FIA European GT3

19.01.2006 The new Ferrari F430 Challenge and the Maserati Light GT will be on the grid to do battle when the inaugural FIA European GT3 series kicks off AT SILVERSTONE IN MAY

The European GT3 series, which kicks off at Silverstone on May 7th, will be open to road-derived sportscars that are levelled by their power-to-weight ratios, and driven by amateur racing drivers. Ferrari, Maserati, and most likely Lamborghini will be on the grid to do battle. The inaugural five-round series will accompany the FIA GT Championship on its travels, replacing the FIA World Touring Car Championship on the bill, now that it has split away. The races this year will be held in the UK (Silverstone), Germany (Oschersleben), Belgium (Spa), France (Magny-Cours) and Italy (Imola), with an expansion to six-races scheduled for 2007.

So far the new FIA European GT3 series has really fired the imagination of the low-volume, prestige carmakers, and the leading Italian sportscar brands - Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini - will all be well represented on the grid for the opening round at Silverstone. This week Italian team AF Corse announced its intention to run the Maserati Light GT in the series. AF Corse have a wealth of experience with the car, running in the GT3 class in Italy, as well as preparing the Maserati GranSport Trofeo cars, and having assisted previously with the MC12 GT1 programme. Team boss Amato Ferrari explained: "AF Corse races with a Maserati Light in the GT3 class and won the Italian GT Championship, so when we heard about the FIA GT3 European Championship we thought it was an excellent opportunity to race in the same class with a Maserati on prestigious circuits all around Europe alongside the FIA GT Championship. AF Corse is very excited about this coming season."

This news follows hard on the heels of several announcements by teams who plan to enter the brand-new Ferrari F430 Challenge GT3. Introduced to the public last September at the Frankfurt IAA, the new F430 Challenge will hit the race tracks in earnest this year in the Ferrari Challenge series' which take place in Italy, Europe and North America, and eventually replace the incumbent 360 Challenge. Ferrari have recently revealed that more than a hundred of these exciting new machines will be built this year, and French outfit Mach One Racing were the first to announce that they will be competing in the inaugural FIA GT3 European Championship, with three F430 Challenge GT3s, earlier this month. The team's first track outing will be the next officially planned GT3 test session, programmed for March 6th and 7th, once again at the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track.

Mach One Racing's New Year announcement was followed swiftly by Monaco-based JMB Racing who have been ever present in the FIA GT Championship since 2000. They will enter three Ferrari F430 Challenge GT3 cars. “We have claimed a grand total of ten titles with Ferrari since 1998, with the Ferrari 333SP, the Ferrari 360 Modena and the Ferrari 575 GTC.  It is therefore quite natural for JMB Racing to respond to the request of our gentlemen drivers and give the much-anticipated F430 its debut in this promising new FIA GT3 Championship,” explained JMB's Jean-Michel Bouresche.

Maserati Light GT
Maserati Light GT

This week Italian team AF Corse announced its intention to run the Maserati Light GT in the FIA European GT3 series this year. AF Corse have a wealth of experience with the car, having won the GT3 class in the Italian GT Championship last year.

Ferrari F430 Challenge

The new Ferrari F430 Challenge (seen here during its United States debut at the Detroit Motor Show last week) will be well represented in the inaugural FIA European GT3 Championship

Christophe Bouchut

Former triple FIA GT Champion, Frenchman Christophe Bouchut, tests out the Maserati Light GT at the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit in his role as official FIA European GT3 tester, prior to Christmas

Meanwhile, the Italian brands will face tough competition for inaugural honours. The first two GT3 teams to be announced, just prior to Christmas, were BMS Scuderia Italia (who have campaigned the Ferrari 550 Maranello with such success in GT) and Barwell Motorsport (who previous won the Production Class in the British Touring Car Championship), both outfits will be entering three Aston Martin DBRS9 racers. Dodge recently confirmed it will have at least six cars on the grid this year, with two teams having already committed themselves. By using the race-proven Viper model, the US carmaker hopes to steal a march on its rivals. The Lotus Sport Exige GT3 weighs in at only 750 kilos, and has been developed by Lotus Sport, the performance and competition department of Lotus Cars. The Exige's 1.8-litre engine will produces 285bhp at 7,800 rpm, giving it power-to-weight ratio of 380 bhp/ton. "Its first test at Paul Ricard proved very promising, we were delighted to attend the official FIA test session," said Chris Arnold, the General Manager of Lotus Sport last month. "We knew this test would be a first shakedown for the car on slicks and I'm very pleased with the results."

British GT Championship regulars Damax will make the step up to the new category with a pair of factory-backed Ascari GT3 sportscars. The team has raced in the British championship for the past two seasons, but boss Robin Ward was delighted to be making the move, having been eyeing the international scene for some time. "We have been looking for a way into the FIA GT Championship for some time now, and this association with Ascari gives us the perfect opportunity," he explained, "We are all looking forward to working with Ascari and I am confident we can achieve great results with this car."

French race team Riverside intends to enter with the new Corvette Z06 GT3. Team owner Philippe Dagostino commented: “As a long time friend of Stéphane Ratel I have been part of his racing programmes from the very beginning. We started with the Venturi Trophy back in 1992 and then continued in the Lamborghini SuperTrophy, followed by the French GT Championship, where we have entered Lamborghinis since 1998. It is a great opportunity for Team Riverside to step up to a FIA European Championship.” Helping to swell the new series' numbers further still, JMB Racing will enter three Venturi Heritage GT3 racers alongside their Ferrari F430 Challenge GT3 line-up, spearheading the specialist French sportscar maker's return to competition. Further diversity this year will come from the perennial Porsche Type 997, while Japanese interest will be provided by the Nissan 350Z.

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The Maserati GranSport Light and the Lamborghini Gallardo both took to the track last week as the new European GT3 Championship arrived in Paul Ricard for its first official testing session

Additional information: SRO / Photos: Maserati Corse, SRO & MSN Motors / © 2006 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed