2010 sees the return of top-flight GT racing as an official World Championship for the first time since 1992, lining up alongside Formula One, World Touring Cars and World Rallying. British team Sumo Power will be running a pair of Nissan GT-Rs in the 10-round championship, which kicks off in Abu Dhabi next month.
Speedhunters were able to see the cars being unloaded and prepared down at Sumo Power’s base in Rye, on the south coast of England, back in January: since then the cars and team haven’t stood still.
From being rushed to straight to the Autosport show in Birmingham to the group test at the Paul Ricard High Technology Test Track in the south of France, on to a private test in Spain and then to Paris and the official launch of the World GT1 Championship this week, it’s been a frantic month.
GT racing has had a bumpy ride over the last two decades. It’s evolved since the GT class was introduced for the 1993 Le Mans following the demise of the Group C prototype formula, through the BPR and FIA GT series of the mid to late ’90s to the recent multi-class European-centric GT championships.
Stéphane Ratel, who was also behind BPR, has been working towards a global GT series for some time, and the button has been pressed for 2010. 24 cars, 12 teams and six car models have been lined up under a new rules package: slower than the previous GT1 rules admittedly, but only in an effort to reduce costs and make the series more attractive to manufacturers.
Last year was a transition year, with the majority of GT1 cars running to the old rules and only a couple of teams running full 2010-compliant cars: specifically Gigawave’s Nissan GT-R and the Matech Ford GTs. The official test weekend at Paul Ricard was the first chance to see all the new cars out on track at the same time.
Although it was an official test, no times were released, and the entire event was run under a media ban so as not to distract from the main launch of the series in Paris on March 1. Sumo Power were out with their pair of cars and their two announced drivers: Peter Dumbreck and Michael Krumm. Krumm has direct experience of the GT-R, having driven it last year for the Gigawave squad.
Dumbreck has a long history in sportscars, particularly in Japan where he’s run in the Super GT series. Now he’s swapping from the Toyota/Lexus family to Nissan.
The Ford GTs carry the heritage of the GT40 sportscar programme of the ‘late 60s. So far the retro-inspired racer hasn’t achieved the domination of its predecessor, but the four Fords should be strong.
Last year’s experience could prove to be a real leg-up for these cars in the longer term.
For 2010, there are three cars running to the spirit of the new rules: the Nissan and Ford (upgraded from last year) plus Lamborghini with the menacing Murcielago SV. These cars look stunning on track: wide, low and mean, with a screaming exhaust note to go with it.
Completing the grid are Maserati, Corvette and Aston Martin, whose cars have been ‘grandfathered’ in for this year.
What will play in these teams favour is the reliability they will likely have: it’s always easier on a car to tune power out than add power in… And for the teams running the Corvette C6R, they’re starting with a car which has been pretty much bulletproof at the Le Mans 24 Hours over the last half-decade.
Countering the rumbling American Corvettes are the wailing British Aston Martin DBR9s.
Maserati are the odd ones out here, with a car that was technically never prepared to the original FIA GT1 rules package, let alone the 2010 ones! But although Michael Bartels’ Vitaphone team MC12s have cleaned up over the last couple of years, it’s very unlikely the older cars will be allowed to dominate.
With the test over, a car from each team was shipped up to Paris and the austere Place Vendôme in Paris for the official launch of the World GT1 Championship.
For the launch Ratel was backed up by new FIA President Jean Todt: the ex-Ferrari F1 boss was there to give his blessing to the series.
Outside the covers were taken off the cars. Some liveries were hardly surprising, such as the MC12 in its Vitaphone colours.
Similarly, the second MC12 team showed rather obviously that it was Vitaphone’s B-squad.
Dutch teams Carpsport and Phoenix have joined up this year to run a pair of Corvettes, taking the factory yellow paintjob as the base.
The second ‘Vette squad, Mad Croc, have a slightly crazy paint job going on, maybe to go with the energy drink they’re marketing. I’m not sure the team will love it so much when they have damaged bodywork to repair…
Big cars, big sounds and big flames, with a dual one-hour race format to make it more TV friendly, it’s going to be interesting to see how the series fares this year. Speedhunters will be at every round, concentrating on the Sumo Power GT-R team.
There are seven weeks to go until the season starts at the F1 Yas Marina venue in Abu Dhabi – later this month we’ll have a full season preview and go through the runners and riders, plus have an update on Sumo Power’s preparation for the year.
All pictures courtesy of DPPI/FIA GT1 World Championship.