Home Sport WEC drivers saddened by demise of prototype-like GTE cars

WEC drivers saddened by demise of prototype-like GTE cars

by News7

Last month’s Bahrain 8 Hours marked the final competitive outing for GTE machinery following the decision by FIA and ACO to drop the corresponding class from WEC and the European Le Mans Series next year.

GTE cars have been a staple of WEC since the rebirth of the world sportscar championship in 2012, with a number of manufacturers including Porsche, Ferrari, Ford, BMW and Corvette building cars to this set of regulations.

The GTE Pro category in particular was hugely popular among drivers and fans in mid-to-late 2010s, but the class had been on a dramatic decline even before the Hypercar division was introduced in 2021.

GTE Pro was phased out from WEC at the end of the 2022 season, with the GTE Am class also now being dropped by the championship in favour of a new category running GT3 cars next year.

Although the difference between GTE and GT3 cars is not dramatic when it comes to performance, GTE cars were designed more like thoroughbred racers and thus were hugely appealing to professional drivers.

Porsche-contracted Matteo Cairoli, who scored three GTE Am wins in the Porsche 911 RSR-19, said the new GT3 cars will simply not be as enjoyable to drive as their predecessors.  

“For me, GTE is going to be for sure the best GT car ever,” the Italian told Motorsport.com. 

“Of course, GT3 is also a nice car to drive, but GTE is a professional car so you have to adapt your driving style more than what you do in a GT3 car. 

“I enjoyed every single lap I did in the past seven years and I’m a bit sad to see the end of this amazing car.

“For sure, [the LMGT3 class] is going to be exciting because we will have a lot of constructors and a lot of cars. And I think the fight will be always on. 

“But the pleasure of driving is not going to be the same anymore. Because GT3 cars it’s more [of] a road car. It’s similar to a road car. 

“Here [in GTE] it’s more onto the prototype side. As a show, it’s going to be very good but the pleasure behind the wheel for sure not.”

Photo by: Alessio Morgese

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Nicky Catsburg, who raced the BMW M8 GTE in both IMSA and WEC before joining Corvette in 2021 and taking victory at Le Mans this year, felt GTE Pro was even more competitive than LMP1 during its peak.

“I absolutely love the GTE class,” said Catsburg. “It’s probably been my favourite class throughout my career. Those cars are real thoroughbred racers. 

“When you look at GTE Pro, for me that was potentially the highest level of racing across all levels. I always thought that GTE Pro was the most difficult class to win at Le Mans in terms of outright quality and amount of cars. 

“It was a class where I always wanted to be and always wanted to measure myself against the best. I absolutely loved GTE.

“GTE Am is a little bit of a step down from GTE Pro, but I still believe it’s a class that is extremely cool to race in. 

“It’s a shame to see it go and say goodbye. Of course GT3 will still be very exciting and it will be very cool to drive in. There will be more cars and more opportunities.”

Cadillac driver Richard Westbrook enjoyed plenty of success in GT cars on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 2010s before moving back to prototype machinery in recent years.

The 48-year-old feels fans of sportscar racing will reminisce about the days of GTE Pro at Le Mans for several years to come.

“Lots of people use the term ‘the Golden Era of GT Racing’, and they’re not wrong,” he said.

“You have to pinch yourself when you look back at years like 2017, 2018 and 2019. You had this train of GTE Pro cars at Le Mans, 20 cars nose-to-tail for 24 hours. 

“It really was an arms race with manufacturers and everyone being so close. There were top brands in there. I was fortunate enough to drive for four manufacturers during that period – Porsche, Corvette, Ford and Aston Martin. 

“It really was a special time, there’s no doubt about it. It will be something that people will look back on in 20 years time and a father will tell his son a story of how he was at Le Mans during that time, and the kid probably won’t believe it! It was that close, just intense racing from start to finish.”

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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Three-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Andre Lotterer never got to race in GTE Pro, but described GTE cars as “very emotional”. 

“It is always like that when something ends and they were nice cars, very high technology, very well developed and very emotional cars,” the Porsche star told Motorsport.com.

“If you look at the 911 RSR it’s such a good sound and beautiful car, a successful car.

“It’s a bit sad to be honest because people put so much energy into that and it was an iconic car for many years.

“If you think of the early 70s, the RSR was already there. But it’s like this, nothing is forever.”

TF Sport boss Tom Ferrier, whose team enjoyed plenty of success with the Aston Martin Vantage, said there was a degree of exclusivity attached to GTE cars that will be missing next year.

However, he also felt that the new LMGT3 will open WEC to a wide number of manufacturers who previously couldn’t join the series due to the barriers to entry associated with the GTE classes. 

“GTE has always been an amazing class and has had a very exclusive feel to it,” Ferrier told Motorsport.com.

“I think a lot of drivers and paying customers always really enjoyed that side. It’s a special car you can race at Le Mans and only in WEC and ELMS, and now it’s obviously opened it to a car that can be used everywhere. 

“The flip side of that is it gives loads of manufacturer involvement for a load of different brands so positives and negatives.”

During his illustrious WEC career, IMSA-bound Ben Keating drove six different GTE cars, from the SRT Viper in 2015 to the Corvette C8.R with which he won at Le Mans this year.

The American said he particularly liked how GTE regulations allowed each manufacturer to have a bespoke tyre built in association with Michelin, which meant that they were able to extract the maximum performance from each car. This is in direct contrast to GT3, where cars mostly run on same spec tyres.

“I love that the tyre from Michelin is designed specifically for each individual car,” he explained. 

“That’s a big deal to have a tyre designed for your car, and the Michelins that are on the Corvette are different than the ones on the Porsche, on the Ferrari or on the Aston Martin. 

“That’s a really big deal for the performance level of these cars.

He added: “The cars are so well-designed. Most of the GT3 cars are designed to be customer cars. All the GTE cars are designed to be pro-level racecars. There’s just a little bit extra in every way. I love that. 

“It’s definitely a skill that you have to develop, and it’s been a lot of fun to develop the skills to be fast in these cars.”

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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One of the major gripes associated with GT3 cars is that they come equipped with an Anti-Braking System as per regulations. While this greatly assists gentleman racers, many feel ABS doesn’t have space in professional championships like WEC and that it takes away an important differentiator between drivers.

Asked for his opinion about the switch from GTE to GT3 cars, Christian Ried, who took part in every GTE Am race since the formation of current-day WEC in 2012, told Motorsport.com: “I love the GTE, I love it more than GT3. 

“For sure it’s a good idea to have race cars with ABS, especially in amateur categories but for me, WEC is top level of GTE and all the Pro and Am drivers here it’s really high level, I’m sure they can drive a proper race car without ABS.”

On the subject of ABS, Cairoli added: “ABS is something I personally don’t really enjoy to have. But it’s part of the car, part of the regulations, so we need to adapt.

“All in all it’s easier because you can play more with the car, they allow you to do more mistakes without losing so much. ABS is helping you a lot and I think from a gentleman’s perspective it’s the right solution.

“But for a professional driver, for sure, the difference you do in braking and with ABS, the gap will be much closer to everybody.”

Source : Motorsport.com

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