Most forms of motorsport are fairly easy to get your head around. Open wheelers, touring cars, rallying... all have a fairly linear progression from grass roots up to fully professional series, with a progressively lairer set of rules and regulations along the way. GT racing, though, is slightly different. With so many name and rule changes in recent years, plus a whole host of different championships, it’s sometimes hard to make sense of the different ways and means one can go sports car racing these days.
But go racing one can. Arm yourself with a factory-built GT car and the relevant race licence (not to mention, of course, a sizeable wad of cash, sponsorship, or a combination of both to throw at running the thing), and you too can take part. There’s just one problem. What can you buy, and where can you race it? Well, that’s where we’re here to help.
Currently the top division of GT racing, this was formerly the GT2 class, and has now been renamed to ‘GT Endurance’ and split into two categories. GTE-Pro caters for brand new cars with professional drivers, and is often replete with factory teams, while GTE-Am caters for teams running a car that’s at least a year old, and with at least one Platinum or Gold level amateur driver. The cars are identical between the two classes, this time based on production models and required to share the same overall external dimensions as the cars on which they’re based. 5.5-litre naturally-aspirated engines and 4.0-litre turbos are the maximum allowed, with no limit on cylinder capacity. Steel brakes of any diameter are permitted, and weight must be 1,245kg or more. GTE cars are able to participate in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS), the World Endurance Championship (WEC), the Nurburgring Endurance Championship (VLN) and the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).
Fancy a go?
Popular factory GTE cars include the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, Ferrari 458 Italia GT2, Aston Martin Vantage GTE, and BMW Z4 GTE. You’ll need deep pockets, though; expect to pay anywhere up to £450,000.
GT3 cars are more production-based than any of the above classes. Unlike GTE, GT3 doesn’t have a specific set of technical regulations, but each model is assessed and homologated individually, and it’s at this point that the amount of restriction that should be placed upon each is decided. However, on the whole, regulations are stricter than in GTE and preclude too many exotic modifications to engine and bodywork; performance is balanced between cars with the use of restrictors and ballast. GT3 cars are eligible for competition in the FIA GT Series, the Blancpain Endurance Series, the VLN, the Grand-Am series, and the British GT championship, among others.
The definition of the GTC class varies from championship to championship. Generally it refers to a class of very lightly-modified road-going performance cars that can compete alongside the other GT classes. Some championships consider it to be a one-make affair, such as over in America where GTC usually means a class reserved for 911 GT3 Cup racers. However, in other series, such as the WEC, the GTC category is open to all models of GT3 cars, but with performance restricted to match that of one-make series racers such as the GT3 Cup and Ferrari 458 Italia Challenge.
Fancy a go?
Obviously depending on the championship, you’ll need something like a 911 GT3 Cup car, which will set you back somewhere around £180,000, or buying a second-hand GT3 car and having it restricted might be another way to go.
Like GT3 cars, GT4s are heavily production-based, though the level of restriction is greater. GT4 cars are less widely available and, consequently, less widespread. Once again, regulation is done on a homologation basis, with each model being assessed on a case-by-case basis. GT4s are eligible to compete in the VLN, the Blancpain Endurance Series and the British GT series, as well as a host of other regional and national series across the world.
Fancy a go?
GT4 racing is arguably the bargain of the GT racing scene, though it’ll still cost you somewhere in the region of £150,000 to get hold of the sort of GT4 racer you might want to compete in. Popular examples include the Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Mazda MX-5 GT4, and Lotus Evora GT4.
That’s not all...
What we’ve tried to list here are the officially-defined FIA classes, which aren’t the be-all-and-end-all worldwide; for example, competitors in the Japanese Super GT series have the choice between GT500 and GT300 classes among others. Over in the states, things get even more confusing, which we’ll get to shortly. But in general, you’ll find that worldwide classes follow similar steps up in pricing and capability to the FIA’s system.
Japan's Super GT championship one of many worldwide
Detailed above are these cars’ eligibilities for various major GT racing series; however, again, there are plenty more series around the world at both regional and national levels which cater for various different classes. Among them, to name a few, are the Japanese Super GT series, the Asian Le Mans Series, the Australian GT Championship, and the Rolex Sports Car Series.
Meanwhile, in America...
The US used to have two chief GT racing championships – the American Le Mans series and Grand-Am. It’s recently been announced that these two series will merge to form one enormous bundle of GT-level racing called the United Sports Car Racing series. This will feature a raft of new classes that also roughly follow the FIA categories but with some changes. GTLM (or Le Mans) class will be broadly equivalent to the FIA’s GTE-Pro class, while GTD (or Daytona) will straddle the FIA’s GT3 and GTC classes. There’ll also be the addition of the GX class for alternative-fuel vehicles. Want to know more? Here's a full run-down.