SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel is targeting long-term measured growth for its World Challenge title.
The new-for-2019 global challenge for manufacturers will encompass results from customer GT3 teams in the European, American and Asian Blancpain GT Series sprint championships, which have been rebranded under the World Challenge moniker.
Announced in September, manufacturers will earn points from four nominated drivers: one Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze-rated driver from each series, with points multiplied by the number of starters in each class.
Ratel said that he doesn’t expect a large level of manufacturer participation initially but intends for it to grow over time, similar to the launch of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, which remains standalone to World Challenge.
“If you have a successful customer racing program, you should have cars everywhere,” Ratel told Sportscar365.
“Ideally, they should have cars in all three series, which we don’t know yet [for 2019]. We’ll have to see where they will be at. It will take time.
“If I have a match the first year of two manufacturers, maybe three, like Intercontinental [GT Challenge]. It started so small.”
Audi, Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG were the only three manufacturers represented full-time in all three series, the Blancpain GT Sprint Cup, Blancpain GT Series Asia and Pirelli World Challenge GT, this year.
However, Lamborghini could be added to the list in 2019, with a multi-car Huracan GT3 Evo program reportedly set for Blancpain GT America, which Ratel is targeting an improved grid of 20 cars.
“People will want to see how it will work,” Ratel said. “The ones that have cars everywhere are Ferrari and Mercedes. Bentley, in the Sprint in Europe I’m not sure. Audi, in [America] I’m not sure. Lamborghini could have cars everywhere. It’s a question of who has cars everywhere.”
Wendl: World Challenge Fits Customer Racing Concept
Mercedes-AMG is set to fully embrace World Challenge and has already begun integrating it into its 2019 global customer racing program, according to motorsports boss Stefen Wendl.
The German manufacturer was largely represented by AKKA ASP in Europe, GruppeM Racing in Asia and CRP Racing in America this year, along with several single-race entries in all three series.
“It fits the customer racing concept, and all the brands with a real customer racing effort will benefit from it,” Wendl told Sportscar365.
“I think that’s the way to attract customers in each region in the sprint championships to be elected from the manufacturer to be a part of the manufacturer’s team.
“We just started promoting it internally. Who it will be, which Bronze and Silver driver, Gold and Platinum are much easier, and also want to integrate this in our internal championship, in our program.”
Wendl, who was “very involved” with Ratel on the initial concept, expects to have significant promotion around its involvement with the various drivers, some of which are not typically in the media spotlight.
“You have to promote it and make it public or else there’s nothing behind it,” he said. “You cannot announce a new title if you don’t promote it properly. This is what we want to do.”
Audi Undecided on Potential 2019 Involvement
While agreeing with Wendl on the general concept, Head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke said they have yet to decide if it will enter World Challenge next year.
An entry fee, which includes participation in Blancpain GT America, is understood to be among the requirements for a manufacturer’s participation.
“We haven’t really reviewed in-depth how we will participate in that situation,” Reinke told Sportscar365.
“You first of all need participants. Therefore it’s too early to take a decision.”
One of the potential stumbling blocks could be an entry in Blancpain GT America, with Parker Chase, owner of the Audi R8 LMS cars that competed under the TruSpeed Autosport banner this year, reportedly set for a move to IMSA competition.
“As we’ve seen a positive impulse on [the California 8 Hours] and have seen a growing market in GT3 racing worldwide in general, I also believe [Blancpain GT America] will kick off next year and develop and hopefully see the involvement of Audi Sport customer racing.”