Johannesburg – Until now, the only way a talented South African driver could get to race the world’s most exciting sports-cars in a proper GT3 series (and the only their fans could watch it live) was to go overseas.
But that’s about to change, with the announcement of the 2017 South African GT Challenge, to be run over seven rounds on this country’s top circuits, in tandem with the South African Endurance championship.
And this is the real thing. The series will comprise three classes, at least to start with; the top tier will be open to current GT3 racing supercars, running to international FIA regulations and Balance of Performance, similar to the FIA World Endurance championship, the ADAC Masters and Blancpain series in Europe, and IMSA racing in the United States.
Eligible models include the Ferrari 488 and 458, the Lamborghini Huracan and Gallardo, racing-spec McLarens, Porsche 911s, Audi R8s, the Bentley Continental GT3, and Mercedes-AMG SLS and GT. Although these makers do not build cars specifically to GT3 specification, it is also possible to modify a Chev Corvette, Dodge Viper or Aston Martin V8 Vantage to conform to the class rules.
According to SA GT Challenge coordinator Charl Aranges, with the GT3 cars already running in regional sports-car races in South Africa, plus a significant number of new cars on their way, there will be sufficient entries to run a world-class series. In addition, by running the SA GT Challenge to international GT3 rules he hopes to attract teams from around the world to the series.
And if that’s not enough to to whet your appetite...
The Challenge category will be open to previous-generation GT3 cars, while the GT4 class will cater for performance cars such as the Audi TT, BMW M3, Ford Mustang, Lotus Evora, Maserati Granturismo MC, Mazda MX5, Nissan 370Z, Porsche Cayman GT4 and the gorgeous little Toyota 86.
Expect more details as the teams are formed, sponsors signed and new cars arrive in South Africa, he says.
Each round of the South African Endurance Championship will feature two GT Challenge races – a 10-12 lap sprint, followed by feature race of 45 minutes to an hour, including a mandatory pit stop and an optional driver change. And in case you can’t get to all the venues, each GT Challenge race will be streamed live.
The series will kick off at Phakisa in the Free State – which was built for MotoGP racing but is also suited to sports-cars – on 25 February. Round 2 at Cape Town’s shorter, bumpier Killarney circuit in April will pose significant suspension set-up challenges for these immensely powerful cars, while engine performance will be key at the super-quick East London Grand Prix Circuit at the end of June.
Braking and acceleration will be sorely tested at the tight and tricky Dezzi Raceway on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast in mid-August and again at Aldo Scribante in Port Elizabeth in October. Then there will be a second visit to Phakisa in November, before the season finale at the newly rebuilt Kyalami in early December.