GT3: Name as Big as Motorsport Itself
Written by Lev Davydov, Edited by Ishani Aziz
The legendary GT3 (Cup Grand Touring Cars) is familiar to almost every motorsport fan, running for almost 18 years, starting its history in 2005. Let’s review its history and legacy through the years.
What is GT3?
The Group GT3 appeared in 2005, despite the “GT3” name having existed as far back as 1998-99, it was the name of a former classification used by IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) and SCCA (Sports Car Club of America). Examples include the Porsche RSR, BMW M3, Acura NSX, Nissan 240SX, and Mazda RX-7 which were built under the late 90’s regulations of GT3. Later on this evolved into GTE (Grand Touring Endurance), leaving only GT2 and GT1 (the latter terminating in 2012 due to high costs). The creation of GT3 in 2005 resulted in the addition of a new class to the FIA GT Championship, then run by the SRO Group (Stephane Ratel Organisation Group). A year later GT3 got its own championship: FIA GT3 European Championship. It existed from 2006 to 2012. After the termination of GT1 in 2012, it morphed into the FIA GT Series which is currently known as the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup.
The creator of GT3, Stéphane Ratel, now the president of SRO, hails from Perpignan. His involvement in supercars started as a salesman, but he quickly began exploring the world of Cannonball runs. These involved long runs from Paris to Saint-Tropez with the aim of finishing this course as fast as possible. These became increasingly popular and Ratel moved them onto the racetrack. As Ratel’s wealthy friend’s father had contacts at Venturi, the company proposed to manufacture the cars for this series. Ratel would then come up with a ready-to-race concept, which was a success. 55 cars would race at the Bugatti Circuit at Le Mans in 1992, and Venturi’s “Gentleman’s Trophy” was a huge success. The regulations at the time only permitted prototypes, but Ratel soon approached the ACO (Automobile Club de L'Ouest) to re-establish a GT class for the Venturi cars. Ratel slowly promoted GT, stating:
“What is on the cover of 60 percent of all the magazines? GT cars. They are the most prestigious, best-looking, best-sounding cars in the world. Period. If you put it to a great audience, it should be the biggest form of racing in the world. I’m convinced of it.”
The growth of SRO
By 1993, seven Venturis would compete in GT class at Le Mans, and by the end of the year, Ratel promoted his exclusively GT race, resulting in the BPR Global Endurance Series which was also a success, and taken over by the FIA. Ratel would become Bernie Ecclestone’s business partner, and protegé of Max Mosley, creator of the Balance of Performance regulation.
In 1994, Ratel, along with Patrick Peter (part of the Venturi series in France), and Jurgen Barth (of the German Porsche series) began discussions to unite their series’ into an international championship to reassert the influence of endurance racing in Europe. The first season of this international union consisted of eight races lasting four hours. The cars were Venturis and Porsches at the start, later joined by modified Ferrari F40, Lotus Esprits and Callaway Corvettes. The next year the schedule was expanded to twelve rounds with much higher manufacturer interest. New supercars such as McLaren F1 GTR, Ferrari F40 GTE, Jaguar XJ220 and some lower class Porsches such as 911 GT2 and De Tomaso Pantera appeared on the field. The series was a success and eventually taken over by the FIA. The creators all went down separate paths from then on.
Patrick Peter would create a new championship with FFSA (French Federation of Automobile Sport): the FFSA GT Championship, with less powerful cars than in BPR. Ratel founded the SRO Group on the 24th of January, 1995, to run GTR Euroseries for privateer teams, to avoid high manufacturer involvement which was a problem in the FIA GT Championship. By 1997 the SRO group would also promote and organise the FIA GT Championship, and in 2001, the Spa 24 Hours was launched, a premiere event in the GT Series. By 2003, Ratel was aiming to connect the FIA and ACO to work towards the Le Mans Endurance Series. Meanwhile the British office, SRO London, took over the British F3 and GT3 Championships and the SRO acquired the FFSA French GT Championship, resulting in the creation of SRO Paris.
Balance of Performance
Ratel also coined the Balance of Performance (BoP) mechanism, which is still somewhat misunderstood. In 2004, when Maserati wanted to enter their MC12 in the FIA GT Championship, but the existing rules prohibited this. Max Mosley then had the idea of placing handicapping on the MC12, such as putting a limit on engine outsource, adding ride height, adding weight and smaller rear wing. Ratel financed Ferrari against the MC12 to further prove the success of BoP, which essentially acts to make cars equal, and to ensure that different cars can enter the championship.
FIA GT Series
With the creation of BoP, and SRO having run the Lamborghini Supertrophy (with Diablos Racing), Rtel saw that Diablos were quicker than road variants, and on par with but marginally cheaper than GTs during the mid 1990s. He vied to create a new car class series derived directly from road cars. He imported nine Dodge Viper Competition Coupes and told European tuners to create another breed of GT3 cars. By 2006, the first ever FIA GT3 European Championship was held at Silverstone. 44 cars entered the grid, the majority owned by privateer teams and driven by amateur drivers. Manufacturers were quick to realise that they could make profits from selling the cars to their customer teams. Between 2006-2012 the series ran with great success, before being renamed FIA GT Series.
The main changes in 2013 for FIA GT Series was creating subclasses for Pro, Pro-Am, and Gentleman Driver line-ups. In 2014 it was renamed to simple GT Sprint Series, as the structure of GT championships consisted of spring and endurance series. The driver subclasses were further renamed as; Pro, Silver Cup (Replacing Gentleman), and Pro-Am Trophy. In 2016 further changes were made, to encourage the play for Drivers Standings and Team Standings, hence a name change was needed, and it was renamed to GT Series Sprint Cup. The classes were again changed to; Pro Cup, Pro-Am Cup, Silver Cup and the new Am Cup, created specifically for amateur drivers. Then 2019 brought even bigger changes, not only in the name, but in the activity of SRO.
The World Challenge GT3 history began in 1984, following the success of Longest Day of Nelson, a group of racing enthusiasts, as well as the success of a 24-hour race at Mid-Ohio. The SCCA combined the races into one manufacturer’s professional championship resulting in a six-race calendar. By 1990 this adopted Group A rules, and was renamed to World Challenge, then in 2000 the series began running separate races for touring and GT3 cars.
In 2008 WC Vision bought World Challenge, then the series signed a partnership with Pirelli in 2011. In 2016, SRO began a partnership with the new series, as the GT class expanded to include GT4 cars, SRO would gain the title sponsor by 2018.
In the end, we have to admit that GT3 had quite a long history in the making, and would become among the most elite platforms of today. GT3 wouldn't be possible without Stephane Ratel, the man who wanted to have amateur drivers like him racing professionally, in next-level sports cars.