RE­DEFIN­ING GT RAC­ING

The GT Cup is boom­ing af­ter a re­struc­ture. By Rob Lad­brook

Motor Sport News - - Series Focus -

CLASS CAR TYPE

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. ■

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