Should Mercedes build a GT4 race car?


I am almost always delighted with any comment left after columns like this, because whether you agree with me or not, you’ve taken time to read what I have written and thought it merited a reply, which is usually (but I concede not always) a reasonable indication that I’m doing my job properly.

This week, however, it’s not just me who’d appreciate your thoughts. If you don’t know of him, Tobias Moers is the head of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division. This means everything from the little 2-litre A45 AMG road car to the fire-spitting 6.2-litre SLS GT3 race car is down to him. I am sure he has many interests outside the industry, but whenever we sit down to talk, we always end up discussing two subjects: product engineering and racing. You’d like him.

Moers is also known as one of the most forthright executives which makes him good to interview because you’ll never get any flannel from him: he’ll either tell you what you want to know or he won’t, which in my book is fair enough. On one subject however, he is uncharacteristically unsure. Unsure to the extent that he asked if I could pose a question to any of you who might be interested and inclined to reply.

It is simply this: should he build a version of his new AMG GT supercar to compete in the GT4 category of racing?

The conversation took place at the New York Motor Show, after the tragic accident at the Nürburgring when a rival GT3 car lost control and left the track, killing a spectator, after which all such cars were temporarily banned until the best plan of action could be determined. As you may know, the GT3 cars have been reinstated, but with limits to the speeds they can reach in certain areas of the track.

I’m not going to say it was an accident waiting to happen, because that would be a trite and lazy observation made by someone not in full possession of the facts. However it is true that a front-line GT3 car is now a ferociously fast machine, quicker by some margin than the GTE cars that race at Le Mans.

It’s also true that GT3 racing has grown over many years now; what was once seen as a category for gentlemen drivers is now at the sharp end, populated by gimlet-eyed, hard-nosed professionals. And because they are capable of wringing the most out the cars, the cars are now being set up with them in mind, which is making them faster still.

So the question is whether GT4 is now going to provide fertile ground for those who still want to race sports cars, but find the heat (and expense) of competing at GT3 level all a bit much. A GT4 car is still a slick-shod, race-prepped competition car, but it has a near-enough standard engine, a tiny fraction of the downforce and depending on the model costs either a high five or a low six figure sum, instead of many hundreds of thousands of pounds, which is what you need for a competitive GT3 machine these days.

I think the category is in the ascendance. Aston Martin has built and sold over 100 GT4 specification V8 Vantages, Lotus has a GT4 Elise, Porsche recently launched a GT4 Cayman road car which is believed very soon to be spawning a race version, and now it is something Mercedes-Benz is considering very seriously indeed. I think it is approaching that critical mass point experienced by GT3 a while back where almost every sports car manufacturer there was suddenly realised their customers (and its bank balance) would be all the poorer without one.

For myself I can’t see the argument for AMG not doing a GT4 car. If Aston can sell plenty I can’t see why Mercedes, with a car as new, gorgeous and as state of the art as the GT cannot too. But I’m not the one being asked: that’s you. So any thoughts you may have on the subject will be gratefully received not just by me, but by AMG too.

While we’re on the subject of GT4 racing, I will be taking part in the Silverstone 24 Hours next weekend, driving a GT4 Vantage, sharing with Aston CEO Andy Palmer, Design Director Marek Reichman and Alice Powell, a 22-year-old hot shot who was the first and I believe remains the only woman to have scored points in GP3. It will be a voyage of discovery for all of us, but Andy in particular who raced for the first time last year.

This will be his maiden outing in one of his own cars, but has already proven quick and consistent in testing in both wet and dry conditions. Besides, I’ve done this race enough times to know that one person’s speed relative to another’s is nothing compared the team’s collective ability to stay out of trouble and still be there at the end. I have little doubt the car will do 24 hours without problem; the question is can we?

I will let you know this time next week, unless you happen to be an Aston fan, find yourself anywhere near Silverstone over the weekend and feel like wandering over to wish us luck.


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