REDEFINING GT RACING
The GT Cup is booming after a restructure. By Rob Ladbrook
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impressive for what is essentially still one of the more costly forms of motorsport. But it hasn’t always been a steady road for the GT Cup.
The series is the brainchild of Bute Motorsport owner Marc Haynes, and started life with a single race in November 2007 at Snetterton. The concept was driven by sweeping changes in the specifications of GT machines, which led to many becoming obsolete from flagship series like British GT.
“I wanted to give a home to cars that were approaching the end of, or were out of, their homologation periods,” says Haynes. “I’d just bought a Ferrari 360 that was dropping out of British GT, and the same thing was happening with the 996 Porsche 911 model, which was being phased out of the Carrera Cup, so there were plenty of beautiful GT cars around with nowhere to race.
“We put on the first race, and did it properly with TV coverage and hospitality, and the drivers loved it and demanded more, so we stuck with it and it’s grown and evolved since.”
That first race, which was run by Motorsport Vision Racing, attracted 19 cars. It provided the foundations for a full series in 2008. The GT Cup gained momentum until hitting a rocky patch in 2010, due to an unsettling period.
Bute Motorsport applied for championship status with the MSA for 2010 and, according to Haynes, that move divided opinion among the regulars.
“Changing from a series to a championship was a step and a learning curve,” he says. “You always get half of the grid that loves things the way they are and isn’t keen on change, and the other half For open specification cars, GT3 cars and modified Challenge-spec machines Current Challenge and Cup-spec cars Older Challenge and Cup-spec cars and modified saloon-based cars Lower powered Cup, Challenge, GT4 and single-make series cars that wants more to fight for. Inevitably you unsettle one or the other. Half of our grid wasn’t interested in a championship and there were also a lot more intricacies in the regulations when you become a championship, especially when you run as many different classes and specifications of GT cars as we do.”
The financial recession, together with the divided opinion among drivers, complicated regulations and some unhelpful influences within the paddock, shrunk the grid to a record low of just nine cars that year.
Something needed to change, and Bute began with the organising team. Former rally preparations expert Phil Boland was brought in as technical head, and Hannah Wilson as coordinator. Together they worked hard to restore the numbers.
“I remember getting the call to join GT Cup, I’d just sold my rally business and was about to stop working with the University of Central Lancashire college racing team, but when I came in we were in a bit of a mess,” explains Boland.
“We had a few unsavoury personalities in the paddock, and that contributed to a lot of negativity and hearsay. It drove drivers away and they took the teams with them. I remember making my first round of calls to drivers to try and convince them to come back and some just put the phone down on me.
“We had a core of three – Nigel Mustill, Kevin Riley and Richard Chamberlain – all with unconventional cars – but they formed the basis for us to rebuild the trust within competitors. We adopted a traditional straighttalking approach and drivers liked the honesty and the fact we would answer questions at any time day or night.”
With the atmosphere on the up, Boland and Wilson simplified the technical regulations and, together with Bute, made more radical changes. For 2012 the traditional format of two 25-minute sprint races was expanded to also feature a longer 50-minute feature enduro, which allowed two drivers to share a car.
Modern GT3 cars were also made eligible for the first time, and the barrier against professional drivers was lifted. The combination opened the GT Cup up to a new wave of customers.
“By allowing GT3 cars we could be seen as a modern championship,” says Boland. “Originally the series was for older cars and amateur drivers only, but the days of that standing alone are gone. GT racing has boomed in popularity with younger drivers and there’s a wider market now.
“The race format change helped us offer something for everybody, and by catering for professional drivers we opened the series up. Amateur drivers often love track days and testing, but when it comes to racing the thought of going it alone can be daunting. We found that pro drivers were suddenly recommending us to the guys they were coaching as a way of introducing them to racing and also at the same time being able to share a car and receive tuition all weekend. Last year over a third of the grid brought a pro driver to race, or the pro driver brought a new amateur. Racing has to be fun and simple, and that’s what we strived to do, offer the full package.”
While professional drivers are permitted, they cannot do the sprint races and can only race for half of the feature event, meaning the amateur driver still gets the lion’s share of the action and the pros cannot dominate the championship. The multi-class format also allows any cars from any class to potentially win the overall title.
The upswing can be seen in the numbers from 2015 alone ( right). As for the future, plans are afoot for a new prototype category, which has been designed to allow teams with LMP3, Vdev and Cn-spec sportscars a place to race them in a no-pressure environment, along the same basic guidelines as the GT Cup.
In a time when it’s so easy to focus purely on the top rungs of the ladder, Bute Motorsport has created something truly special at the start of it. ■