Are today's GT3 competition machines tomorrow's vintage racers?

Photography by Dirk de Jager

These retired GT3 cars are an enticing ticket into historic racing. After competition careers around the world–places like Daytona and Sebring, Spa and Nürburgring–they still have a spot on the grid at those famed tracks. But today it’s with HSR and other historic racing sanctioning bodies. 

Looking to race overseas? In Europe, you’ll find these cars running up the hill at Goodwood and blazing through the darkness at Le Mans Classic. 

Plus, these GT3 machines represent a deal compared to other fast, factory-built race cars.

Born on the Streets

How do you turn a production car into a race car? It depends. 

Porsche, of course, has a long history of selling race cars to private entrants, happily letting privateers take their chances against the factory team in the 956 and 962 prototype racers. 

But for other carmakers, motorsport was often outsourced or plain neglected. Preparing race cars was mainly left in the hands of specialized race shops that would either race the cars themselves or sell the cars to other teams.

With the arrival of the FIA’s GT3 category in the middle of the 2000s, however, it seemed all constructors suddenly understood Porsche’s business model. While cars running under the GT1 and GT2 rules were still very much specialized GT racers built from the ground up–often in very, very limited numbers and barely resembling the street-going versions–the GT3 race cars were more closely linked with production vehicles, wearing body shells that rolled straight off the production line. 

Motorsports’ worldwide adoption of GT3 regulations means hundreds of factory-authorized, relatively mass-produced race cars from some of the top builders. Two popular options: the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR and Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3.

Power deficits were ironed out through the controversial yet effective “balance of power,” a measure that created a more or less level playing field. It led to a new ready-to-race generation of GT cars.

One last piece of the puzzle: How do you get the cars to the race teams? Some car companies, like Porsche, Audi and BMW, operate their own in-house motorsports programs. Other manufacturers work with outside firms that handle sales, support and logistics. 

The modern version of GT3 racing made its debut for the 2006 season, and within five years it had become the dominant class in GT racing worldwide. The cars proved easy to run and easy to drive, the ideal formula in a world that saw motorsport catering ever more to paying and gentleman drivers. From Bathurst to Road America, GT3 cars were everywhere.

This success led to unseen numbers of GT3 race cars, with newer ones frequently replacing earlier models. Rather than heading to the scrapyard, those retired race cars quickly found a home in historic racing. 

And because they’re so widely available, they can be relatively inexpensive. Depending on their spares package, provenance and rarity, these earlier GT3 cars can start around $100,000–and that’s for a factory-built race car, often with some real motorsports pedigree. (By comparison, the more exclusive GT1 and GT2 cars generally trade for more than a million.)

Another advantage: The GT3 cars are fairly easy to operate, making them fall under the arrive-and-drive philosophy. This gives them the potential to bring a new type of driver to historic racing.

“Compared to more exotic older race cars, these more modern racers are cheaper to acquire and easier to run,” explains Jarrah Venables, organizer of Endurance Racing Legends, the international endurance racing group. “They offer amazing performance yet feeling very safe at the same time.” 

Porsche 911 GT3 RSR: From a Long Line of Race-Bred Machines

Almost every manufacturer has been involved with GT3 cars since the class’s debut nearly 20 years ago: Porsche and Ferrari, of course, but also Aston Martin and Audi, BMW and Lamborghini. McLaren has been a regular player, too. Ford has dabbled with a Mustang program, while Callaway fielded modified Corvettes. 

More GT3 offerings include race-ready versions of the Dodge Viper, Audi R8, Mercedes-Benz SLS and Ford GT. Looking to step away from the mainstream? Enter the Morgan Plus 8, Bentley Continental and Nissan GT-R. Others have come from Jaguar, Lexus and even Cadillac. Out of all these options, two of the more popular are based on the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage, respectively. 

The Porsche 911 GT3 RSR might have been developed for the track, but its street car roots still come through. The safety gear, including the cage, carries FIA approval.

Porsche released its first 911 GT3 Cup car back in 1998 as a competition-ready version of the ever-popular 911: more power, stickier suspension, improved aero and less weight. Porsche has continued to evolve the GT3 Cup up through and including the latest 992-chassis cars.

