The American Le Mans Series GT classes have always been an exciting category for fans of sport car racing. To see affordable sports cars race at such a high level is an amazing feat of technical mastery. There's no doubt the sense of speed is anything short of breathtaking.
Currently, the ALMS runs two categories for GT cars - the baseline GT Challenge class (GTC) is made up solely of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars, while the higher GT class features heavily modified machines, both mechanically and in body structure.
While specs for the GTC class have strictly kept the cars close to their stock versions (aside from weight reductions, wheels, etc.), GT specifications are much more open, primarily to allow high end cars of various engine sizes to compete.
Restrictor plates placed over the engine intake plenum ensure that a 6.2-litre Corvette and the new 8.0-litre ALMS SRT Viper (8.4-litre production) remain competitive with smaller displaced GT cars such as the Lotus Evora, BMW M3 GT and the Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, where the maximum displacement is 5.5-litres.
The main stipulation for both classes is the cars must be built around their original platform, with engine options that are available to regular customers buying the car for street use.
In 2013, the ALMS seems to have thrown these rules out the window for BMW's M3 replacement, the Z4.
For years, the M3 was a staple on the ALMS circuit, and with little reason, BMW decided to pull it from North American competition. The decision could be a result of the M3 competing well in the WEC and DTM series, while the Z4 has been a proven performer in the Blancpain and FIA GT3 championships overseas. My estimation is BMW has decided the M3 has enough exposure in North America, and now it's the Z4's turn.
The problem is, it doesn't belong.
While restrictor plates are one thing, the Z4 goes beyond the rules by racing with a V8 engine that isn't even available as an option with the road-going car. While certain cars require more modifications than others, they have always stuck to the same powerplants as their showroom counterparts.
Because the Z4 falls outside the parameters of the GT regulations, it is essentially a prototype car in GT garb. But because of BMW's heavy involvement in the series for many years, it is being allowed to run next year.
The Z4 is a great looking car in racing form, and as excited as I am to see it compete, I am disappointed that the rules are being bent this far. Why not give it regulation waivers to bring the current six-cylinder up to speed? And what's stopping other longstanding participants from making their own rules?
Call me a traditionalist, but I'm not a fan of the move. It's a great car, but regulations are there for a reason. I'd love to hear what Bernie Ecclestone would say if Ferrari decided to keep their V8 when the rest of Formula One moves to V6s in 2014.