Evolving from race-car customer to race-car driver seems impossible. But Porsche, and its Motorsports Pyramid, is unique in that it shows you just where — and how — you can hone your skills to do so.
AU Editor's Note: This Jalopnik post was originally sponsored by Porsche. We're not getting anything out of republishing it, but it's just a good, solid read about the different paths to take to professional motorsport. For what it's worth, Porsche runs a Motorsport Driving School in Australia too. — Cam
Before we try to climb the Pyramid, it's worth noting that in the current sports car racing climate, this mostly applies to seriously ambitious drivers. If you decide on a whim that you want to ditch the workaday life to begin a racing career, don't expect Porsche to call you up to the LMP1 big leagues unless you've successfully navigated your way upward through each of the tiers of the pyramid.
But with the right training, natural talent, and a good sponsor, you can climb a few rungs up the ladder and race at some of the biggest tracks in the world. If you think you have the passion and tenacity that being a pro-racer requires, you could follow Porsche's intended path all the way to the top.
Tier 4: Get An Education
In the lowest tier, there are thousands of Porsche owners running their street cars or home-modified track-only cars under the banner of a few different sanctioning bodies, including the Porsche Club of America, SCCA, National Auto Sport Association, and more. The base of the pyramid includes everything from programs at the Porsche Experience Centres to various amateur racing series and the Porsche Sport Driving School programs. If you're participating in any form of on-track driving in your Porsche, you've entered the pyramid.
The easiest way to get into a Porsche-built racing car, and go from weekend warrior to pro, is by taking Porsche's motorsport preparatory classes. The Porsche Experience Centres in Carson, CA and Atlanta, GA have lapping sessions available with in-car coaches. These classes can prepare you for an even more serious curriculum. The Porsche Sport Driving School programs are held at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. On offer are a series of one, two, and three-day car-control courses in bone-stock Porsche sports cars. Once you have proven you can handle the more basic classes, Porsche offers additional 3-day and 4-day race-licence qualification courses.
Tier 3: Get Racing Wheel-to-Wheel
With a racing licence in hand, you can scale the pyramid to real racing. There are a variety of series you can get into with even the most basic of Porsche motorsport offerings; the Cayman GT4 Clubsport and 911 GT3 Cup models. Without racing experience, the road to actual wheel-to-wheel racing is a rough one. You'll find that you will be paying many of your racing bills out of pocket. Work on your soft skills and try to lure a sponsor. As an amateur racer, you'll find funding is easiest to source friends and family.
A Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport will run $US165,000 ($217,545) all-in for a factory-built GT racing car. As delivered, the car is more-or-less ready to race in a couple of different series, including the Porsche Club of America's "PCA Clubracing Cayman GT4 Clubsport Trophy" one-make-series and the Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA series. With a Porsche-sanctioned Manthey Racing (MR) upgrade kit, the Cayman GT4 Clubsport is eligible for international events and series that run to the FIA's GT4 classification. Currently in the US the Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR is eligible for, and seriously competitive in, Pirelli World Challenge GTS and IMSA's Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Grand Sport classes. Hell, this car can race in the Nurburgring 24-hour if you're so inclined. The Cayman GT4 Clubsport toes the line between Tier 3 and Tier 2, being that it can be run in international GT competition or in regional one-make racing classes, but based solely on cost of entry, we'll keep it here.
For someone just getting their start, running a Cayman GT4 Clubsport makes sense. It's a neutral-handling car with similar driving characteristics to a road-going Cayman. You can learn a lot about chassis dynamics from a car as forgiving as this. If you want to start racing a Cayman GT4 Clubsport, your best bet is to call a shop already well-acquainted with the chassis, like Kelly-Moss Road and Racing, GMG, or Nolasport, to help with preparation and setup.
Porsche's stalwart one-make racer 911 GT3 Cup is a 485-horsepower wheel-to-wheel weapon for gentleman drivers and young pros alike. With 19 different regional single-make GT3 Cup series around the world, there are plenty of opportunities to run one of these cars. Most notably, you can run one in the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama here in the States.
If you want to race in that series, you can purchase your own GT3 Cup directly from Porsche Motorsport for a cool $US245,000 ($323,021) and campaign it yourself, but that's not the smart move. Your best bet would be to pay for your seat with an already extant team like Wright Motorsports, Moorespeed, Kelly-Moss, or TOPP Racing, as they already have the transport, preparation, and setup expertise. For a full eight-weekend season, expect a bill of multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars to "arrive and drive."
Tier 2: Get Professional
The upper half of Porsche's motorsport pyramid separates the wheat from the chaff. To get here you must have proven your talents to be extraordinary in the lower tiers, or convinced someone with a big bank account to back you. Within this category, Porsche has one car: the 911 GT3 R. This top level customer racing car is competitive on an international stage, but cost of entry is exponentially larger in these classes as the competition is stiffer. When you're competing on a level playing field with factory-prepared cars from McLaren, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Acura, Ferrari, Audi, Mercedes AMG, Ford, and more, every team is looking for a minuscule advantage, which costs money.
A brand-new Porsche 911 GT3 R lists at $US500,000 ($659,227), which is on par with other FIA GT3 eligible cars. The engine is a similar four-litre mill to the one found in a 911 GT3 Cup (which is based on the engines found in the street-legal 911 GT3), but the car makes use of more sophisticated suspension and aero to make up time on course. You can currently run the 911 GT3 R in IMSA's SportsCar Championship GT Daytona class, Pirelli World Challenge GT, and others. The majority of customer 911 GT3 Rs are somewhat factory-supported.
The new Porsche 911 RSR is eligible to race in the IMSA's GT Le Mans, and the FIA WEC's GTE Pro class. In either case, they are full-boat, factory-entered 911 RSRs. For now, the only way to race a 911 RSR is as a Porsche factory racer, and to do that you need to be damned good at turning a steering wheel. A source within Porsche says they are evaluating 911 RSRs for customer teams, though they have not announced pricing. If you do manage to get on the list to receive a 911 RSR, don't expect much change from a million-dollar bill.
Tier 1: Take on the Best in the World
Porsche has won the Le Mans 24-hour race overall a record 18 times. The two most recent victories, in '15 and '16, were in a 919 Hybrid LMP1. Porsche currently employs a staff of six internationally lauded drivers split into two cars for WEC's LMP1 category. Over the few years of this program, they have elevated a couple of their factory GT racers to LMP1 competition, namely Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber. If you can prove you have what it takes to run in Porsche's most prestigious factory motorsport program, you're an upper-echelon driver, true motorsports royalty.
Very few automotive manufacturers care as much about motorsport as Porsche, and certainly none of them with a nearly 70-year winning track record that Porsche has maintained. Porsche wants to find the best racing drivers in the world to help them continue their success. This pyramid does that by facilitating an easy progression through the ranks of sports car racers.
While being the fastest is the most important factor in gaining a foothold as a driver, the people in your corner also play a role. Play your connections, learn the craft, and get as much in-car time as you can (actually, no — even more than that), and perhaps one day you can scale to the top of Porsche's motorsports pyramid.
Bradley Brownell is a freelance writer and co-host of the Cammed & Tubbed Podcast living in Reno, NV. A renowned Porschephile, he can often be found behind the wheel of his 1976 912E or 1997 Boxster.