FIA GT Championship
The FIA GT Championship is a sports car racing series organized by the Stéphane Ratel Organisations (SRO) at the behest of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). The championship is mostly concentrated in Europe, but throughout the years has visited other continents, most lately visiting Asia.
FIA currently defines two categories of GT cars: GT1, or Grand Touring Cars, and GT2, or Series Grand Touring Cars. Each category has an annual driver champion, team champion, and manufacturer champion. Both categories are based on production road car designs, which must be produced in a minimum quantity of 25 examples to qualify. Both types may undergo significant modifications from the road car they are based on, but GT1 allows the use of exotic materials, better aerodynamics, larger brakes, wider tyres and larger engine admission restrictors.
For the 2006 season, the FIA has created a new class called GT3. GT3 cars are even closer to their production counterparts and are very simply racetrack prepared with the essentials (rollcages for safety, stripped interiors, race spec fuel tanks, etc.). Prestigious motorsports makes such as Aston Martin, Corvette, Dodge, Lamborghini and Maserati take part in FIA GT3 European Cup, a support series in some rounds of the main championship.
The FIA defines a GT car as "an open or closed automobile which has no more than one door on each side and a minimum of two seats situated one on each side of the longitudinal centre line of the car; these two seats must be crossed by the same transversal plane. This car must be able to be used perfectly legally on the open road, and adapted for racing on circuits or closed courses."
All races in the FIA GT Championship are of endurance type, a full race distance lasting a minimum of 500 km or a maximum of three hours, with the exception of the Spa 24 Hours and the Mil Milhas Brasileiras, which is run over a thousand miles and will be a round of the championship from 2007.
The FIA GT Championship began in 1994 as the BPR Global GT Series, a privately run series of endurance races for GT cars with gentlemen drivers. The series filled the gap left in European endurance racing after the demise of the World Sportscar Championship. The series was organized by independent company BPR (Jurgen Barth, Philippe Petit and Stéphane Ratel) and took advantage of pre-existing material from one-make cups organized by Venturi, Porsche and Ferrari.
Soon, other companies such as Marcos, McLaren and Lotus, alongside the pre-existing constructors, started building cars specifically for the new series, although it was still based in real production-based GT cars. The McLaren F1 GTR soon proved the most dominating car, with Porsche and Venturi ruling the smaller categories.
In 1997, due to interest from manufacturers Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Panoz, the FIA took over as governing body, standardizing the race-length at 500 km, liberalizing the technical regulations and leaving commercial exploitation in the hands of Stéphane Ratel, who managed to get TV support from the pan-European TV station Eurosport. The new manufacturers built "homologation specials", racing-bred cars that took full advantage of the new rules, to build quasi-prototypes with very limited production runs of 25 cars. Chrysler, Lister and Marcos, not wanting to accompany the cost escalation, moved down to the GT2 class.
This proved to be the wisest move, as Mercedes completely dominated the new category and the other manufacturers pulled out after the end of the 1998 season. This left Chrysler's Viper to become the dominating car in the series, with the aging Porsche 993 GT2 and the Lister Storm providing a certain degree of competition.
However, there was no lower inexpensive category for amateur drivers, and this lead to the creation of the N-GT class in 2000. While the manufacturer field in the main class blossomed, the new category became swamped with Porsches and Ferraris, but lower running costs meant both classes enjoyed a balanced number of entries. In order to boost the championship's status, the SRO added the 24 Hours of Spa, previously a touring car race, to the calendar, where it became the series' most important race. The FIA also banned official manufacturer involvement, although certain teams had preferential treatment, with Porsche establishing a "round robin" system.
After the end of the 2004 season, the FIA renamed the classes GT1 and GT2, and somewhat liberalized the GT1 regulations, allowing "supercars". While this was made to accommodate the Saleen S7, the biggest beneficiary was the purpose-built Maserati MC12, which lead the FIA to impose aerodynamic limitations on the Italian car. However, thanks to a weight penalty system, the fight for the championship is protected from more domineering cars. The level of competition remains tight, with gentlemen drivers managing to fight for the wins with professional drivers, some of them with Formula 1 experience.