Written by Lev Davydov, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
GTE (Grand Touring Endurance). What springs to mind when you hear the term? The beautiful sounds of a Porsche RSR? Or maybe the rivalry between Porsche and Ferrari? Well, all this will be reduced to memories now. GTE as a class will leave the scene after 2023. As GT3 Premium is set to be its successor, one question comes to mind: Will it be better than the erstwhile GT3 class?
GTE only appeared under said moniker in 2012. In its early days between 1999 and 2004, it was referred to as Group GT, later converting into the Group GT2 from 2005 to 2011. After the “Glorious” GT1 was dropped by ACO it was finally renamed to GTE. And as many know, Porsche was quite constantly on the podium, later on being challenged by Ferrari, but that’s for another time. Here is the real thing: GTE class is divided into GTE-Pro and GTE-Am classes. What’s the difference between them? Both share the same engine, dimension, weight and fuel tank regulations, but not the driver placement. While in GTE-Pro you have a free choice of driver’s, for the car, in GTE-Am you need to have 2-3 drivers at least, those drivers should be Bronze class + Bronze or Silver class drivers. Adding to that, GTE-Am cars should be at least a year old (which means that a completely new car in GTE won’t be available for GTE-Am) or be built to the previous year’s spec.
On 20th August, 2021, Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO) announced GTE’s replacement, in the form of a new GT3-based formula by 2024, with 2022 being the final season for GTE-Pro, and 2023 the for GTE-Am.
That’s where our article finally begins. Either GT3 Premium or LMGT3 are set to replace GTE. Having been announced in 2021, it was only in 2022 when we got a bigger picture of this. Originally, it was planned for the GT3 Premium class to use new body kits for current GT3 cars, aiding them around Le Mans with a low downforce specialisation. GT3 Premium would be based on aerodynamic performance such as drag and frontal resistance. And the body kit idea was met with mixed response. Many manufacturers disagreed with the idea, with Porsche raising questions of the financial necessity to develop a new body kit, and asked how platforms as elite as GT3 could be enhanced. Mercedes queried how any visual modification could be achieved without impacting performance. Manufacturers weren’t convinced, but one of the supporters was Stephane Ratel, SRO Motorsports Group boss and GT3 Architect, who supported that idea, stating it would be in keeping Le Mans’ history of innovation. The initial concept of GT3 Premium wasn’t favoured initially, but as talks continued, more decisions were made.
Plans changed at the final World Motor Sport Council meeting in 2022, and it was said that conversion body kits will be permitted, but not mandatory. Do note the “conversion” instead of premium, indicating a change of plans further in the core. The purpose of modification has changed, and now it’s ensuring different GT3 cars enter the LMGT3 aerodynamic window, and this move will make an impact in Le Mans. ACO President Pierre Fillon said in an interview to Sportscar365: “You can modify it if you want, for marketing reasons. Or if you need, for performance reasons.” Based on this, it’s highly unlikely that we will see differences in GT3 cars for Le Mans.
But, what can we expect from the new LMGT3 class? Chevrolet presented the Corvette Z06 GT3.R in late January 2023, and as their creators say, it does conform to GT3 rules, ahead of the upcoming LMGT3 in 2024. The Corvette C8.R, created under GTE regulations, is likely to be retired by the end of the current running of the WEC and IMSA seasons. Although it's uncertain yet, if IMSA will also use LMGT3 cars, but our discussion here pertains to WEC. The ‘Red Fury’ or Ferrari is also likely to retire one of its racers: the Ferrari 488 GTE Evo. It also conformed only to GTE regulations, but has its own GT3 version, soon to be replaced by new 296 GT3. Porsche is looking to follow suit, and retire the RSR version, for the same reason as Ferrari and Chevrolet: a GTE-regulation built machine. Although it still has the 991.2 GT3 R version as well as 992 GT3 R, more likely to be on track next year in WEC. Aston Martin also finds itself in the same boat, having a GTE as well as GT3 variants, which we will probably see next year. We will likely see a double return for BMW and Lamborghini, as both are set to enter the rapidly growing Hypercar class in 2024. But LMGT3 will let them use their current GT3 Machines: the BMW M4 GT3, and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo 2. Though we will see Huracan’s successor in late 2024, the Huracan GT3 Evo 2 might still be racing until a successor is found. LMGT3 would also mean that Bentley could return to the WEC and Le Mans scene in 2024, should they want to do so. But an even bigger name that could return to WEC is Ford. They are already preparing the 7th generation Mustang for GT3 races, the prototype first seen in Sebring in late March. It already received permission to race specifically in Le Mans. It will debut at the 24 Hours of Daytona 2024, on a journey all around the globe. Finally, this class could see the return of the three-pointed star, Mercedes. Their Le Mans program “flopped” in 1999, and Mercedes wasn’t seen at Circuit De La Sarthe ever since. But now, it remains a possibility that the German manufacturer could return to the 13km French racetrack.
While the GTE class will certainly be missed, the new LMGT3 is set to open doors for a number of constructors and cars, beginning in 2024. Will it be a success or a flop? Only time will be able to tell the tale.