The rise of LMP3, should GT3 be worried about it?
While currently the majority of LMP3 crews are made up of single-seater graduates aspiring toward a fresh career direction in sportscars, there’s a shift toward prototype racing among other drivers too, mainly from GT3.
GT racing has long been seen as the first step on the path to Le Mans, but as the cars have become faster, more technologically advanced and the racing more professional, the budgets have gradually risen. GT3 now finds itself standing on the precipice.
It is thriving in Europe in the Blancpain classes, but that’s mainly due to factory teams and paid drivers, the amateur driver element of GT3 racing – something the class has always depended upon – is dying, or rather, being priced out.
United Autosports was a big player in GT3, having run Audis and Mclarens in British, European, Asian and American classes.
That has now largely stopped due to the hike in cost of running GT3 machinery, as team head Richard Dean explains.
“The new generation GT3 cars are stunning things, but they don’t make much business sense for a team,” says Dean. “They’ve gotten so fast now and so complex that budgets are too high in my opinion.
“Part of the difficulty is the Balance of Performance [equalisation measures]. It means that picking the best car is near impossible as the best car on one circuit isn’t the best on another, and if by chance you do get the best car then you can’t expect it for long as a BOP change is probably imminent. That’s a frustration.
“The majority of enquiries we’re having for LMP3 now are coming from GT3 teams and drivers. LMP3 is fixed homologation, no BOP, and cost-capped, which seems to be a winning mixture.
“It’s only in its second year and there are already 20 cars in the European Le Mans Series, it’s in the Asian Le Mans Series and looks likely to be adopted by IMSA in America, so it’s spreading in the same way GT3 did.
“The Automobile Club de l’ouest [ACO] doesn’t allow manufacturers to come in and develop the cars, and there are strict cost caps surrounding them. Cars cannot be sold for more than 205,000 euro (roughly £175,000), which is a third of the price of the new Ferrari 488 GT3, and spares packages cannot exceed 150 per cent of that figure. Drivers like the fact they can turn up to any circuit and know they have a car that’s on a par with everyone else and they won’t suddenly have to tow a caravan for a weekend.
“If drivers want the Le Mans experience LMP3 is the best possible starting point now. It’s cheaper than GT3 and by doing the Road to Le Mans support race at the 24 Hours you get the full experience – from being involved with scrutineering and night qualifying to racing in front of 250,000 people on race day.”