (the Am’s) cars which are ridiculously fun to drive, fast, and look awesome. You give the fans tons of different makes of cars that look and sound epic. And most importantly, you keep them out of the way in the braking zones and in the twisty bits. But the downside is Porsche. The teams would be forced to use the FIA Porsche GT3-R which is near the end of it’s life cycle, but surely will be replaced with a 991 version for Europe in the very near future.
The current direction won’t kill the class, but it’s definitely limiting interest in the class.. and hasn’t that been the achilles heel of sports car racing in general? Even now when times are really pretty good, there will be a solid grid of GTD cars. There’s simply to many people trying to make a living in the sport that can hustle up the funds and entries to make it happen. But will it be awesome and will it keep people in the series? Doesn’t appear that way to me!
But what do I know, I’m just finishing my 2nd year of car racing at any level. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but In that time I’ve tested or raced cars in ALMS GTC, Grand-Am Rolex GT, ALMS LMPC, FIA GT3, and Grand-Am Rolex DP. I’m pretty comfortable with my opinions of each.
There’s got to be people behind the scenes pulling strings who know what they’re doing, rite? I think I’ll go have a beer..