The end of this month’s Bahrain 8 Hours marked the end of WEC’s fully professional GTE division, amid a shift in the manufacturer’s interest in the new hypercar class of concept cars.
The GTE Pro has been a constant staple in the championship since its rebirth in 2012 and has been beloved by fans around the world throughout its tenure, even at the height of the LMP1 class in the mid-2010s.
It attracted huge interest from auto manufacturers from both Europe and America, with Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, Ford, BMW and Corvette joining with full factory teams.
However, there has been a steady decline in the GTE Pro since it peaked at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2019 at 17 entries, with only five cars entering the full WEC season this year.
The decision to phase out the GTE Pro was announced on the eve of this year’s Le Mans race in June, when plans for a new division of GT3 cars from 2024 were also announced.
Corvette driver Nick Tandy, who also achieved great success in the IMSA-equivalent GTLM class that met the same fate last year, said he was proud to be part of this unforgettable era of sports car racing.
“I remember in my late teens, 2018-19, the actual racing between cars, manufacturers and teams was, from my entire racing career from Formula cars to prototypes to GT cars, the best racing I’ve ever seen, and to be a part of it was something Brilliant,” the Briton told Motorsport.com.
“I remember the days when there were five different manufacturing teams at IMSA, all of them racing against each other week in and week out, and it was just super competitive.
“We look at the year there were 17 professional cars at Le Mans. The year after LMP1 faded showed how strong GTE and GTLM were as a product and how good the regulations and the cars were, which meant all the manufacturers and teams wanted to be a part of.
“You just have to be happy about the good years and remember them and celebrate that instead of lamenting the end of an era.”
#52 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo LMGTE Pros: Miguel Molina, Antonio Fuoco
Photo by: Ferrari
Two of the existing GTE Pro manufacturers, Ferrari and Porsche, will take to the top class at next year’s WEC with their hybrid prototypes.
James Calado is expected to make the same move with Ferrari, but he feels the GTE Pro was so competitive that even class wins were as important as scoring outright WEC honors.
“When everyone says top-class, everyone assumes LMH, but honestly we have the best GT class, it’s the same thing – just a different car,” Calado, who clinched his third WEC class title in Bahrain, told Motorsport.com.
“It’s the same achievement that if you win a GTE [or] I earned at LMH, same for me.
“Just because it’s a different category doesn’t mean it isn’t as high and priority as the other category.”
Michael Kristensen clinched the 2018/19 GTE Pro title with Porsche and took his first victory at Le Mans during the same year.
The Danish driver said he will fondly remember his spell in the GTE Pro, the results of which helped him land a spot in Porsche’s LMDh program for the 2023 season.
“It’s a great time for me personally,” he told Motorsport.com. “I thought they were very cool cars. You could relate to the street car [and at the same time have] Highly professional racing teams from manufacturers and factory drivers.
“It’s a place that has had some ups and downs in terms of competition, but it’s definitely some great moments, great competition and I learned a lot. A great era for GT racing.”
Porsche has been present in the GTE Pro as a works team since 2013 and its participation in the class hasn’t faltered even as it launched an assault on outright victories with the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car from 2014-17.
While acknowledging that manufacturers’ budgets on the GTE Pro have been stretched, Porsche Motorsport chief Thomas Laudenbach said he would look at the segment in a “positive way”.
“I would say it was a very successful engagement [for Porsche]“The cars are still great race cars,” Laudenbach told Motorsport.com.
“If I were to still look at it, the costs may have gone a little too far over the years, which we see a lot, but overall, we’re obviously looking back in a very positive way.
“I think we’ve seen great races, and I think we’ve seen great results also from our car, from our brand.
“So overall, I would say obviously very positive, great memories. Also, hard times, no doubt. But overall, I think if we close this chapter, we do it in a very nice way.”
The GTE cars would continue to find a place at WEC for another year in the Am division before being phased out entirely in 2024 to make way for the more affordable but less sophisticated GT3 machines.