The FIA GT3 European Championship got off to a glittering start in Monaco on December 2nd, with an extremely well-attended press conference and a display of cars in front of the prestigious Hotel de Paris. In the presence of FIA President, Mr Max Mosley, and Vice-President Mr Marco Piccinini, Stephane Ratel, Chairman of SRO, presented his new Championship, which is the culmination of many months of hard work.
With an innovative Cup of Cups format, and non-professional drivers competing both among their Manufacturers groups and for an overall title, the new series will run alongside the FIA GT Championship. The performance of the cars, of varying architectures, will be balanced, following the principles used with such success in the 2005 season of the FIA GT Championship.
"I think the FIA GT3 European Championship is an excellent idea, and we at the FIA are very pleased about it," Mr Max Mosley said. "It fills a gap in the market and it provides the possibility of very good and very entertaining racing for competitors and drivers who might otherwise be left out in the ever more professional top end of GT racing. So we are delighted." A display of the cars aiming at the new Championship included the Ascari KW01, the Aston Martin DBRS9, the Corvette Z06 GT3, the Dodge Viper Coupe, the Lamborghini Gallardo, Lotus Exige, Maserati Gran Sport Light, Porsche 997 and Venturi Heritage.
The press conference was followed by the first official test day, at the impressive Paul Ricard High-Tech Test Track. The cars were joined by the Nissan 350Z, and a full day's testing took place. This also saw the start of the performance balancing procedures, which will continue in March and April, before the first race in May, scheduled for Silverstone on the 7th. "It was a very busy day," Christophe Bouchut said. "Working for the FIA is something I take very seriously, and during the test, I completed over 400 kilometres, driving the eight cars present for over four and a half hours. It was exhausting, but very satisfying, and I am very pleased that I did not make any mistakes. The cars are so very different, that it is quite amazing that globally their performances are really so similar."
FIA GT3 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP
Claudio Berro, Maserati : " For me, the GT3 is a very fantastic idea. We spoke with Stephane some years ago about this type of car, when we prepared a car for the 24 Hours of Daytona. The car was completely normal, with normal gearbox and engine, not an expensive car, and it ran for 24 hours without any problems and finished tenth in the race. For me, this is the idea for entries in the GT. The car is not expensive, very reliable, and we use a lot of parts from the road version. So that is why I think the GT3 is a good idea, and it was a very good idea of Stephane's to organise this series, to show that you can have endurance without the cost."
James Turner, Aston Martin : "Aston Martin Racing has had a fantastic first year, really enjoyed ourselves, and we were delighted to finish the season with a win for our privateer team, Cirtek. GT3 seems to us to be a great series, with close, exciting racing, a bedrock for international Sportscar racing, sensible budgets, nice cars and hopefully some good parties as well. For us, the DBRS9 was designed for GT3. It is very closely designed to the production car, the only V12 car in the Championship, a very nice, well-balanced car to drive, and we are looking forward to seeing it on track tomorrow. To conclude with our team announcement, I am delighted to say that BMS Scuderia Italia has taken three cars and will be entering those in the Championship as our works Aston Martin team in FIA GT as well. Similarly, Barwell Motorsport from England, the former British Touring Car Championship winners, have taken three cars as well. There are still one car and two drives available. We are delighted with the new GT3 series, it's going to be a marvellous spectacle, and as Stephane said, we're going to have fun like never before."
Gildo Pastor, Venturi : "We have to start with thanking Stephane, who back in the 1990's helped Venturi very much. The first year of the Venturi Gentlemen Drivers Trophy has 75 cars taking part. I was not in the company at the time, but it was the biggest trophy ever, and we have to thank him for that. I joined the company five years ago, and it was very hard for a small manufacturer like us to race at the time, and we spoke many times with Stephane about it. We concentrated on electric sports cars. But today, thanks to this initiative, Venturi Cars can go back to racing, and I am very pleased to see many familiar faces here today. I hope you all enjoy the car, which is now on display outside. It is a typical Venturi, a Trophy car adapted for today. We wanted to keep the spirit of the Gentelmen Drivers' Trophy alive. I hope it is going to be a big fight out there, but it going to be fun, and to be a very successful Championship, I am sure."
Chris Arnold, Lotus Cars : "The strapline of Lotus is 'performance through light weight'. We specialise in producing small cars, which are very light and have efficient small engines. Historically, that means that we have not been able to enter GT1 or GT2. We were very interested when Stephane announced GT3, as it is based on power to weight ratios, which can be translated to 'performance through light weight', so we decided we would set Peter Wright a challenge by bringing an Exige prototype car, which is 285 bhp and 750 kg. We are very keen on GT3, as I was brought up in the 60's and 70's, when Elans and Elites were chasing Astons and so on around the circuits. I really hope this Championship can get back to that sort of racing in 2006."
Hans Reiter, Reiter Engineering: "We at Reiter Engineering are very lucky, as the basic Lamborghini Gallardo as it is on the street has already got 520 hp, an aluminium chassis, double-wishbone race suspension, the brakes are already good enough to go the distance, and there is not too much for us to do. The car is one of the good basis for GT3, and I am deeply convinced that GT3 is the future for GT racing in the long term."
Mike Gramke, Carsport Holland " It is absolutely amazing to see how many different beautiful cars have been presented here today. I think there has no GT Championship in the world ever started with such a variety of cars. Well done Stephane, as you said you are mad and it seems like that you have a huge number of supporters for your (mad) ideas. When we made the decision to develop and build cars for the GT3 championship, we had to choose if we should either base the car on a C6 or a Z06. The answer was quickly found, as the Z06, with its features such as the aluminium chassis, the carbon bodywork, the magnesium sub frames and the powerful 7l engine gave us the perfect platform for a GT3 car. The biggest challenge we experienced was the fact, that the Z06 was so new, that it was simply not available. We only got delivery off the first car on October 26th. Everyone involved made an impossible missione some how possible and I want to give special thanks to Ernst Woehr and his Callaway Competition organisation. Also without the help off Koos Pettinga (Corvette Europe), it would had remained mission impossible. They all can be very proud. If all the Manufacturer and Teams have the same positive feedback and interest in their cars, as we have had, than we can look forward to a fantastic season and a new era of GT racing."