Just when many thought that GT racing was unsustainable and on borrowed time, a new collaboration between NASCAR and the FIA’s WEC may just signal a new golden era for closed wheel racing. Here, NMA Business School tutor James Bailey looks at what it means for both endurance and GT racing…
NASCAR at Le Mans
Motorsport often seems the most political of sports. Promoters with different agendas, regulations influenced by the most powerful players, and a geographical disparity in formulae and categories. Much of this confusion is driven by protectionism, which is one of the topics we discuss on our NMA change management module.
For decades, the world of endurance racing typified this resistance to change. If I tried to explain the differences between GT3 and GTE regulations or IMSA and FIA World Endurance categories to a casual racing fan a couple of years ago, they’d politely go and find someone more interesting to talk to. The sport’s power players had become so obsessed with the minutiae that they’d not realised they were losing fans’ interest. Today, something has changed. Endurance racing, and more specifically, Le Mans, is now a talking point.
What changed? The decision, made in 2021, by the American IMSA run SportsCar Championship and the FIA World Endurance Championship to allow their top prototype classes to compete together. As a result, endurance racing is at the dawn of a new golden era. Manufacturers can now build a car that can race in both the Daytona and Le Mans 24 hour races, as well as their respective IMSA and WEC season-long championships. Fans are relishing the prospect of Ferrari, BMW, Peugeot, Toyota, Cadillac, Lamborghini and Alpine battling for Le Mans glory.
A New Roadmap for GT Racing
I can’t remember being this excited about watching Le Mans since around three decades ago. As the Change Management Tutor at the NMA’s Business of Motorsport courses, I feel it’s a great example of two organisations marching to a common goal. By collaborating and compromising, both championships are in a stronger place. However, astute change management is also about ensuring you are aware and prepared for the next headwind, and I believe this will come in the ‘road car’ GT classes.
Whilst the prototype top tier of endurance racing marches towards an exciting new future, the focus needs to turn to securing the GT grid. I’m impressed with the creativity of the Le Mans promoter, the Automobile Club d’Ouest (ACO), in working with NASCAR by inviting a Chevrolet to compete at next year’s Le Mans 24h. Could this be a small step towards another collaboration that creates a new global roadmap for GT racing?
Around the world, GT racing has flourished, mainly because of the brilliant GT3 regulations created by another promoter, SRO. Looking ahead ten years, I’m not sure it will maintain its success. EU regulations mean that the 2035 successors to the likes of the Aston Martin Vantage, Mercedes AMG GT, Lamborghini Huracan and Ferrari GTB will be battery powered. On the road, they will be even more ferocious than their current petrol-powered forerunners, but the heavier platform will make them less effective as race cars. Already, many manufacturers have chosen to focus on hybrid-prototypes instead of GT, with the top tier Le Mans cars having the styling cues of production cars.
That’s why I see the ‘NASCAR at Le Mans’ story as much more than a one-off novelty. It’s an opportunity to create a new global platform for GT racing, once the current GT3 cars become obsolete.
NASCAR is a silhouette formula, with a road car shape wrapped around a robust racing chassis. I’d argue this is a better basis for a 2030s GT race car than something based on an exotic road-going supercar. With hybrid power and sustainable fuel, the NASCAR formula is well placed to meet the challenge of balancing net-zero carbon targets with the energy density needed for an endurance race
A Common Goal
With NASCAR already having brands such as Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet represented, it’s a great complement to some of the more exotic brands that are going down the prototype route. If a transatlantic entente cordiale can secure the future of top-level prototype racing, I believe a long-range vision on global GT and NASCAR collaboration can do the same to build an exciting future for the ‘road car’ categories, attracting new brands to motorsport with loud, spectacular and sustainable cars. Just as we are seeing in the prototype classes, a common global platform will be more cost effective for brands wanting to compete in NASCAR, Le Mans and global GT racing.
All it takes is a common goal and a plan aligned with all stakeholders. That’s the secret of successful change management.
The Business of Motorsport
Motorsport is a big business. The skills required to work at the upper echelons of the sport are unique. The National Motorsport Academy’s Business School was set up to help people to convert their existing commercial skills to the world of motorsport. Find out more about our Post Graduate business courses.