GT3 racing is passing a significant milestone. It’s been 15 years since the cars took to the track in the first ever FIA GT3 European Championship. Despite being a performance-balanced class, the push for development is still constant both on- and off-track, and GT3 cars have evolved at a phenomenal rate.
Sven Schnabl, head of Schnabl Engineering, has been close to this evolution, with his team responsible for Falken Motorsport’s efforts at the 24 Hours Nürburgring and the NLS Endurance Series for the last decade. Debuting with a sole Porsche 997-generation 911 GT3 R on the Nordschleife in 2011, the team now plans on racing two, latest-generation (991) 911 GT3 Rs in the 2021 season.
Speaking to Professional Motorsport World, Schnabl highlighted what he identified as some of the more notable developments in the category, considering what’s changed and what’s remained the same since he and the team first debuted on the Nordschleife.
“GT3 racing has always been about ensuring racing is accessible and value for money,” Schnabl comment. “The racing is some of the most competitive you will see; it’s challenging for the drivers and great for the fans. For us, on the development side, we’re contending with cars that are much faster and with greater similarities than ever before. We’re at a time when every detail counts!”
Schnabl notes that one of the key developments has been a shift from standard components in cars to those more suited to the rigors of racing. In the early days of GT3, manufacturers carried over many production parts to the race cars, but the number has steadily reduced with most cars now featuring bespoke bodywork and suspension components.
Another area he highlights is how much easier maintenance has become over the past decade: “Manufacturers definitely try to make it easier to change parts or do set up changes. For instance, the latest front suspension changes on the Porsche have been vital. The new set-up shim concept, which is similar to the RSR, makes it much faster to change toe or castor at the track. Before this, it took a long time to make revisions in the pit box.”
Schnabl points out that though it’s difficult to make comparisons between now and 2011 given all of the factors that can affect a lap time, not least BoP, improvements in tire technology have definitely seen cornering speeds rising. In the case of Falken at least, tire engineers now create specific version to handle the nuances of the Nordschleife and its varying tarmac, concrete, gradients, jumps and curbs.
He is firm believer in the impact of the development of tire technology. “I truly believe that if you fitted the tires of the 2011 car to today’s car, it would be considerably slower. It’s amazing how much these have changed. Events like the Nürburgring can really help us to improve.”
Schnabl’s drivers have noticed the changes too; the first 997 911 was not the easiest GT3 to drive, it was less stable, more nervous. “The latest car, the Gen 2 991, is more responsive. It turns in faster, carving through the corners thanks to the aero changes such as a front splitter, the canards or turning vanes and overall better balance,” says racer Martin Ragginger.
“From a UX experience point of view, the Porsche is now far easier to operate too. The dash screens are cleaner and easier to read at a glance. There are more functions on the steering wheel too. That even includes the clutch so it’s essentially a two-pedal set-up in the car. With our first Porsche, we had a sequential shift, only moving to paddles in 2012. With more electronics, there is no need to heel and toe to blip the throttle on downshifts, and it’s harder to miss-shift or lock the rears now, unlike back in 2011 with the 997.”
Schnabl also remarked how general advances in technology have had a huge impact on the comfort and safety of the driver. For example, “The first 997 had a seat on rails that the drivers needed to add padding to. Now, we have a technology from Soft Trim whereby its engineers 3D scan all the drivers to create a perfect fit that is more comfortable and provides better protection,” he says.
The final area that Schnabl believes has really evolved is the lighting. “In 2011, the lights were really like road car lamps and the drivers complained about visibility. Not ideal in a 24-hour race on the Nordschleife where there is no trackside illumination! We then started to look at custom lights and at one point even tried some lights like the type used in WRC. Now, we have LED lights from Porsche and the drivers are a lot happier, though some of the most experienced drivers would say they could drive the Nordschleife blindfold, they know it so well.”