Stephane Ratel believes the “world is big enough” for GT3 to be included in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and its associated championships from 2024 without bringing adverse impacts to the series run by his organization.
The FIA and ACO announced last month that the FIA-regulated GT3 will form the base of a future platform that will replace the current GTE formula in the FIA World Endurance Championship, which incorporates Le Mans, and the European Le Mans Series.
Stephane Ratel Organisation created GT3 in 2005 while the production-based formula has achieved international popularity since then, becoming the de facto GT class in many domestic and regional competitions with multiple manufacturers building cars.
Speaking to reporters at the Nürburgring last weekend, Ratel said that he doesn’t feel GT3’s adoption in the WEC will pose a threat to SRO series such as the Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS and Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli.
“Could all this paddock go there? I doubt it,” said Ratel.
“Because you count the number of Hypercars you will have, and the number of LMP2s you will have [so] the number of GT at Le Mans will be, in any case, relatively limited.
“So it’s not like the whole world of SRO GT3 will go on that grid. It’s impossible. Unless there are 100 cars taking the start.
“You will always have people who prefer to win overall than to be in a class. You will always have people who don’t fancy driving with prototypes. I think the world is big enough.
“Also you may have more teams and drivers attracted to the GT3 category because Le Mans is a GT3 category.
“Maybe some teams who do WEC also want to do the 24 Hours of Spa. I read an article about Corvette saying that if they do GT3 they will look at the other great GT3 events around the world. Maybe they will look at Kyalami, Bathurst and Spa.
“I had the opportunity to be concerned many times before. The fact is that we’re still quite a successful platform globally. For the moment, let’s see how it develops and where it leads us.”
Ratel is supportive of the FIA and ACO’s prioritization of Pro-Am lineups in the future WEC GT class, rather than allowing all-professional factory crews to compete as is currently the case in GTE-Pro.
The move to limit the class to Pro-Am has been well-received by GTE manufacturers Porsche and Ferrari, which are heading to Hypercar in 2023, while Chevrolet factory team Corvette Racing has expressed concern at the prospect.
Ratel has accepted that limiting the class to Pro-Am could tempt some teams away from GTWC Europe’s corresponding category but noted that a similar effect would be felt if the FIA and ACO kept it open to all-professional entries.
“We don’t know what the consequences will be,” he said.
“We think we need to grow the GT3 cake. Some people say, ‘Ratel, you must be very worried’ but somehow I am not. What I was very worried [about] was that they would do GT3 Pro.
“I haven’t calculated, but maybe it would be better [for GTWC] because the factories will put cars here and not take any Ams from us. But if it’s Pro-Am, maybe some of them will go there.
“Maybe I will lose a bit more steam out of the manufacturers, but that would preserve the gentleman driver market. Or the other way around, they go with gentleman drivers and I’m going to lose some gentleman drivers but the Pro teams will continue being here.
“I haven’t been through that to see if I will be more hurt by Le Mans being Pro or Am.”
Ratel suggested that a move to widespread factory-backed, pro-level GT racing will likely have adverse effects on the formula.
“I’m not even talking on the short-term analysis to say what is better for SRO,” he said. “I’m just talking as a GT racing lover and architect, that one thing is sure: if you don’t change the recipe and put in the same ingredients, you will end up with something similar.
“The key question is that if you have manufacturers that want a GT Pro and want to put together 30-40 million Euros to do a program like this, that just kills the manufacturers. They do the same thing and overspend and leave; it’s always been the same.
“GTE did not die because it was not a good technical regulation. It died because it was direct manufacturer involvement, and it died for the same reason the real DTM, LMP1 and others died.
“It’s the same story, over and over again. We have managed to do 15 years of GT3 without a dent in the success. Fifteen years of a category which started strong and remains strong.”
Ratel has a backup plan in case overspending causes GT3 to deteriorate in the future. The GT2 formula was announced in 2018, while five manufacturers have joined as of now.
Ratel has said that he would have “no fear” to introduce GT2 as a class at the 24 Hours of Spa in 2024 if he needed to, as part of his “insurance” plan for the future.
“If you go GT3 Pro then fine, so GT3 is the new GTE and GT2 is the new GT3,” he explained.
“From what I hear for the time being, the idea is to continue that it’s made for Pro-Am [at Le Mans].
“I think fine. GT3 can evolve. It is based on the GT3 regulation: what is the meaning of ‘based’? There are still a lot of uncertainties.
“I have good conversations with Le Mans. I think we work hand-in-hand. The idea has never been that we go head-to-head.”
SRO Keen to “Contribute Modestly” to New Class
Ratel, who was at Le Mans where the FIA and ACO announced the 2024 GT rules shift, is looking forward to a “spirit of collaboration” between the three parties rather than simply aiming to manage a co-existence.
He stated that he would be interested in having SRO “contribute modestly” to the category in some way, although no formal agreement is in place.
“Everything is a possibility,” said Ratel. “If you ask me, am I close to the DTM? Certainly not. But am I close to the ACO? Yes. Why? Because we come from the same world.
“If you start [going] to one driver and do what DTM is doing, in my opinion it’s not something that I completely follow.
“But what Le Mans is doing with GTE and GT3, let’s go. Then it’s good that we are on good terms, and if we find ways to make things work and if we can contribute modestly with having created this category and promoted it all around the world for 15 years, then good.”
Asked if SRO could supply its GT3 Balance of Performance system to the future GT class at Le Mans, Ratel responded: “We will see. For the moment it’s too early to say.
“But there is definitely a spirit of collaboration. They have a partnership with IMSA on LMDh and they proved that they are working in partnerships like this.”