For those seeking more speed–when it was allowed by various worldwide racing regs–Porsche added the GT3 RSR to the lineup in 2006. This one was quite a big deal when it first appeared, packing 465 horsepower from 3.8 liters of displacement. (That’s actually less output than the standard road car; credit the balance of power for the horsepower cut, although it does improve drivetrain life.)

This particular GT3 RSR–one of 35 copies built for 2008–has led the typical life of a customer Porsche racer. It debuted that same year, when the Vici Racing squad entered it in the American Le Mans Series; German driver Marc Basseng and the Dutch Pastorelli brothers took turns behind the wheel. 

This car, though, was never a highflier. It ran with different sponsorships–most notably a pink-and-white Deutsche Telekom livery at Elkhart Lake–and retired in five of the seven races it started that season: three times with a mechanical issue, twice after a crash. In Mid-Ohio it came home 19th overall and ninth in class; at Elkhart Lake it finished 22nd overall and eighth in class. It’s had fairly anonymous career–filling up the grid, one might say. 

Despite the lukewarm professional career, this is still a factory-built race car from one of the most famed brands out there. How many other cars can lay that same claim?

Behind the Wheel

Like other famed Porsche 911 race cars–think the 934, 935 and so on–this one represents a road car on steroids, to say the least: big wheel arch extensions, dinner table-sized rear spoiler, central exhaust, and carbon for the doors, hood and deck lid. 

The roll cage is cut out low at the doors, making for easy entry–just one of the details showing the attention Porsche pays to usability. 

Then it’s just a matter of turning on the master switch and pushing the starter button to hear that typical Zuffenhausen symphony: slightly brutal in the overture but quickly settling down to a gentle yet present drum. The Motec display lights up, and now you can select first gear. 

This is an older type of sequential gearbox, so it’s still stick operated. You pull as you go up the gears and push to go down. The clutch can be skipped on the upshifts; you only need it to pull away in first and on the downshifts. The operating procedure asks for full throttle if you want to shift up. A loud, brutal “cloink” signifies the arrival of the next gear. 

Tire temperatures build up quickly, allowing you to go a bit further on every new lap. Grip is massive, but compared to more modern 911 racers, the GT3 RSR feels a bit livelier in the corner transitions. A slight wobble is there just to give you a bit of warning, but the rears remain very much glued to the asphalt. 

The car is light on the driver yet precise in its movements. It feels like only the fuel tank capacity is there to stop your progress. The 911 remains the perfect car for learning about racing, but the RSR adds an extra level in the final part of the rev range. 

As you come closer to the limiter, an extra dose of aggression sneaks in, making the RSR feel more alive exiting the corner. You find yourself astonished by how quickly you’re firing all these 465 horses on–in the dry, at least.

Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: A Nürburgring Legend

Our Aston Martin is a different matter. Where our Porsche was a privateer entry, this particular car was campaigned by the factory with a singular goal: to take the laurels in the Nürburgring 24 Hours. Its iconic Bilstein colors gave the car a nickname that sticks to this day: Billie. 

Peel away a layer or two, and the Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 quickly shows its original DNA. These GT3 cars were designed to accommodate both paying drivers and factory hotshoes. 

Billie played its part in establishing the V12 Vantage as a seriously quick contender in GT3 categories all over the world and helped Aston Martin sell 45 chassis total. 

“The Vantage V12 has been the longest-running GT3 car of its time,” says Andy Williamson at Prodrive, the famed race car constructor that built this machine for Aston Martin. Two of the cars from that run, chassis 06 and 32, are the only ones that ever officially raced through the Aston Martin Racing works team, even though both were privately owned.

Aston Martin celebrated its centenary in 2013 with big motorsports plans. Hoping to add to its tally of victories in the 1000-kilometer races at the Nürburgring from 1957, 1958 and 1959, the carmaker sent in Billie and an all-star cast of drivers: former Formula 1 driver Pedro Lamy, Darren Turner, Stefan Mücke and Allan Simonsen, the Dane who lost his life just weeks later in an Aston Martin at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

Lamy put Billie second on the grid in qualifying. It was clear the Vantage was on the pace, and with this fast crew Billie led the Nürburgring 24 Hours for more than half the race. 

However, a typical long break in the race because of dense fog began Billie’s downfall. The Michelin tires were sublime in the dry, but in the cold they proved impossible to warm up, and Billie slipped down in the order, eventually ending the race in 10th place. 

