When the Germans take on the British at the track, it’s one of the greatest spectacles in auto racing. When they go after each other off the track… Well, historically, it’s a little uglier. After a months-long legal back-and-forth that Goodwood Road & Racing have dubbed “The Battle For GT3,” Porsche has prevailed, and the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 will now be known as the Vantage GT12. This unusual move has all but made the “GT3″ moniker the property of Porsche, which has been building the track-focused 911 GT3 for nearly two decades. But this isn’t infringement on some designation invented in Stuttgart, as the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile’s GT3 class is one of the most competitive and groundbreaking racing classes in the world– and Porsche is far from the only game in town.
Porsche got in on the ground floor when it debuted the 911 GT3 as a 1999 model. Originally intended to be a homologation special to compete in the FIA’s GT3 class, it was an ultra-lightweight track day monster that was also just civilized enough to drive off the track. Seventeen years later, the 911 GT3 has become a ubiquitous sight on race tracks around the world, and its status as a street-legal racer has made the car a considerable success. By 2013, Porsche had sold 14,145 of the cars, and the GT3 badge had extended to both road and street-focused cars. This year, Porsche unveiled the next-generation GT3 RS at the Geneva Motor Show, only to be met by some serious competition.
This year’s Geneva Motor Show could go down in history as the year Porsche’s competitors tried to end the company’s unofficial monopoly of the GT3 name. Audi, Aston Martin, and Mercedes-Benz all unveiled their new GT3 cars, with Mercedes and Aston proudly using the class designation for their new homologation models. Unsurprisingly, Porsche took exception to this, but instead of settling the issue on the track, it took legal action against Aston Martin, a boutique British company with limited resources that has little recourse against Porsche’s (and parent company Volkswagen AG’s) massive financial and legal resources. Surprisingly, no action was taken against Porsche’s Stuttgart-based neighbors, Mercedes-Benz.
With its lawsuit, Porsche is staking a claim for the GT3 name, but there’s a small flaw in its logic. Porsche doesn’t exactly have the market cornered when it comes to the GT3 name – and in fact, it never has. When the 911 GT3 debuted in 1998, it was the second car to use the moniker. The 1996-1999 Lotus Esprit GT3 was the first car to take its name from the designation, and Lotus took no legal action against Porsche, a company that was much smaller and less powerful than it is today. Over the years, the popularity of Porsche’s GT3 car has increased along with the racing class. Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Bentley, and Audi all field GT3-class racers, and contenders like Chevrolet Corvettes, Ford Mustangs, Dodge Vipers, and even Morgan Aero 8s have competed in the class in the past.
It’s true that the mighty Porsche has been the dominant GT3 car for years. Its popularity as a road car, in official GT3 races, and in the stand-alone Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series have all made the 911 GT3 a modern legend and a strong seller for the company. Porsche argues that this success makes the GT3 designation an integral part of the Porsche brand, and that other companies using it is tantamount to infringement. Still, Bentley (another Volkswagen AG company) also has a GT3 racer and GT3R road car, and there’s no evidence Porsche has any objections to their use of the name. It’s also uncertain whether or not Porsche will take action against Mercedes for their fearsome AMG GT3 racer, or if it’s content just trying to hold the car off on the track.
Of course, there are precedents to naming a car after a racing class. Pontiac famously paid the Sports Car Club of America five dollars for every Trans Am model sold, but no agreement exists between Porsche and the FIA. Legally, the GT3 name isn’t a Porsche trademark, but this recent action will make it a lot harder for automakers to use the name. Instead of battling with Porsche in the courts, Aston Martin has taken the high road and will instead focus on beating its German competitor on the track. For racing fans, this tense environment will hopefully ignite a David-vs.-Goliath battle that will play out on the world’s best racetracks for all to see. Lawsuit or not, the GT3 class is heating up, and Porsche’s aggressions mean that it’ll be Porsche versus the world in this year’s events. The off-track clashes may be ugly, but all this tension and drama should make for some great racing.
Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook