Let GT3 cars run at the Le Mans 24 Hours

Le Mans News

If you’ve an idle 15 minutes any time soon, could I suggest you spend it watching the last 15 minutes of the Bathurst 12 Hour, held at the wondrous Mount Panorama track in Australia?

The Darrell Lea McLaren 12C at Bathurst

When you have, ask yourself if you felt somehow short-changed by the experience, whether the spectacle lacked drama, the drivers lacked skill or if the cars looked slow. You may come to share my view that the answer to all these questions is, ‘none of the above’. I’ll leave you to make your own mind up, but to me those moments encapsulated all I love about sports car racing. Yet none of the cars that thrilled the crowds then and will thrill you now is eligible for Le Mans, the greatest sports car race on earth.

True a Ferrari 458 won at Bathurst and there will be 458s in France this summer but they won’t be GT3 cars like those we saw in Australia and other sports car series all over the world. Instead they’ll be cars developed from scratch to satisfy an entirely different set of rules with which it is far more expensive to comply.

And as for the McLaren 12C and Mercedes SLS that battled for the remaining spots on the podium, you’ll not see either at Le Mans because they’re simply not allowed. Which is also why there’ll be no Bentley Continental GTs at Le Mans nor Audi R8s, BMW Z4s, Lamborghini Gallardos or Nissan GT-Rs either.

Why aren’t they allowed?

So why not? Are these cars too slow to race at Le Mans? With lap times now on a par with old GT1 cars and some saying they’d be barely any slower than the GTE cars that are allowed to race, this is clearly not the case. What else can it be? Are they boring to look at or too easy to drive? Would GT3 cars in any way at all dishonour Le Mans and therefore bring its brand into disrepute? Of course not. Although GT3 and GTE cars run to different rules, there must be some common ground.

Ecurie Ecosse’s BMW Z4 at Donington in the British GT Championship

The answer so far as I can understand it is very simple: enough of those whose cars can race at Le Mans in the GTE category don’t want them there.

I know that all sport becomes just business the higher up the greasy pole you go, but these companies should want to encourage competition not unfairly seek to avoid it. If the VW board can conclude it’s a good idea for Audi and Porsche to go head to head in the top category of sports car racing then why should anyone else seek to dictate what can and cannot race at Le Mans, so long as all competing cars are both sufficiently fast and safe, which GT3 cars undoubtedly are?

Twenty years ago Le Mans entered one of brightest, albeit briefest periods in its history, when race versions of road going supercars (the forerunners of today’s GT3 cars) were allowed not only to race at Le Mans, but be in with a chance of winning which, in 1995, a McLaren F1 duly did. Also entered in that race were Porsche 911s, Ferrari F40s, Honda NSXs, Nissan Skylines, Toyota Supras, Jaguar XJ200s, Venturis, Marcoses, Corvettes and even an Aston DB7. The public loved it.

And so they would again. Imagine the thunder of Bentley Continentals and Mercedes SLSs battling it out with screaming Lamborghinis and howling McLarens amid the Porsches, Ferraris, Astons and Corvettes that have dominated the category for years.

Mercedes vs Lamborghini at Okayama in the Japanese Super GT series

It would not only provide an extraordinary spectacle for the viewers and spectators without whom none of these cars would have made it onto the grid in the first place, but for the winner the satisfaction of knowing it had won fair and square against not just a small selection of the opposition, but hands down and against the best in the world.

There is now talk of GT3 cars being made eligible in time for the 2016 race but while it remains just talk I will remain doubtful because we have been here before. In the meantime perhaps the ACO should listen a little more to the fans who have supported their race these last 90 years and turned it into what it is today, and a little less to those with vested interests who’d far rather spoil the public’s enjoyment of the event than face the competition they deserve.

More from Andrew Frankel
Why F1 will be worth watching this year
Audi and Porsche at Le Mans 2014
Ferrari 375 Plus to be sold at Goodwood

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