On the first weekend of October at Hockenheim, the 2016 ADAC GT Masters season came to an end with a spectacular pair of races. Plenty of exciting action took place at the historic venue that weekend, but what the fans on-site and the viewers at home may not have realised is that they were witnessing the end of an era for GT3 racing.
A lot has changed for the world’s most popular GT category since its introduction in 2006. The rulebook was created as a low-budget support series to the main FIA GT Championship, which was beginning to see a gradual slump on the entry lists.
In a shining example of just how far the goalposts have moved in GT3 since 2006, the cars were initially intended to perform at the same level as Porsche’s 997 Carrera Cup machine – today, leading GT3 cars are upwards of ten seconds faster than Porsche’s latest 991 Carrera Cup offering at Spa.
GT3 racing began in fine fashion, with a grid of over fourty cars taking to Silverstone for the first ever round of the FIA European GT3 Championship. Only one car has survived from that day in May of 2006 until the end of the 2016 season – the Callaway-developed Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06.R.
In many ways, the 2006 season was a development year for the Z06.R, as the project had only began in earnest during the closing weeks of 2005. Despite this, there were several highly competitive performances for the first five chassis throughout the season, meaning that there was plenty of demand for the Z06.R from teams from various championships ahead of the 2007 season.
Between 2007 and 2010, many race victories and championships were won by the Z06.R, most notably in FIA GT3, where Callaway Competition took the Teams Championship in 2007, and the Drivers’ Championship in both 2008 and 2010. Success was also found in championships such as Belcar, Italian GT, International GT Open, ADAC GT Masters and Dutch Supercar Challenge during this time.
2011 saw massive change in the world of GT3. The season represented the first true changing of the guard in terms of the machinery on the grid – Ferrari replaced their 430 with the 458 Italia, Lamborghini brought in the LP600+ iteration of the Gallardo, and the Porsche GT3R was in only its second season.
McLaren, BMW and Mercedes all debuted GT3 assaults, bringing the competitiveness of GT3 championships across the world to a new level. The way GT3 cars were raced also evolved, as the Blancpain Endurance Series became the premier GT series in Europe, and ultimately extinguished the more sprint-oriented FIA European championship entirely.
Despite continued development and support from Callaway, the Z06.R only saw one Blancpain appearance in 2011, in the hands of Belgian privateers Delahaye Racing at Spa.
Bar a few appearances in the International GT Open series, the Z06.R fell off the radar in international GT3 competition during the 2010’s – however, the story was not over, as Callaway continued to improve upon their work, and proved to be successful for the entire first half of the decade in Germany’s ADAC GT Masters series.
This was no mean feat considering the sheer competitiveness of the series, which often played home to Europe’s best GT3 teams, as well as world class drivers including Oliver Gavin, Darren Turner, René Rast and the late Allan Simonsen.
2013 saw the last major championship win for the Z06.R, with Callaway Competition taking both the Drivers’ and Teams Championships in the ADAC GT Masters. Callaway continued to compete with the Z06.R until the end of 2015 – during that year, they also worked to develop a brand new GT3 car based upon the Corvette C7.
Callaway debuted the C7 GT3 at the first round of the 2016 ADAC GT Masters in Oschersleben with promising results. However, the small RWT Racing Team continued to field a single Z06.R for 2016. While their season was relatively innocuous, they are likely to go down as the last team to campaign the car in top-level GT3 competition.
Fittingly, the Z06.R proved it could still compete at the closing round in Hockenheim. RWT finished 13th in race one, and improved in race two. After running as high as fifth, ahead of Callaway’s trio of C7’s, the team ultimately finished the season with a strong tenth place. In the closing stages, RWT driver Remo Lips had an exciting battle with Callaway’s Patrick Assenheimer in the first of the C7 GT3’s – a passing of the torch between the old warhorse and its successor.
RWT also competed at select Creventic 24H Series events this season, and while the team’s 2017 plans are unknown, it seems unlikely that they will continue to campaign the Z06.R in the 2017 ADAC GT Masters.
Though examples of Callaway’s first GT3 machine continue to appear in smaller championships throughout Europe, and will surely continue to do so in the future, it is time for the upper echelons to wave goodbye to a car that has been one of the true cornerstones of GT3 since its inception.