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So You Want To Go GT3 Racing? Part 1

DSC delves into the costs involved in going racing

Motorsport has never been a cheap endeavour, and it never will be.

Era to era, the quality of cars that go head-to-head has been on an upward curve, but the cost has too in many places. With the state of the global post-COVID economy still unclear, the future of the sport, and in DSC’s case, sportscar racing specifically, has never been so uncertain.

With factory money set to be spent even more carefully and cautiously than before the pandemic (just take a look at Audi, Porsche and Bentley’s movements in the past few months), the task of sustaining the sheer numbers involved in the sport in the coming years is likely to fall to the privateer teams and gentlemen drivers. There will be casualties along the way, some more high profile than others. Grids may well become smaller and the amount spent on going racing by wealthy individuals in some areas will shrink.

From LMP1 all the way down to cup cars and club-level racing, it looks likely that everyone will feel the pinch in some way, shape, or form.

But to truly understand the cost of racing, and the ins and outs of getting cars on a grid, you have to either work in the sport or spend hours grilling people who do. So DSC has spent a considerable chunk of time speaking to teams, drivers, engineers and OEM representatives to get a taste of just how tough life will be once we go back racing. In exchange for some blunt, honest truths and figures, all will remain anonymous.

Because working out the cost of racing and the challenges ahead is such a broad topic, with countless variables, DSC has decided to focus solely on the GT3 platform. GT3 is global, and supported by major manufacturers and small private teams alike in huge numbers. It is also in the news right now as the GTE marketplace on a factory level has taken a further hit this month with Porsche announcing a withdrawal from IMSA, leaving many wondering what top-level GT racing will look like beyond 2020. It is therefore a very relevant case study – but this is not a series intended to show GT3 in an unfavourable light compared to other available options.

However, an important point to make before going any further is this: The cost of racing is an extremely complex topic, which has almost infinite variables. The figures used in this piece are from people involved directly, but are not definitive. Could you do any of this with a smaller or bigger budget? Certainly. Therefore, this piece, naturally, can only provide ‘ballpark’ figures – all are absolutely accurate but, as the saying goes, ‘other budget levels are available’.

Pick a car, any car

The combined length of the interviews taped for this piece exceeded 15 hours and the biggest takeaway from this writer is that it feels like a miracle that any racing programme anywhere in the world comes together, let alone hundreds to fill grids around the world.

It will come as no surprise that the sheer list of things you must factor in and consider when budgeting for a GT3 programme is staggering, and all the items come with a substantial cost attached.

Let’s start with the cars themselves.

Just the base cost of the various GT3 models available varies wildly, with the VAG group products on the lower end of the spectrum and produced in higher numbers (340-400 thousands Euros) and Italy’s most iconic marque selling cars at a substantially higher price (650 thousand Euros, 700 in full battle spec).

“When you’re paying to race in something like GT3, you’re paying to race what you want,” a team owner explained. “Any time you aren’t paying to race what you want is when you are presented with a package that’s too cheap to say ‘no’ to, or too competitive. At that point you don’t worry about which badge is on the front.

“But 80 percent of the time you’re racing a Porsche because you want to, or a McLaren. You race a Ferrari because all you heard about was the ‘Prancing Horse’ when you were young and you want to be a part of that racing heritage. Some like Nissan GT-Rs or Honda NSX’s because they’ve used them on the PlayStation. And they’re every bit as good as the other cars.

“And here’s the thing. If you take the amount of money you spend as X, no matter what variable of car you are driving, to do well and to run it properly is still a multiple of X, whether you race with a mass market manufacturer or niche one. To get this right is never cheap.”

To race with certain manufacturers isn’t cheap either, “sometimes you feel like you are paying for the brand more than the car,” a team owner said. “Because brand X has more heritage, they know they can charge more than brand Y because people will pay whatever fee they charge just to race with brand X.”

Don’t let the base price fool you either, as kitting out a GT3 car to full endurance spec (with number panels, a quick fill tank, traction control settings, and TPMS systems) from its state off the production line can add an extra 50-70 thousand pounds (54,871-76,838 Euros) to the price.

That’s before you get into the spares needed. Teams can easily end up spending 100s of thousands of Euros on a spares package each season.

