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Intercontinental GT Challenge

Gulf 12H Eager to Maintain Event’s Ethos Under IGTC

Driving Force Events wants Gulf 12H to maintain amateur driver presence when it joins IGTC…

Photo: Gulf 12H

The organizer of the Gulf 12 Hours is keen to maintain key parts of the event’s ethos when it becomes part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli this year.

Driving Force Events will continue to run the Yas Marina enduro following its addition to this year’s IGTC calendar as the season finale of the global GT3 series on Dec. 11.

The Gulf 12 Hours is also confirmed to feature on next year’s IGTC schedule as the designated Asian round.

Event director Andrea Ficarelli told Sportscar365 that in addition to running the race, the organizing body wants the Gulf 12 Hours to remain a “premium event” for amateur drivers despite the addition of an all-professional class for IGTC’s arrival.

It will work with IGTC organizer SRO Motorsports Group to integrate the series into an existing endurance race.

“The event will remain basically the same, run by our team,” said Ficarelli.

“SRO will have its own race director, but it’s a guy who has worked with us in the past so it’s not a big change.

“The scrutineering side will be managed by SRO because they are the big specialists in this area. Apart from this, we are really keeping the conversations 100 percent open for the event.”

A major change will be the introduction of a Pro class in the GT3 ranks, which was outlined by SRO founder and CEO Stephane Ratel when the IGTC tie-in was revealed.

But Ficarelli also hopes there will be a strong Pro-Am contingent, which has been a key part of the event’s structure since the inaugural 2012 edition.

Last August, the Gulf 12 Hours promoter announced a new amateur driver-focused 1000km race in Bahrain, but this was postponed to 2023.

“For us, the Pro-Am and Am classes are very important,” said Ficarelli.

“On top of it, this year, we will have quite a lot of Pro cars coming from Intercontinental GT Challenge. They will fight for the overall win, but we will have a very exciting competition within the Pro-Am and Am classes.

“We have a limitation in Abu Dhabi, due to the garage structures, to not accept more than 34 cars. We can maybe try to stretch it a bit, but this is the limit due to the need for having more than one refueling rig for each garage.

“We also want to keep giving the opportunity to people with GT4 and Cup cars. At the moment we are planning our entry list with 20 GT3s, eight GT4s and six Porsche 992 Cups.

“This is our current plan. Then we will see how the market goes. We don’t know how many cars will be entered in the Intercontinental GT Challenge: I think all manufacturers wait for the 24 Hours of Spa before making plans.

“It would be nice if it’s a kind of equal split [of GT3 classes] between these 20 cars.”

Driving Force expects the GT3 field to be “sold out,” with interest far exceeding the available grid slots.

This has been supported by a preliminary list of interested teams that features a total of 40 GT3 entries, mostly from Europe.

Despite acknowledging that the organizers “can’t make everyone happy,” Ficarelli doesn’t want the race to morph into a GT3-only contest to soak up the demand.

“It’s something that we would like to avoid, definitely not this year,” he suggested.

“Our race is an event that should give, in our opinion, an overview of what endurance racing is. I think it is correct to keep other categories involved. It’s part of the event.”

Other IGTC races have included different vehicle types, such as last year’s Indianapolis 8 Hour which permitted GT4 cars, and the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, run by Supercars, which has included categories for Porsche Cup cars and invitational machinery.

Furthermore, GT2 cars will have their own class in the IGTC starting next year.

Calendar Stability Facilitated IGTC Deal

Ficarelli explained that greater stability in the global motorsport calendar facilitated the Gulf 12 Hours becoming part of IGTC, realizing an idea that was first discussed “quite a long time ago.”

The last two editions were disrupted by Formula 1 making schedule adjustments that caused the Gulf 12 Hours to be shifted into January, but the amount of calendar shuffling has subsided this year as COVID-19 measures have eased in several regions.

The long-term future of the Gulf 12 Hours as an IGTC fixture remains to be seen, with Ratel still keen to get the Suzuka 10 Hours back as the designated Asian round.

“I think it’s a natural evolution because our race has been around for quite a long time,” Ficarelli said of his event joining the series.

“Being a part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge is probably an ideal place to end up. We have always had very nice and friendly conversations with Stephane.

“The main issue was that, due to the COVID disruptions, the Formula 1 calendar moved our race from December to January. Clearly, you cannot finish [an IGTC season] in January.

“But this year the situation was absolutely perfect. Then, the complication for Kyalami [moving to February] helped us to find our right place. I think it was a very natural evolution.

“It was very easy and relaxed, the way we have built with SRO and agreed this.”

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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