The GT3 landscape will look drastically different in 2016 with the arrival of several new models on the market, but teams fear rising costs could hamper further growth of the worldwide GT platform.
Most manufacturers have increased their prices with the introduction of new cars, although at the same time claim running costs will decrease.
Further changes to the competitive environment means it’s becoming ever more difficult for private teams to battle for the big victories in the GT3 scene.
“The cost [increase] went really far the two last years,” Bentley Team HTP technical director Renaud Dufour told Sportscar365.
“Three or four years ago it was still possible to win the 24 Hours of Spa and Nürburgring with a limited budget, good preparation and just by being clever.
“There was nothing extra, no massive budget for our victory in the 24 Hours in Spa with the Mercedes SLS.
“That’s not possible anymore. You have to show up with strategists, perfect refueling, a brand-new car and extra people from outside the team.”
While the new-generation Audi R8 LMS is some €60,000 ($68,000 USD) more expensive than its predecessor, which listed for €339,000 ($384,000 USD), the new Ferrari 488 GTB GT3 has a reported estimated price tag in excess of €500,000 ($569,000 USD).
In order to halt the technological escalation of the refueling and tire changes in the Blancpain Endurance Series, SRO will introduce a minimum pit stop time next season, as well as a mandatory maintenance times for brake changes at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Dufour applauds those changes: “We’ve reached a point where the refueling time has become a priority. Right now there are massive differences between all brands, the restrictor on the rigs normally balances this, but it’s not enough anymore.”
The Frenchman estimates a team like Marc VDS Racing was able to refuel up to ten seconds faster than some of their competitors at Spa, which can accumulate in an advantage of one or two laps over a 24-hour race.
“HTP was even considering doing a Computational Fluid Dynamics [CFD] study inside the tank. In my point of view, this is OK for a championship like WEC but not here,” he said.
“To gain time in this area you have to invest a lot of time and money. Time is very important for a private team, because you can’t leave a car in the workshop just to do some tests, it needs to be out running on a track.”
Hans Reiter and his eponymous private organization also face an uphill battle with the German admitting it’s becoming ever more difficult to keep up.
“GT3 is getting really expensive and you can see a lot of series struggling to get a healthy grid,” Reiter told Sportscar365.
“The only effective measure to make GT3 cheaper is to slow the cars down by a couple of seconds, or maybe even to the level of a Porsche Cup car.”
Reiter Engineering was able to win races with the Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX in Blancpain Sprint, Pirelli World Challenge and in the German ADAC GT Masters this season, while the €195,000 ($221,000 USD)-priced Camaro GT3 seems to have reached the end of its development.
SRO also introduced a new seven-round “Silver Cup” concept for 2016, which effectively introduces a GT3-B class, where the cars will have a specific BoP, a lower weight and less power.
Together with a reduced entry fee, a fixed pitstop time and only two sets of tires per event, this class would require a considerably lower budget for any upcoming Silver driver wishing to compete in GT racing.
“To be honest, I don’t think the Silver Cup will change anything because only the cars in this class will be slower, while the rest of the field will just blast past you,” he said.
“That’s not what young drivers are looking for if you want to make a name for yourself in GT racing.”
Furthermore, SRO is also trying to close the door for those manufacturers that are only interested in select Blancpain Endurance races and especially the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The much-discussed rule dictates that to be eligible for the Pro category of the Blancpain GT Series in 2016, at least two cars of each model must be entered at all rounds of the Blancpain GT Series (Sprint and Endurance) with at least one of them in the Pro category.
“We pushed for the new rule and we totally agree with this,” HTP’s Dufour said.
“I understand people saying that it’s maybe not in the spirit of endurance, but you have see how much it costs to be quick.
“It’s fine if the factory supported teams and new cars show up at all the events, because then you can balance the cars better and so on.”
Both Dufour and Reiter, meanwhile, applauded SRO and its technical director Claude Surmont for their reliable and consistent Balance of Performance.
Whether the higher price tags for new GT3 machinery and cost-cutting measures by SRO will result in a stable grid for next year remains to be seen, but will no doubt be among the talking points for the new-era of GT racing.