Sorry for those not interested, but here’s another post about racing. I watched the inaugural Motul Pole Award 100 at Daytona yesterday with great joy but also a little concern. As I alluded to last week, one of my favorite classes is dying on the vine, and the future of one of my all-time favorite race cars and teams is uncertain at best.
The GTLM class in IMSA is where the factory racing programs from BMW, Corvette (through Pratt & Miller), Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Viper, and others have battled over the years. The racing has been top notch. As direct representatives of the manufacturer, the teams have serious resources and often the most talented drivers on the track. To be a factory driver is one of the highest accomplishments for a racer; it comes (usually) with job security and the highest paychecks.
This year, the GTLM class is a dead man walking. The only cars competing in every race are the Pratt & Miller Corvettes and a privateer Porsche RSR campaigned by the owners of Weathertech. The two BMWs and the lone Ferrari are only campaigning in select events; the factory Porsches and Fords are gone. This is not sustainable and not good for the future of the Corvette team.
Unlike Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini, GM only makes one version of the Corvette race car. Regardless of the generation, the Pratt & Miller Corvettes are the pinnacle of what a Corvette can be. They are also complex and expensive. Older models are sometimes purchased and campaigned by private owners in select series around Europe, but outside of IMSA, there really isn’t a place for these cars. That is a problem for the future as the GTLM class dies off.
Manufacturers always come and go in racing, but this feels different. Manufacturers race to claim the big trophies and championships. They want the halo victories to show the quality of their product and engineering and bolster customer cars’ reputation. Ford got back into the GTLM game with the Ford GT because they wanted to go back to Le Mans and win, which they did. Porsche has campaigned the same car in Europe and America to claim championships on both sides of the pond and win their class in the world’s most revered endurance races (Daytona, Sebring, LeMans), which is exactly what they’ve done.
But the most prestige goes to the “overall” winner of these events, not just the class win, and GT cars rarely compete for overall victory. The new hybrid prototype class that will race in IMSA in 2023 will be eligible for the WEC series in Europe, something that has not happened for years. This means a manufacturer can build a prototype car, the pinnacle of technology, and race it worldwide to try and win the big races and championships. That is immensely attractive to a motorsport-oriented company, which is why several manufacturers have moved away from GTLM and are building programs for the new car.
There have been prototypes under the Corvette name before. They were the top class in other series and were, loosely, visually related to the C7 Corvette you could buy at your local Chevy dealer. But Corvette as a prototype doesn’t really fit the image the car has earned, and GM currently uses Cadillac for the prototype class.
Corvette Racing has been incredibly successful since 1998. The team won 14 Team Championships, 13 Manufacturer and Driver championships, 113 races to include eight class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and multiple wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. In that span, they also achieved a remarkable first and second podium finish 63 times. They will certainly add to these totals with the watered-down field in their class this year.
The question is, what will GM do going forward? As I said, the current C8.R race car isn’t manufactured and sold to customer teams; they are only run by the factory-sponsored team. If there isn’t anyone else to race against in the GTLM class, there will be no Corvette Racing team.
GM has options. They can create a Corvette-based prototype to compete in the top class, they can create a scaled-back version of the C8.R that meets current GT3 class rules around the world and sell them to privateers, or they can do both. I don’t mind if they try to compete in the prototype world, but I don’t see Cadillac going away in that role.
What I want to see is a racing Corvette that meets world-wide GT3 specs and can be raced by anyone with enough money to buy one. GT3 cars are cheaper to buy and run than GTLM machines and are eligible for series worldwide. This is what Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and others do to great success financially and on the track.
If they created a GT3 race car, you would see Corvettes competing in race series in Europe, and Asia, in the GT World Challenge series. The cars could compete in North America in the GT World Challenge America series, Trans Am, SCCA, IMSA, and amateur series like the American Endurance Racing series and the World Racing League.
Seeing a Corvette race car “democratized” for racing on a worldwide scale would be awesome. A GM-backed program for GT3 cars would see Corvettes mixing it up with Porsche, Aston Martin, McLaren, Mercedes, Audi, Ferrari, BMW, and Lamborghini around the world. That is something race fans can get very excited about.
I’m sure the margins for this business case are paper-thin, and that’s why it probably won’t happen. But l can dream because a field at the annual 24 hours of Spa or the ADAC Total 24-Hour race at the Nurburgring that included a few Corvette GT3 cars would be one of the best things to watch. Not to mention the adage of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” would now apply to Corvette worldwide, for both street and race cars.