GT3 manufacturers are open for the return of amateur drivers to the streets of Macau, amid dwindling car counts in the FIA GT World Cup.
A total of 15 cars, the minimum required for the race to be held, took part in last weekend’s event on the Guia Circuit, down from the 20 entries and seven manufacturers on the grid last year.
While previously featuring a large contingent of gentlemen drivers when known as the Macau GT Cup from 2018-14, a ban on Bronze and Silver-rated drivers was put into place following the incident-filled 2016 event.
That year, a total of 23 cars took part, including four Bronzes and four Silvers.
Representatives from Mercedes-AMG, Porsche and Audi, three of the five manufacturers that entered last weekend, have all voiced varying levels of support to bring ams back to boost overall car counts and support the growing Asian customer market.
“At the end of the day, racing is a question of where the money comes from,” Head of Porsche Motorsport Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser told Sportscar365.
“The idea is not to have the manufacturers bring all the cars and drivers.
“It must be attractive for other financial sources, and these are normally locals and amateur drivers.”
Head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Stefan Wendl agrees, saying it’s the “direction we have to go” to ensure the event’s successful future.
“It’s a big challenge to be here, and some kind of lottery sometimes, but I think that’s what we’re here for,” he told Sportscar365.
“Some manufacturers jumped out after last year due to not wanting to take [the risk]. This is something you can’t influence as much.
“So maybe [it’s time] to think about what is the right way, whether it’s to [add] Ams or Silvers. I think it’s worth to stick together and try to get a more healthy grid together for next year.”
While stating that “priority one” is ensuring a quality grid with top-level teams and drivers, Head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke admitted there’s room for both pros and ams in Macau.
“Would it help the event in the long run? For us, as Audi Sport customer racing, it probably would because we have a lot of Asian customers that would like to come here,” Reinke told Sportscar365.
“If that helps the event in general, that’s up for other people who should discuss that.”
Yu: GT3 Customers Have Been “Pushed Out”
Craft-Bamboo Racing chairman Frank Yu says he feels customer teams have been “pushed out” of the event due to its rising professionalism.
The accomplished Bronze-rated driver, who last took part in the event in 2014 in its final year prior to it becoming a FIA World Cup, said there are no longer any races in the weekend bill that are gentlemen driver-friendly.
“Remember the days three or four years ago when it was a full field of 36 cars in the GT Cup where you had a professional and amateur classes and everyone was happy?” Yu told Sportscar365.
“Now it’s gotten so professional. When you walk up and down the paddock, you see nothing but pressure. Everyone is so on the edge.
“From practice it’s already a race and everyone’s trying to beat each other’s lap times.
“Without the support of the gentlemen drivers, this [event] would never had happened. GT3 is supposed to be a customer sport but the customers have been pushed out.”
The FIA’s ban on amateur drivers for 2017 was countered with the creation of the GT Nations Cup, for Bronze and Silver-rated drivers, which will debut in Bahrain later this month.
Yu, however, indicated he’s hopeful gentlemen drivers will also be allowed back into Macau next year.
“The Macau government is doing what they can to allow that to happen again,” he said. “I think it will come back. It’s not for sure, but it’s looking good.”
World Cup Status Important for Manufacturers
Both Audi and Mercedes-AMG are hopeful the event remains FIA-sanctioned, amid speculation that it could return to being a locally promoted GT race.
“For sure being an official FIA World Cup is something we don’t want to miss out on,” Reinke said.
“It is cost-intensive because it is long travel and high risks to come here. So it has to have a certain value for us to commit to it. At the moment, it does have it.”
AMG’s Wendl said keeping it as a World Cup offers “something unique” to drivers.
“Consistency is everything we need for good competition. That’s why I would like to have it as a World Cup.”
Walliser, meanwhile, said Porsche will continue to support the event regardless.
“There will always be a GT race in Macau, that’s for granted, but under which conditions, we’ll see,” he said.