“It can cost 200 thousand pounds (219,000 Euros) to buy a proper spares package, a proper one,” a UK-based team owner told DSC. “For two, three days testing in another country without manufacturer support, and you want to be able to continue if you have a big off, you need to spend big. It means if you want to start a two-car team, with a decent spares pack, it’s over a million easily, before you’ve bought anything beyond just cars and spares.”

“Even in a one car team,” another team manager added, “you might find it more cost effective to buy a second car just to use as spares.”

There’s also a further financial hit when an ‘evo-package’ is released, as most left over spares from the out-going spec car can’t be carried over and have to be written off.

“The 488 has had two evo packages, one in 2018 and one in 2020,” a driver told DSC. “The new one is 70 grand, and this is for a formula that’s balanced with BoP, so there’s technically no advantage. But the problem is that you have to run the newest car, because they will make the older cars slower.

“If a gentleman driver bought a brand new car for 650k (714,000 Euros) in 2019, did a years running he would now have to spend 70k (76,800 Euros) on a upgrade which you almost have no choice but do.”

This is where politics come into play, if you don’t buy the evo kit, it’s highly unlikely you will be able to get the results you want because manufacturers don’t want older-spec cars beating the new ones. “If you do win with an out of date car, then the paddock will complain,” an experienced driver pointed out.

Then to make matters worse, sometimes the ‘evo’ kits don’t have the desired effect in terms of performance and drivability.

If you do win with an out of date car, then the paddock will complain

“I wouldn’t mind after a few years upgrading,” one European team owner said, “but the last evo actually made the car slower, harder to drive, before we got to BoP. What a waste…”

Evo kits are generally thought of as a means to generate money for manufacturers, more than they are to make the cars more competitive. They are all part of what one manufacturer representative called: “a product lifecycle strategy.”

Beyond that you have to consider the difference in running cost, which varies from car to car too and is extremely hard to put an exact price on. This is in part because each car uses completely different sets of parts (with different life spans) and because manufacturers have become tactical in the way they come to a figure in order to attract customers.

From the conversations conducted in the process of writing this feature, the current Aston Martin Vantage is believed to be around 12-14 pounds (13-15 Euros) per kilometre to run, whereas the Ferrari for example is believed to be around double that. Some teams think it’s 30-35 Pounds (32-38 Euros) per kilometre. But other teams think it’s higher.

“30 Pounds (32 Euros) per kilometre? No chance! The real figure is 39…” One Ferrari team owner told DSC.

The Audi R8 and Lamborghini Huracan is supposedly 12 Pounds (13 Euros) a kilometre, while the McLaren 720S GT3 is around that figure too. But it often comes down to how you calculate running cost. A former manufacturer representative put the figure at 16 Pounds (17 Euros) per km for the McLaren, but a team manager who budgeted a (global) 720S GT3 programme last year put the figure at 36 Pounds (39 Euros).

“Most teams look at running cost per kilometre just for the car, but if you add in logistics cost, it’s a huge number,” the head of a manufacturer customer racing programme said. “If you look at Audi, they’ve got it made. They have their car at around 12-13 Euros a kilometre. If you look at the McLaren, it’s 15-16 pounds,  so almost 20 Euros per kilometre.

“But there’s fluctuation because it depends on what is included in the figure. As a manufacturer, I don’t care how much fuel or tyres you throw at a car per kilometre. What some brands quote is just what it costs to keep on top of the life schedule of the car. The target for us was about 14 pounds a kilometre, but it came out at almost 16. Manufacturers will always try and give you a range to persuade you to buy their car, but in reality it’s always the top end. If someone says 20-25 Pounds a kilometre (27 Euros), it’s going to be 25.”

“Running costs really are mind-blowing,” a current factory driver adds. “Think of it this way. You are at Silverstone Grand Prix, you do an out lap just to make sure the car is ok, that lap is about 200 Euros for an upper end GT3 car. Just that two minutes, and that doesn’t include tyres, fuel, staff, logistics.”

Choosing a car is just the beginning. If you are starting from scratch there is a laundry list of equipment you need to run the car from a garage (wheel guns are 6-7 thousand pounds apiece, a fuel bowser costs about 8 grand). Just buying a single race truck can set you back a quarter of a million pounds if you want a good one.

