Going for GT gold
The Olympics of motorsport
Every racing driver wants to win. Failing that, they'll settle for a podium. Either way, a trophy and a solid haul of championship points are on offer. Except that's not the case with a brand new end-of-season motorsport event in GT racing: the FIA Motorsport Games, where the drivers earn medals, not trophies, in an Olympics-style event.
There's an extra added twist to the standard motorsport formula too. In a typical GT championship, a driver needs not only to succeed for themselves, but the racing team they compete for, to ensure they're in the hunt for the teams' championship.
Here, the team that matters is the national team, as each driver will be responsible for adding to their nation's medal table over three days of action at Autodromo Vallelunga near Rome. May the best country win.
Much like boxing at the Olympics, the competitors have to be considered non-professional to enter, which means only FIA Silver and Bronze-category drivers are eligible to compete. While that means some household names from the world of GT racing are absent, it allows for more nations beyond the typical motorsport powerhouses like Britain, Germany and Italy to be competitive. A similar event at Bahrain last year was won by Turkey, which caught and passed the UK's Ferrari 488 GT3 during its final stint with an ambitious move in their Mercedes.
But the teams themselves are anything but amateur: most have been running their cars in one of the many championships that are supplied exclusively by Pirelli, including the Blancpain GT Series, the pinnacle of GT racing.
It's pure competition: the Olympic ideal.
Wet and wild
Unlike last year's race – which took place in the dry, hot and sunny climate of Bahrain – plenty of rain is forecast for Vallelunga, which means that the P Zero slicks are likely to be swapped for Cinturato wets. And that presents a very tricky challenge for those gold medal hopefuls. Vallelunga is an old-school circuit featuring unforgiving grass and gravel run-offs, rather paved asphalt, which will punish any driver who puts a wheel off the road. These Games will be unforgiving.
It's not necessarily all or nothing from the start, as you might expect from a three-day extravaganza, however. Qualifying strongly doesn't guarantee you a good grid slot for the final, merely a good grid position for the first of two warm-up races. The Olympics feature knockout stages and, while no teams will be eliminated from the first and second races, the basic principle is similar: do badly in the first two races and you'll be in trouble for the final.
Get those heats right and who knows, perhaps a gold medal could be on the cards thanks to a strong grid position. It would certainly be a unique addition to the trophy cabinet, and a strong indication of how motorsport – previously a sport for die-hard enthusiasts – is moving more and more into the mainstream.
From the west to the east
The next major event on Pirelli's GT calendar after the Motorsport Games is arguably even more prestigious: the FIA GT World Cup in Macau. Held on the notorious Guia street circuit from 15-17 November as part of the 66th Macau Grand Prix, it's another weekend of intense gladiatorial combat over one of the most fearsome motorsport arenas ever seen in the world.
Just like the Motorsport Games, all of the major manufacturers will be present, but this time with their top pro drivers, in a bid to see just who the greatest and most fearless GT racer in the world is.
Here, the level is strictly professional: Macau is not the place to tackle as an amateur. Among the stars of the show in Macau will be two-time Le Mans winner Earl Bamber in a Porsche, last year's Macau winner Augusto Farfus in a BMW, 10-time Macau winner Edoardo Mortara in a Mercedes, and Audi's Nurburgring 24 Hour winner Christopher Haase. As Farfus says: “it's the biggest GT sprint race in the world.”
If you only get to see two GT events over the course of the year, these are the ones to watch. Both are streamed live, so place your bets. And to catch all the action, go to www.fia.com, www.fiamotorsportgames.com (where you'll also find more details and a timetable) or the GT World YouTube channel from SRO, starting from Saturday.