It’s hard not to look at a GT-category race car in SCCA Road Racing competition and not be a little gobsmacked. From tubeframes to technologically developed engines to unique suspension and driveline solutions, these are race cars through and through. Unfortunately, not all of SCCA’s most exciting racing classes are highly subscribed to, and GT3 is no exception. But there’s hope, and with help from some friends – namely GT3 racers and enthusiastic manufacturers and suppliers – GT3 could soon return to its glory.
GT3 competitor Rob Warkocki tells a tale of the Runoffs from the early 1990s. One year, participation was down, as was the level of competition.
“It was an embarrassment and everybody felt that E Production was gone,” Warkocki recalls. “But what happened was they classed all of the ITA cars, which was a huge class regionally, and suddenly there were a bunch of RX-7s in there and then the Miata came in, and that was it, the class took off again.
“Now E Production looks like a bunch of heroes because participation is incredible, but that class was on death’s doorstep. It’s amazing what can happen with inspiration and when the right set of minds come together.”
Warkocki has been around and he knows that racing, both personally and as a class, has its highs and lows. Warkocki has attended the Runoffs more than 20 times, claiming a pair of National Championships along the way, all in GT3. He’s helped others, been helped, and done it all while racing a Mazda RX-7.
“I’ve been running GT3 since 1986, so I have a full history of the class, the previous drivers, the current drivers, where the cars are, plus the whole history of where the class has been and where it is now,” Warkocki explains.
Consequently, when Mazda Motorsports was looking to develop an idea that was born at the 2018 Hoosier Super Tour at VIRginia International Raceway, Warkocki received one of the first calls.
An idea is born
“I was contacted by [Business Development Manager for Mazda Motorsports] David Cook in the early spring about GT3 participation,” Warkocki says. “We ended up putting together a team to come up with ideas about the GT3 class, the cars, the drivers, the engine manufacturers, and chassis builders to try to get an idea of where the class is heading and why, and if there was anything we could do to make an effective change.”
The immediate goal was to boost GT3 class participation, but not necessarily for the reasons you might think. “It’s not about the class or the cars specifically, it’s about the racers,” Cook explains about Mazda’s involvement. “The racers in GT3 have made a significant investment over the years – sometimes over 20 years – and we see the class size shrinking, reducing the experience and the value for those long-term Mazda racers. We realized the only way we could stay true to ensuring our racers have the experience they deserve with Mazda was to substantially invest in them and the class.”
The initial concept of the GT3 Challenge was born during the 2018 VIR race weekend, and 2016 Runoffs GT3 National Champion Stacy Wilson was there when it happened. Wilson was competing in GT3 that weekend and got pulled into a brainstorming meeting with Cook, Steve Strickland, and several GT3 racers. The idea they came up with was simple: Encourage GT3 racers to participate in four key SCCA events before the 2019 Runoffs, splitting them up regionally, and crowning an overall GT3 Challenge winner at that Runoffs. Also, the special events should be appealing for all GT3 racers, not just those piloting Mazdas.
“I love the class,” says Wilson of GT3, a class he’s raced in since 1990. “Speed-wise, it’s probably as fast as anybody would want to go. The speed is tremendous, the cars handle great, and they’re one of a kind. It’s a very intriguing class. For me, one of the selling factors of GT3 is the engineering aspect – I try to be as good as I can be.”
But one major hurdle for GT3 class participation, Wilson pointed out at the meeting, is budgetary.
“I think the biggest obstacle for anyone going to a race is finances,” he says. “Sometimes there are things you can do about your budget and sometimes there aren’t. I know that if I don’t have the money, I just can’t go racing.
“Years ago, I would go through the scrap pile at the tire trailer and pick out the best used tires I could find in order to race,” Wilson says. “For me, I have to think about every tank of fuel I put in my tow vehicle.” Consequently, for Wilson, financial support for the GT3 Challenge was a necessity.
Tackling that, Mazda decided it would offer GT3 Challenge racers competing in Mazdas contingency payouts through (and perhaps beyond) 10th, increasing not only the number of racers normally offered contingency payouts but also the amount paid to each position. But while that was a good start, the group acknowledged more was needed.
“There will be significantly enhanced prizing across the board at GT3 Challenge events, not just for Mazda racers,” Cook explains. “In addition to the contingency awards for Mazda racers being bolstered, the GT3 Challenge is going to have a social event each weekend for all in the GT3 Challenge. We’ll have T-shirts and trophies, plus subsidies for GT3 Challenge entries will be applied to everyone, not just Mazda drivers. Also, Hoosier is increasing its contingency payout, and MPI [Max Papis Innovations] is going to be the title sponsor for the GT3 Challenge events.”
“I think Mazda has hit on a number of things, like putting contingency offerings further down the field,” says Wilson. “There are some people who might consider coming [to a GT3 Challenge race weekend] but they know they really don’t have a chance of winning, so if contingency is only offered for the winners, they might not come. Things like this can help make sure we have good fields, and that’s a win for everybody.”