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Ratel: GT Racing “Strong Enough to Go Through the Storm”

SRO boss Stephane Ratel says the motorsport industry can emerge from the health crisis…

Photo: SRO

SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel believes that GT racing will be able to weather the economic storm created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The global health crisis has caused widespread calendar disruption, while the forecasted financial downturn has created uncertainty about how teams and series will cope.

Ratel told Sportscar365 that while the industry is set for a “rocky” period, it has the capability to bounce back.

SRO is central to global GT competition and directly runs a large number of series including the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli and GT World Challenge powered by AWS.

“Officially, we haven’t had any team saying, ‘thank you but we are out of action’. Everybody is waiting,” said Ratel.

“We have also been through a recession before. We went through the big crisis in 2008-9 and, despite it, we still had racing. We even managed to launch a GT1 World Championship in 2010 and we managed to put a strong grid together at the time.

“We have many very passionate clients, teams and drivers. It’s not just a side thing in their life. They will give up many things before they give up racing.

“Of course, we will suffer in case of a major economic crisis and we did, if you look at British GT in 2010 to 2011, we really suffered a lot at the time. But it came back.

“The important thing is that we are in a position that is strong enough to go through the storm. I think we are, but it’s going to be rocky, that’s for sure.”

Ratel noted that motorsport has proven it can make it through financial crises, giving past examples such as the Great Depression and the more recent late 2000s recession.

“The Nürburgring was built in the 1930s during the worst part of the recession in Germany,” he said.

“Maybe you can’t compare it almost 100 years later, but still, motorsport is somehow a bit extraordinary in many ways and is a very addictive passion.

“I remember talking to an Argentinian friend when [FIA GT] raced at Portrero de los Funes. The country went absolutely bankrupt and you couldn’t get a 10-peso bill out of an ATM.

“I asked if there was any racing still, and he said, ‘yeah, all the championships are running’.

“We’ve been through it a number of times. We are all going to suffer, but we are in the same boat. Everybody will be in the same situation. We simply have to get through it, like we did in the past.

“It was not particularly rosy in 2010. The financial crisis was really hard, but did racing stop? No. We will have to go through it this time as well.”

SRO is still aiming to achieve full seasons for each of its championships and has been regularly communicating possible calendar scenarios to competing teams.

“For us, the most important thing is to give [competitors] a platform,” suggested Ratel.

“If there is no platform, there is no business. There will be something where teams and drivers will be able to enjoy their passion and to work.”

National Series Best-Suited to Quicker Recovery

A return to racing will require “a number of parameters” to fall in line, according to Ratel.

A probable challenge for international motorsport is the likelihood that different countries and regions will ease their social and travel restrictions at different times.

Ratel echoed recent comments made by Lamborghini motorsport boss Giorgio Sanna that a case-by-case process of lifting these measures would likely favor national championships more than a series like GTWC Europe which crosses national borders.

“I think [national] series are the first we can hope will resume or start,” he said.

“Maybe, with these series, we could see the end of the tunnel earlier than others. What concerns all international championships will be when borders are completely reopened.

“The biggest concern we have in the longer term is that not all countries came into the pandemic at the same time and didn’t start their confinement at the same time.

“Maybe Italy will get out a bit earlier, France a bit after, the UK later… we have the same thing in Asia. China is getting better, but what’s going to happen in Japan?

“Before the borders reopen all around Asia to allow for the Asian championship, or all around Europe… that’s a big question mark that could delay things further.

“Let’s hope that even if people cannot travel, they are still going to mostly be able to travel in their own countries. Step one is that national championships in America, the UK, Germany and France are likely to resume first.

“Then will come the time that Europe will be open, let’s hope, sometime in the summer. All we hope is that we will be able to offer a season, whatever that is.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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