A mandatory Silver or Bronze driver in every lineup, thus eliminating full factory pairings, could be beneficial for the GT World Challenge Europe, according to Mercedes-AMG’s head of customer racing Stefan Wendl.
Wendl has proposed a mandatory switch to Pro-Am racing for Europe’s leading GT series amid a continuing tendency for some manufacturers to ignore GT3’s customer-oriented approach.
A similar ruling has been made in GT World Challenge America for the upcoming year, while all-Pro lineups are also banned in GT World Challenge Asia.
Wendl says an increased focus on Am drivers, with a regulation making the European series’ premier class either Pro-Am or Silver Cup, would be beneficial for Mercedes-AMG’s business model.
“Our idea is also to leave customer racing in the hands of customers,” he told Sportscar365.
“From our perspective, it doesn’t matter in the endurance series or sprint series, it could be a very good option to make a Silver driver, or even a Bronze driver, mandatory.
“I know there are always ongoing talks with the SRO in the background, and the full Pro lineups are not what we as AMG force to do. This is more or less a natural development of the competition.”
Wendl pointed out the strategies employed by a number of his competitors, with some manufacturers, such as Bentley, McLaren, and more recently, Lamborghini, fielding full factory lineups in the series.
Audi, on the other hand, made a conscious effort to include customer drivers in all of its lineups this year, but at the expense of on-track results.
Wendl, however, suggests that Mercedes-AMG won’t follow Audi’s suit until an Am driver is mandated in the regulations, and therefore is likely to continue running factory lineups such as Black Falcon’s Maro Engel and Luca Stolz pairing in order to take full advantage of the current rules set.
“As long as the regulations allow it, there will always be some brands doing it,” said Wendl. “Bentley and McLaren, they always did it. There was not a single race with Bentleys using a Silver driver [editor’s note: Bentley used Silver-rated Vincent Abril in 2016, Jordan Pepper in 2018 and Rodrigo Baptista in 2019].
“You need to form this inside the regulation, similar to how Stephane [Ratel] did now with World Challenge America. Why not copy this for Europe? For us, the more customers able to be competitive is better.
“Everybody knows about the environment and how it develops, and it will be more and more difficult for the teams to finance the teams with sponsorships.
“It would be a good playground also in World Challenge Europe for Silver drivers to develop their skills in a very competitive environment.
“From my perspective, this needs to be fixed in the regulation, and then we will support the idea, for sure.
“This is a topic we have to discuss internally but the idea would be the right thing for customer racing to go in this direction, and leave IGTC including Spa completely for Pro lineups. This is something we support.”
Audi Won’t Do “Any Kind of Factory Racing” in GTWC Europe
Audi remains committed to its customer-focused philosophy for GT World Challenge Europe next year despite taking a hit in its results last season, according to its head of customer racing Chris Reinke.
“It is really down to the customer but what we won’t start is doing full Pro cars,” Reinke told Sportscar365. “I am not doing any kind of factory racing, neither in VLN nor in World Challenge.
“We won’t support, from our point of view, full Pro lineups because it is a short call and you will start to beat your own customer if you support that. In mid-term thinking, you have to have those who are financing it be part of it.”
When asked where this leaves Audi’s customer teams if they can’t beat factory lineups, Reinke expressed confidence that other manufacturers will realize the necessity to include customer drivers in their lead cars.
“It’s a short fire that we see there. They will realize the same thing,” he said. “I think the moment the result as I would foresee it kicks in, they will realize and step back.
“I can see customers losing the interest to be beaten by a car that they basically finance. If my customers do turnaround with me, I obviously profit, and if I invest it to race against them, it is for me, not the logic how I would treat my customers.”