The future of British GT lies in GT4, according to long-standing GT3 competitor Joe Osborne, who will join Tolman Motorsport in a McLaren 570S GT4 next year.
The announcement that the 27-year-old will join David Pattison in the series’ first customer-run McLaren 570S GT4 was made last month, in a move that Osborne believes puts him in a stronger position over the coming years.
“I think we’ve seen over the last three years a real descent in numbers and quality in British GT3,” he told Sportscar365. “We were up to 25 cars in GT3 alone back in 2013 and ‘12, but that’s shrinking now into low teens and even single digits at some points last year.
“I want to make sure my career is safe. I was always open to a GT4 deal and when it came around with David Pattison, someone I’ve worked with for the past few years, along with Tolman, and McLaren, who I do a lot of work for anyway, it was kind of the perfect alignment of all parties.
“I was more than happy to commit quite early to it, even if I was maybe forsaking a GT3 drive that was in the pipeline or could come into fruition.
“GT3 has obviously had a few more entries than maybe I was expecting, so it’s definitely hanging on another year, but with GT4 now being the most populous class in British GT, in my eyes makes it the most competitive.”
It was a regular sight in 2016 for the GT4 field to be larger than GT3 in British GT, and with the rising costs becoming too much for many of the series’ smaller outfits, many teams are looking to the prospering GT4 ranks for a more cost-effective alternative.
“Teams want to become part of it,” Osborne continued. “You see Formula 4 teams and Formula 3 teams coming into it now because they realize it’s where the kids want to go. You see a lot of single-seater kids coming into GT4 because they see it as a career, and they’re correct in that way.
“These guys who are investing hundreds of thousands into single-seater racing want to move into GTs so they can make a career out of it.
“GT4 is a great stepping stone and manufacturers are realizing that now, with BMW committing, Ford committing, Audi kind of on the peripheral doing it, rumors are Ferrari are going to do a new Dino road car.
“It’s getting nearly every single GT3 manufacturer into GT4, and in fact you’re probably getting a few more in the likes of Ford, who aren’t in GT3 but will be in GT4.
“I think GT4 is going from strength to strength. Everyone’s got to realize that motorsport is cyclical.
“When GT4 was launched in 2008, the whole season’s budget was £80,000. Now it’s up to £200,000-plus. Suddenly, GT4 is just where GT3 was a decade ago. It’s not a new idea, it’s just kind of GT3-B, really.”
In fact, Osborne admits he didn’t expect to see GT3 continue in British GT through to 2017, with the way everything had played out over the past couple of seasons.
“I’m surprised it’s lasted this extra year,” he said. “I thought this would be it coming to its final year, only getting five or six entries and that would kill it, but we’re probably going to scrape together ten or 12.
“Once you get to the midseason and people realize they can’t win the championship, those numbers drop again, and then you go into next year on a negative footing. GT4 is the other way around.”
As 2009 GT4 European Cup champion, Osborne has his fair share of experience in GT4 racing already, but he argues that the class nowadays bares little resemblance to how it was just a few years ago.
Some have contested that cars such as the McLaren and Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport aren’t ‘real’ GT4 cars, and are built much closer to the GT3 philosophy, but Osborne thinks otherwise.
“Don’t get me wrong, ‘cheap’ is not the right word to use in motorsports, but when you look at the McLaren being £160,000, versus the Ginetta [G55 GT4] which is £85,000-£90,000, I actually think that make the McLaren look good value, in my opinion, as a properly-built car.
“It comes from a road car that is a very similar price, so I’m surprised they can make the car for that money, rather than it being too expensive. GT4 is evolving.
“The Porsche has come in, that’s kind of €130,000. We just want good quality cars that offer good value for money, rather than just cheap racing, I think.
“I don’t think the McLaren has moved the goalpost, it’s just come in and played by the rules. When you look under the skin, it’s close to the road car. It’s not the cheapest car out there, but it’s not hugely expensive, either.”