In 2014, the outcome was better–fifth place–but, as the fastest lap in the race by Darren Turner proved, the outcome could have been better. Refuelling issues caused Billie to lose some places in a very hard-fought edition of the race. This chassis was also used in Britcar and Blancpain endurance series and won the Aston Martin support race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2015.

Behind the Wheel

There’s no denying it, this is an awesome car. Just by looking at it, you feel intimidated. That’s probably just what it was designed to do: Destabilize the opposition visually. And it hasn’t even started. 

This one is a bit more complicated to fire up than the Porsche, as the starter button hides in a sea of carbon and fluorescent buttons and switches. Owner Mike Gensemeyer talks us through it: “You need to be aware that there are different positions for the ignition switch. Only in the right position will a push on that original Aston Martin starter button lead to engine noise.” 

A lot of engine noise at that. The Aston is happy with only the shortest of exhaust pipes, coming out right before the rear wheels at both sides–and very close to your ears. The engine is, of course, the same as the production Vantage V12, but it’s allowed to express itself more freely, shall we say. At first it’s not an aggressive noise; the bark only comes when you hit the gas pedal.

Pulling away is the tricky part. To engage first gear, you need to press the clutch pedal, hit the neutral button on the steering wheel with your left hand, and click the paddle on the right side of the steering wheel with your other hand. 

Only then does the big clunk and the display tell you that you’re ready to go. With that, the most difficult part of the Vantage GT3 is out of the way. 

You only need the clutch for taking off in first gear–and it takes quite a bit of revs to pull away. This engine has so much torque, it pulls away nicely without slipping the clutch. On the pit limiter, the electronics make for a smooth exit, and now you’re gone. No need for the clutch anymore; all is taken care of automatically.

The Vantage GT3 takes a bit of getting used to. The driver sits far back in the very wide car, making it difficult to judge its proportions. On top of that, you sit very low, giving you a very limited view of what’s happening around you. But none of that matters, because the Aston has some serious magic up its sleeve: Once you get going, it offers surprising levels of competence. And then there’s that engine note. With every additional 1000 rpm, the vocals change. Giving it the full “glory, hallelujah” on the straight, the engine goes all Händel on you. 

Each flick behind the wheel brings a new cantata. Oh, how this engine pulls as it revs ever higher. This is one very rev-hungry V12, happy to play in the top of the tach all day. Forget about torque, this engine was built to rely on sheer horsepower–and it has plenty to play with. 

We’re using the baby engine mapping today, giving us just 500 horsepower, but the V12 was good for between 550 and 600 in its racing days. Even then it was reined in due to the balance of performance. Without restrictors, this thing would easily hit 700 horsepower. Traction control and ABS are there to discreetly keep you out of trouble.

Driving this car is easy once you get used to the dimensions. It has power steering and requires no more effort on turn-in than a regular road-going Aston. It steers in sharply, without hesitation. 

The only downside is the braking performance. The car now runs with the endurance brakes, which were built to last longer but, as we find out, also require earlier action. A lot of speed needs to be scrubbed off for the first chicane after the straight, and the Aston seems to need a bit of distance.

As we add speed, the real magic comes through: The Aston allows the driver to take different lines without causing trouble. The intimidating feeling is gone, replaced with confidence through the corners. 

Is It Possible to Pick a Winner?

Parking up next to the Porsche, it’s time to draw conclusions. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap way–strike that, a less costly way–into historic racing, these GT3s offer fantastic value for money. Both are forgiving and easy to drive while offering staggering performance. And they’re probably easy to trade in if, say, you grew tired of the Audi R8 and would like to have a go in the Bentley Continental GT3.

Then there’s the collector aspect. Remember, these all represent factory-built race cars.

Thank you, Britec Motorsports and Autodrom Most.

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sir_mike Reader
4/11/22 9:07 a.m.

Maybe but as long as they are in their own group.Maybe their own series like the vintage Trans Am racers have??

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
4/19/22 2:54 p.m.
sir_mike said:

Maybe but as long as they are in their own group.Maybe their own series like the vintage Trans Am racers have??

Yeah, I don't see GT3 cars mixing it up with MGs and 510s, but we’re definitely seeing more of them on the historic grids. 

10/3/22 12:28 a.m.

That is great. I wish that I own for myself one.

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