“To equip yourself properly is so expensive, but it boils down to your client really,” a team owner explains. “You have people, and we’re not talking young Silvers, we’re talking your average gentlemen driver from mid 30s to 60s. Whether you have a 35-year-old, or 60-year-old, some want to nail it every time and want to be the best they can be. They want to win.

“Similarly you have people who want to go racing and want it to be enjoyable, and use it as a way to let loose. Some are just happy to be a part of it. If you’re in the second category it’s a different level of spend. That means you don’t need the lightest set of wheels, the quickest wheel guns. You don’t need tons of data logging and sensors because you use a basic set up and go.

“But when you want to chase a win, it’s exponentially more expensive. Even in GT3, you need more equipment, technology. You need better everything and that’s what’s unique about the sport. It takes a village to make a car quick, it’s not one component, it’s a synergy between inanimate and animate objects. It has to be seamless.

“You don’t need a 1000 Pound tennis racket to win Wimbledon, you don’t need Air Jordans to play basketball and be good. It’s nice to have but in racing, you have to have better equipment. If you want to be faster in the pits it helps to have a Formula One grade wheel gun. ”

Staff costs too can be high. Some teams pay their ‘weekend warrior’ mechanics lower amounts like 15 thousand pounds a season, while others told DSC that they are spending closer to the 50 thousand mark. You can’t get away with only a few members of staff either. One UK-based team which races both nationally and internationally with GT3 cars told DSC that it spends around 830 thousand pounds a year on staff, with just seven guys full time, the rest drafted in to help out at the track.

Before you get to paying the entry fees and running costs of the car too, you’ll need some sort of workshop to store and maintain your car(s) during in the gaps between races, which even if you only need a small space could still cost you under a 100 thousand Pounds (110,000 Euros) a year. “That’s without kitting it out either, we spent around 20 thousand Pounds (22,000 Euros) on equipment for the workshop, which isn’t really used for any sort of manufacturing, only maintenance,” a team owner said.

If you choose to, you may also find yourself spending a small fortune on insurance costs on top of all this. And insurance is a huge source of frustration for teams. Multiple team owners told DSC it’s such a huge expense for such a minimal gain, that it’s almost not worth paying for.

“You use motorsport insurance, they’re special brokers. There’s four or five mainstream brokers. And it is petrifying,” a team owner reveals.

“We do storage and transit insurance, which covers everything in the workshop, the freight, transport. That’s general, it’s not cheap but not ridiculous. 8 thousand (Pounds, or 8,700 Euros), 12 thousand (Pounds, or 13,200 Euros) a year?

“Then comes on track. You don’t have to insure a car on track, though most do. The problem is the levels of cover you get. If it’s a 500 grand (549,000 Euros) car you’d struggle to insure 250 grand (274,700 Euros) for racing. You can never insure the whole value, unless you take out multiple policies but that’s extremely complicated.

“So, for example, you insure a British GT car, you choose to insure 150 to 175 thousand Pounds (164,700-192,000 Euros) of it. That will come with a 25 thousand (Pounds, or 27,400 Euros) excess. So if I write it off and it’s covered for 150, I only get 125 (thousand Pounds, or 137,000 Euros) back. Any more damage on top I pay.

“You can insure for fire too, which is separate and an extra cost. This is all done from the team budget, it’s part of it. It’s so crazy it’s almost worth not paying insurance. For 150 grand’s worth of cover for British GT, seven races, you’re looking at paying a premium of 40 thousand (Pounds, or 43,800 Euros), maybe more.

There’s no liability, so if someone from another team puts your car in the wall, you’re still the one that has to pay the bill

“So by the time you’ve taken off the 40 off 150, and the 25 (thousand Pound, or 27,400 Euro) excess, it is only 85 thousand (Pounds, or 93,300 Euros) saved in a big accident. And it also goes up in between accidents. Most of your dings and scratches aren’t covered because they’re under the excess. It’s just to cover you for big whacks. Our team in 10 years has only once ever had a crash over the insured amount. And there’s no liability, so if someone from another team puts your car in the wall, you’re still the one that has to pay the bill.

“It’s not like road cars.”