Bentley’s head of motorsport says that GT3 should become the top global formula in GT racing as the GTE category faces an uncertain future with car counts going down.
Paul Williams believes it would be “wrong” to continue with two different GT platforms at the top level, particularly amid the global health crisis and associated economic downturn.
Questions have arisen over the future of the GTE formula after Porsche recently announced that its factory team will withdraw from IMSA’s GT Le Mans class at the end of 2020.
Williams suggested that with a “well-established” Balance of Performance system, GT3 cars could move in to fight for class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and become the benchmark GT category in the FIA World Endurance Championship and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The Bentley Continental GT3 has been competing globally since 2014 while the company’s second-gen version of the model is one of 13 active FIA-homologated cars.
“Especially in the coming years, investment is going to be pretty difficult,” Williams told Sportscar365.
“The second you make anything different, or have multiple technical specifications, anything like that is going to drive costs [up]. The second it drives costs, it’s going to turn people away in the next couple of years.
“We have to keep things as simple and as long-lasting as possible, and not require people to spend money on development. Then, we can have healthy racing between us.
“I, personally, would be really happy if we could have GT3 in those different series in place of GTE. The more people that step away from GTE, the more that becomes a viable possibility.
“Any form of differentiation is just a cost which nobody can afford right now.”
Williams suggested that convergence could work if applied as early as next year, even before the rollout of the already-approved GT3 technical regulations refresh in 2022.
“I don’t see why it couldn’t even happen faster than that,” he said.
“Apart from the stuff which is currently on the schedule in a very short time, there’s no reason why you can’t do things faster than that.
“I think the organizers at the WEC etc. have shown that you can make changes fast, if it makes sense for the people who do want to invest in going racing.
“It’s a case of, what are people prepared to put their money against? And the answer at the moment is going to have to be not a lot of different things.
“For us, like other people, it’s a case of not having to develop something else.”
Williams explained that it’s “especially pertinent” for the future of GT racing to be evaluated now as the financial downturn created by the coronavirus pandemic impacts the motorsport sector.
“Nobody is going to have money for investment over the next couple of years if we have a serious financial crisis,” he said.
“The organizers have to take it into account [because] some teams will not be able to survive this. There will be less people racing, so we have to make it cheaper and more accessible for everybody to keep it alive.”
He added that if convergence was to occur, Bentley would be able to maintain its current focus on customer racing whilst upholding the option of entering a works team into larger events.
The British marque currently serves nine customer teams as well as the factory M-Sport squad, although the works program has been put on hold for this year.
“You see a couple of options,” said Williams. “You see the option of separating by series: in other words, do you keep your works team in the WEC while you have customers racing in ELMS?
“Does it become a little bit of a hierarchy like that? Different people in the world will see this differently for sure, but you have more flexibility to have a tiering system, if you don’t have to spend money development against a lot of different specifications.”
Porsche: Impact on GT3 Customers Must be Assessed
The head of factory motorsport at Bentley’s fellow Volkswagen Group brand Porsche has told Sportscar365 that there needs to be clarity on how works and customer GT3 teams are integrated, should GTE be scrapped.
Porsche is one of four manufacturers with a large-scale presence in both GTE and GT3 and has a mix of factory-backed and private entries competing across both.
“GT Daytona in the U.S. is a customer class and GTLM is a factory class,” said Pascal Zurlinden.
“I don’t know if it would be good for customer racing to mix those. If you would merge both you could lose some customers because they would not have any chance against the factory teams.”
Zurlinden stressed that to have different classes for factory and customer teams, it would be crucial to hear the voices of the latter which make up the majority of active GT3 outfits.
“This would have to be discussed with the customers, the people who would be involved,” he said.
“The customer feedback we got is that they preferably would want to be first in the category of car they are running.”
John Dagys contributed to this report