One of the most distinctive entries on the grid has been a regular 24H SERIES competitor since 2017, and, in its formative guise, for a decade prior to that. Now, ‘Vortex’, founded by Gomez brothers Arnaud and Olivier, has established itself as a genuine Overall GT Teams’ contender in 2021. As we head into round four of this year’s championship at Barcelona, we find out just what went into the creation of this French team and its characterful racer.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
“When will Vortex win a race in the 24H SERIES?”
It’s a little on the blunt side, granted, but it’s a question that’s never felt timelier than now.
One or both of the distinctive orange sports cars pictured above and below after all have finished on the GTX class podium at every 24H SERIES event so far this season, the pinnacle being a team 2-3 at Mugello. But for an early-race clout that lost the no.701 an hour and a half in the box at Circuit Paul Ricard, and time lost during multiple Code 60s early on at Hockenheim (leaving the team unable to fully capitalize on a day its principal rivals hit trouble), the French team could well have claimed the top step already in 2021.
Regardless, these results and an unprecedented level of consistency have now catapulted Vortex into second in the Overall GT Teams’ standings, and provided this family-run outfit from Hérault arguably its best shot yet at a 24H SERIES title. Surely then it is only a matter of time before Vortex, owned, founded and operated by ‘des frères Gomez’, finally takes a GTX win. Right…?
“The principal for us is for the car to finish,” explains Arnaud Gomez as younger brother Olivier nods his agreement. “If we win that will be good, but if we are on the podium, that is good enough for us for now!”
Their name may evoke thoughts of the Brothers Grimm, houses made from gingerbread and pied pipers working in the Hamelin area (well, through this particular scribe’s slightly fevered imagination, they do…) but there’s absolutely no doubting the motorsport pedigree of Arnaud and Olivier Gomez. Arnaud for example is a former national champion in both Formula France and le Championnat de France de Super Production, and even gave Formula Renault 2.0 single seaters a go before switching his attention to endurance racing in 2008. Olivier meanwhile has vice championships to his name in Formula France (2000 and 2001) and the GT4 European Cup (2007), and competed for national honours in the French GT4 Cup in 2018.
Both Arnaud and Olivier are also tenured competitors in the 24H SERIES. Olivier made his series debut in 2007 at the Dubai Autodrome, and even won that year’s SP1 class with ‘Solution F’ in an equally inquisitive ‘Touring Cup Silhouette’. One year later, it was Arnaud’s turn, the elder Gomez securing a 6th-placed finish on the international racing debut of ‘Gomez Competition’. In one guise or another, the Hérault outfit has missed only one Hankook 24H DUBAI since then.
Make no mistake, these guys know what they’re talking about…
“I started my career in 1994,” Arnaud continues. “I was in single seaters for a long time, and after that, I did a lot of racing in France and across Europe in touring cars and GTs. I have seven [French national] titles, and we’re still driving today in the 24H SERIES and other championships.”
“For me, I began in karting, in national and international championships,” Olivier explains, “but spent three years driving in sprint races. So my main experience is endurance, and I have driven a lot with my brother in the same team. Together we have five national titles.”
Perhaps more significant than his experience at the wheel though is Olivier’s engineering background. This was the driving force behind not just the team’s current lightweight sports car but also the ‘GC10’ prototype on which the Vortex foundations were lain more than a decade ago.
Built to ‘silhouette’ regulations, the GC10 (Gomez Competition 2010) made its 24H DUBAI debut in 2011, complete with bodywork fashioned from a Volkswagen Scirocco, a sub-1,000kg kerb weight, a Renault-derived 3.5-litre V6, and a six-speed sequential gearbox (admittedly the CG10.2 on the Autodrome grid featured a detuned V6 kicking out 310hp for SP2-class competition, as opposed to the original GC10.1’s 430hp). On its maiden outing, the GC10.2 finished 2nd, 4th and 6th in-class in Dubai, and followed that up with 3rd place finishes at CREVENTIC’s 24-hour events in the UAE and Barcelona the following year. By 2013, the GC10 was sporting a 500hp Chevrolet V8 and, intermittently at least, bodywork inspired by the BMW Serie 1 M coupé.
Success was immediate: after taking its first 24H SERIES class win at the 2013 12H MUGELLO, the Gomez Competition GC10-V8 secured a career-best 1-2 in-class at that year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA. The longevity of the ‘silhouette’ was further proved in 2019, when a Scirocco-clad GC10 won SP3 in Dubai almost a full decade after its competitive debut.
By 2015 though, despite – or, perhaps, bolstered by – the success of its first in-house racer, ‘Gomez Competition’ was shelved in favour of something much grander…
“In 2015, after our seasons with the Scirocco and the BMW, we decided to create our own car, because [Olivier] is an engineer and he created cars for other manufacturers. We wanted a car that was designed and built by our family and our engineers. Something different. And to-date, we’ve built 16 of them.”
Unlike the GC10s that had come before it, there was nothing VW or Bimmer about the new Vortex. Olivier, the team’s technical director, instead opted for a clean-sheet design inspired by the brothers’ endurance racing experience. Well, that and, as the name suggests, a desire for something altogether more aerodynamic…
“ ‘Vortex’ is all about the aerodynamic effect, and we think that this is a good name for a racecar. It was a name that really explained the concept behind our car. It wasn’t all about power. It had to be good, [aerodynamically].”
A fascination to fans to this day, there really is very little like the series-dubbed ‘Vortex 1.0’ – “we’re not exactly sure where that 1.0 name came from!” – on the 24H SERIES grid…
“We created this design in 2014, and to me, there wasn’t really an [influence]. Just for the wheelbase, which we took from an Audi R8 GT3 LMS. But the bodywork, that’s an exclusive design.
