Sportscar365 caught up with SRO Motorsports Group CEO Stephane Ratel during last weekend’s Blancpain Sprint Series round at Zolder for a wide variety of questions.
How do you look back on the past season. Did it fulfill your expectations and did the Sprint Series progressed as you wanted?
“We’ve had a beautiful season with a great grid, both in quantity as in quality, and of course a fantastic 24 Hours of Spa. The big challenge was the Sprint Series, but I’m very happy now. We started at 20 cars, and then we had 21, 22, 23, now 25, and we finish at 30.
“We don’t have a huge objective for next year, we’re satisfied if it stabilizes around 24-26 cars, sprint races don’t need any more cars. The upside for SRO is not to just collect entry fees; it’s to have sponsors, TV coverage and good events.”
In what way did the end of the GT1 World Championship play a role in relaunching sprint series?
“The World Championship was a difficult experience, especially for us, more than for the teams. We did pretty much our program at the end of the third year. The people involved understood it, but there was a lot of negativity around it.
“From the beginning people have said it won’t happen, it won’t work… but it did happen and it did work. At the end it was not financially viable and we stopped it, it didn’t go bankrupt.
“It stopped because with FIA WEC there was no room for two world championships with GT cars. We regrouped in Europe and dropping the FIA prefix, we gained flexibility and that has helped us reacting and making the right decisions for the championship.”
GT3 is becoming ever more expensive. Do you think there is a need to look for opportunities to reduce costs?
“We have to compare what is comparable. In 2004 a Maserati MC12 was a million Euros and an Aston Martin DBR9 was 850,000 Euros; even the GT2 cars were highly expensive. If you look at an Aston Martin DBRS9 (GT3) it was €300,000 back in 2006.
“If you compare that with the price of a Vantage GT3 today, it is around €380,000. It has gone up a bit since, but I don’t experience the cost explosion that some people want to see.
“Don’t forget that back then it was a pure European product. Now it’s global and that makes it a fantastic product. Europe is in a difficult economic situation right now and you can see GT3 struggling on a national level, mainly because there are more international competitions.
“We have about 180 GT3 teams. We monitor them. They are all still there and the number is not dropping; they simply change between series. But the GT3 movement in general is still very strong.”
You will not intervene even when the limit of €500,000 is exceeded?
“To the best of our knowledge, that won’t happen. The concept is customer racing, and the manufacturers want to sell cars. It a relatively large market. There is competition and if you are too expensive you just won’t sell your cars.
“By definition, they all have the same performance, so if you come with a car that is massively more expensive than the others you’re going to have a difficult time selling them.
“The market will definitely regulate itself. Some cars may be more expensive, but teams can get deals, support, factory drivers and so on. The cars also have real resale value, you can sell them in Japan, America,… and that is also very important.”
Where do you see the GT3 regulations evolving in the years to come? There is talk of a new (accelerator) restrictor method?
“The manufacturers didn’t agree to it in the convergence talks. The homologations of the cars are with the FIA and we respect FIA homologations. We will see what happens, but for us it is only a matter of cost. As long as they remain the same, we’re ok with it.
“If the homologation would become more expensive, then we will see how to get involved. But for the moment we are happy, because with the GT convergence now out of the way we can look at a brighter future.”
Will all SRO series will adopt the new international driver ratings standard?
“We created it, the ACO adopted it and then the FIA proposed to harmonize it. So we sat together with the ACO and it worked very well.
“Basically it’s SRO and ACO that make the grading under the supervision of the FIA. It shouldn’t be a problem anymore. It could only be the case if a driver is very good in a prototype and very bad in GT or the other way around.”
Are there any plans for a Blancpain-style series in America?
“No. America is already a very busy market, with very active promoters. It was meant to happen. I couldn’t understand why IMSA has been blind for so long.
“Now they have announced they will introduce GT3 in 2016, not because of us, but because I think they were upset with the progress of the Pirelli World Challenge.
“I don’t think there would be room to launch another series against what already exists. If nobody would have done anything with GT3, then maybe… At a certain moment I was looking at it and I started having talks but then the Pirelli World Challenge really started adopting it.”
Have there been any recent developments regarding a potential GT World Cup?
“I expressed an idea of a concept. If we want to do it, we need to do it well; we need to do something special. To stand out you need a clear concept, a glamorous destination with money.
“If we do this race for example in Paul Ricard and wait for people to come, I’m not sure it’s going to work. If the project is big and if I find a promoter to pay for it, than of course I’d be interested. But if someone else does it I can also come and be a happy spectator.”
The Baku World Challenge has become a bit of GT World Cup on itself. Will the series return for a third time next year, before Formula 1 arrives in 2016?
“ICE has a three-year contract with the local authorities and we have a three-year contract with ICE, so it will be on the calendar for next season.”
When will the Blancpain Sprint Series calendar be unveiled and will race in Russia be part of the schedule?
“We have many things up in the air. We are waiting for answers. We try to keep our teams informed, but we’ll see what is signed in the end, but it’s looking good.
“Our deadline for the calendar is November 1 in Baku. We have options; we could even renew all our races and do exactly the same calendar. If these new opportunities are confirmed before the deadline we’ll go.”