Why driver ratings remain a murky business for sports car racing

  • A platinum rating, the highest for accomplished professionals, or gold designates a driver as a professional.
  • Silver and bronze are awarded to amateurs, the latter often described as gentleman drivers.
  • IMSA’s LMP2, LMP3 and GTD classes limit the number of platinum or gold drivers, ie. the professionals.
  • It’s a system that works well for those carrying the cash, but not so well for those looking for driving seats.

    So you want to race a sports car in a recognized series?

    First you need a driver rating. You will then be reviewed annually by the FIA, which receives input from SRO Motorsports Group founder Stefan Ratel. In other words, your career is subject to a process that remains shrouded in mystery.

    A platinum rating, the highest for accomplished professionals, or gold designates a driver as a professional. Silver and bronze are awarded to amateurs, the latter often described as gentleman drivers. That’s where the clarity ends.

    Why do series like IMSA rely on driver ratings? When there is no manufacturer to foot the bill, sports car racing is often financed by gentlemen drivers who buy the cars, pay for the teams and their drivers. Given the hefty sums involved, the gentlemen drivers want to compete for wins on an equal footing with the other teams.

    The number 91 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 911 GT3 R (992) features drivers Alan Metney, Kay van Berlo, Jackson Evans and Julien Andlauer for the IMSA GTD class.

    “A lot of people want to get rid of them, but I don’t think they see what the outcome would be,” said Bill Riley, whose Riley Motorsports team is helping field two cars in the Rolex 24 at Daytona for paying drivers. One is an LMP3 car entered for silver driver Gar Robinson and the other a GTD class Porsche 911 GT3 R entered with Kelimos for bronze driver Alan Metney. “A lot of these drivers who race sports cars pay the bills. And they want to compete against their peers. That’s what driver ratings do. Turbidity is between all ranks, especially silver and gold, bronze and silver. This is getting really murky.

    IMSA’s LMP2, LMP3 and GTD classes limit the number of platinum or gold drivers, ie. the professionals. It’s a system that works well for those who carry the money – but not so well for those looking for driving seats. Teams are limited by rules on how many pros can enter depending on whether the paying driver is bronze or silver.

    But at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, a fourth driver can be of any rating – as long as the team can afford to pay, say, a platinum driver. That’s how last year’s overall winner at Rolex last year, Oliver Jarvis, ended up in the LMP2 team of PR1-Mathiasen, the favorite to win the class, where Ben Keating is the bronze driver. But being a platinum-rated driver often means that it’s hard to get a job unless you’re a factory driver being recruited into teams to improve your chances of winning, or if you’re relatively young.

    “How unusual is this when everyone wants to get the lowest rating possible.”

    “How unusual it is when everyone wants to have the lowest possible rating,” said Johnny O’Connell, who recently went bronze thanks to his 60th birthday. “It prevents a lot of guys from getting a job. The best example in my opinion is Joey Hand. Ford leaves and he’s left high and dry because he’s platinum (no factory contract).

    “I haven’t raced in five years,” continued O’Connell, the overall winner of the 2001 Rolex 24 with Corvette Racing, who couldn’t find rides after his GM contract ended, but his platinum rating continued. “I’d like to think I would have competed if I was bronze. It’s a crazy competitive environment now and I feel for any young driver coming in and trying to make a career in sports cars at the moment.”

    With age being one of the many caveats in the often complex rating system, O’Connell’s new bronze status immediately opened up an opportunity in the GT America series this year.

    The Fast Silver Driver is golden, so to speak, because they are sought after by teams looking for a driver to carry their less experienced drivers while meeting the entry requirements that limit the use of professional drivers.

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    Stephen McAleer actually lost his ride in this year’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona when his driver classification was upgraded.

    Brian ClearyGetty Images

    Driver Stephen McAleer competed for the WeatherTech Championship GTD championship last year in Team Korthoff’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 as a silver-rated driver and finished third in points. His opportunity to continue with Korthoff ended this year after he was promoted to gold.

    “I’m definitely back in Mercedes in GTD,” he said, “but on the condition that I stay in silver. As you get better, you move up and there are fewer options.” McAleer continues to compete in the IMSA support series and work as a driving instructor, but losing his ride with WeatherTech means a significant drop in his income.

    It is possible for a driver to pay to appeal their rating, usually focused on getting a lower rating.

    McAleer was told his appeal was rejected based on his lap times in the 2022 season.

    Platinum-rated Patrick Long would like to see a more consistent review process. A long-time Porsche factory driver now retired from that role, Long applied for a review of his platinum status in the hope of getting more opportunities to continue racing as an independent, and was refused without explanation. “Drivers deserve to know why their appeal has been rejected,” he said.

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    Bronze driver Ben Keating says there is no perfect system when it comes to driver ratings.

    Sportswire iconGetty Images

    Ben Keating is the most successful and most famous bronze driver in sports car racing. He will race the Corvette C8.R in this year’s World Endurance Championship, where the GT3 class requires a bronze driver. Driving TF Sport’s Aston Martin Vantage AMR last year, Keating won the LM GT Am Driver’s Trophy in the WEC.

    “If you’re going to have a pro class,” Keating said, “you’ve got to have a way to identify who are the pros and who are the pros? There is no perfect system. I think the FIA, any series, gets tons of heat for the driver rating systems. Everyone talks about whether the rules are this or that, I don’t believe in that. I believe the one they have right now is pretty good. The reason I say that is because there is no perfect system.”

    As it is, the system creates a lot of animosity and backbiting in various racing series garages over who gets an unwanted upgrade and who gets demoted or stays in the often “golden” category of silver, best described as semi-pro, regardless of whether one a driver makes a living racing or not.

    “There are a lot of people who think I should be upgraded to silver,” said Keating, who would not qualify for his WEC race this season with the Corvette as silver. “Yes, it’s based on lap times, performance. There should be a reasonable definition of the posterior class. Because I own a bunch of businesses, because I’m 51 years old, because I pay the entire budget for the races I do, because I have no ambition to go pro, I’m the perfect definition of a bronze driver.”

    In the past, this definition allowed Keating to choose which fast silver driver to hire to co-drive in longer races – which invariably changed each year due to the ratings system – as well as hire one professional. Much of Keating’s success in various IMSA teams and in various cars has come with a long-lasting relationship with Jeroen Bleekemolen, who is perennially fast but has managed to remain a gold instead of a platinum driver.

    The FIA ​​publishes driving ratings at fia.com/fia-driver-categorization for nearly 4,000 drivers. “The initial categorization,” the web page states, “is based on the driver’s age and career, which may be adjusted in subsequent seasons according to recorded race pace and results in series that use the categorization system.”

    The murky part starts and ends with “may be fixed in future seasons”.


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