“The frame is built specially for Vortex. It was built in our workshop in France, and again, it’s our design. In fact, this year, we conducted a crash test with the FIA in Milan, so this is one of the few tubular frames with an FIA homologation.”
Under that aerodynamically optimized fibre glass bodywork, and bolted to the phenomenally rigid tubular chassis, is a 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 from Chevrolet, essentially the same ‘type LS3 480’ powerplant you’d find in a sixth-generation Corvette. On the Vortex, it’s been mated with a six-speed longitudinal transmission from Sadev and an AP-Racing twin-disc clutch.
The brothers admit that fiscal considerations played their part – “it helped that this engine wasn’t too expensive!” – but the power is nothing to scoff at either. Arnaud explains that the LS3 V8 in the 1,050kg Vortex produces “approximately 560hp, so the power-to-weight ratio is very impressive.” There are other positives too: the components were designed with high-performance and longevity in-mind (handy for 24-hour competition), and Chevy’s “racing-inspired LS Hot Cam” boosted power and torque by 14 percent over the engine’s predecessor.
Detroit’s hulking great V8 aside though, the Vortex is as French as you can get. Only 20 per cent of the 1,3000 individual parts are outsourced (the electricals are the main culprit here), and each sports car is still built by-hand at the family workshop in Pézenas, Hérault. The facility even sits on Rue Louis Delâge, named in honour of the founder of Delage Automobiles.
Now, we know what you might be thinking: a distinctive lightweight sports car with a phenomenal power-to-weight ratio, that’s been designed to take on the likes of the Porsche 911 and is positively groaning with national character? The comparisons between the Vortex and the KTM X-BOW are not lost on Arnaud and Olivier, particularly since the Austrian brand’s X-BOW GTX remains one of, if not the, biggest rivals to Vortex in GTX this season. These are not comparisons that should be taken too seriously, apparently…
“The downforce, no?” Olivier sidebars to his brother, and there follows a quick conversation in French before Arnaud finally turns to us and explains: “We are a little lighter than the KTM, but a new project we are working on, which will use a carbon frame, will be even lighter than today. Also, KTM is a big factory with a lot of resources to [develop] the X-BOW over many years. We are a family team! We’re just the two of us, our parents, my wife, his wife, and around 10 mechanics, all working in one workshop! That’s not very KTM!”
With every new venture though comes hurdles, and the Vortex was no exception. The ‘1.0’, in camou-esque red and black livery, made its series debut at the 2016 Hankook 24H CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD, but lasted just 143 laps at its home event. Things didn’t get much better in 2017 either, a mix of on-track scuffles and power and/or electrical gremlins preventing the newly red-liveried 1.0 GT3 from finishing even a single race. Two outings for the Vortex (now white) at Navarra and Barcelona in 2018 produced similar duck eggs.
Mercifully, change was on the horizon, and in 2019, the Vortex began to show its potential. Now boasting an all-blue livery – and thus completing the tricolore – the Vortex survived a fused wheel nut and brief clutch problems to finally secure its first category podium in the 24H SERIES at the 2019 Hankook 24H BARCELONA. Further afield, the Vortex was also starting to come good in the Ultimate Cup Series, finishing inside the GT division’s top seven on all but one occasion and securing the UGT-class title in the process. Designing the Vortex with endurance racing specifically in-mind had clearly been the way to go…
“I think endurance racing is a better way to go for our customers,” Olivier explains. “The budget for a 12 or 24-hour race is very reasonable across three or four drivers. At Dubai this year for example, we did [24 hours] with six sets of tyres and one pair of discs and one pads. I think for the budget, that’s pretty good!”
Buoyed by a promising 2019, Arnaud and Olivier were keen to push the ‘Vortex’ challenge yet further the following year – “new car, new colour, new horizons!” – with a three-pronged assault on the 24H SERIES, the Ultimate Cup Series and Spain’s Campeonato de España de Resistencia (CER). Newcomer Karen Gaillard has now stepped aboard alongside team regulars Nicolas Nobs and Philippe Bonnel, and there’s even a new car!
Well, of sorts. The newly modified Vortex ‘Light’, now donning an eye-catching all-orange colour scheme, features the same tubular chassis, double wishbone suspension, AP Racing brakes, Sadev transmission, and even the same Chevy V8, albeit with some mild tuning. Compared with the sister 1.1 GT3, the Light boasts a more manageable 450hp and a ‘simple and efficient’ setup for its drivers in a bid to ensure the car reaches the chequered flag every time. So far so good: Covid meant the team’s planned 24H SERIES bid was cut short after Dubai (and even that was hindered by gearbox problems), but the team took four outright podiums in its maiden CER season in 2020 and three podiums from four Ultimate GT outings. Alongside the carbon chassis, Arnaud and Olivier are even working on a 600hp hybrid powerplant in a bid to improve performance whilst simultaneously reducing maintenance costs.
It may have taken more than six years of development then (so far), but through little more than sheer grit and determination, Arnaud and Olivier Gomez have dragged their car – the ‘Vortex’ – into championship contention for the first time in a surprisingly long 24H SERIES tenure. A revised car and a fresh driver line-up has also produced an unprecedented run of podiums this season.
Brusque or otherwise then, our question still stands: when will Vortex win a race in the 24H SERIES?
“This weekend. We hope!”
Arnaud and Olivier Gomez were speaking with Mart Boksem at the 2021 Hankook 12H CIRCUIT PAUL RICARD. You can also check out this story in the 2021 Hankook 24H BARCELONA magazine, available for download at the link below.