After months of heated debate and barely private negotiations, the ACO has finally decided that GT cars will stay at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The new class will be based on the current global GT3 platform and will debut in 2024. However, the new class at Le Mans is currently targeted only toward pro-am entries, which would mean the end of all factory GT racing at the 24-hour classic.
The specifics of the format have yet to be worked out, but FIA Endurance Commission chairman Richard Mille (yes, the watch guy) told Sportscar365 that a modern factory team like Corvette Racing would have to "come with amateur drivers and private teams" if they wanted to keep racing in the GT categories of the 24-hour classic. Like current GTE-Pro entrants Porsche and Ferrari, Corvette parent company General Motors is widely expected to compete for the overall win at Le Mans on the prototype side in 2023 with a Cadillac-branded entry.
In theory, the decision is designed to ensure a continuation of the multi-class racing format we all know at the Circuit de la Sarthe while removing split factory element that has in many past years made GT racing more competitive than the top prototype class. However, the current incarnation of pro-am GT racing at Le Mans, GTE-Am, features more factory teams than its professional equivalent: While Aston Martin has abandoned GTE-Pro, its factory efforts continue alongside the teams running Porsche and Ferrari's factory programs in the amateur class.
The move follows a similar decision made on a much faster timeline by IMSA, which has replaced its GTE-based GTLM category with a GT3-based GTD Pro starting in 2022. In addition to IMSA, both the Asian Le Mans Series and European Le Mans Series have already separately featured components involving GT3 cars in recent years.
Both the current format of IMSA GTD and the GT3-based categories overseas already follow a pro-am format. While it includes no factory entries by rule, IMSA's current GTD class has factory-supported and effectively professional entries from both Porsche and Lexus. At Le Mans, the LMP2 category has seen a similar trend of all-professional lineups hidden behind amateur driver ratings. When the new rules go into effect, it is likely that many teams on the grid will be these sorts of pseudo-factory professional programs.
By contrast, IMSA's GTD Pro category will have a direct emphasis on factory and factory-like competition. The split means the actual grids will be different, but this news and the recent announcement that LMH cars will be eligible to race in IMSA's top class together combine to indicate a world where both major classes of racing in IMSA and the World Endurance Championship will use the same basic cars going forward. It is the first such serious convergence of classes since the peak of the American Le Mans Series faded out of existence just over a decade ago.