Stephane Ratel is confident that the changes implemented in GT Pirelli World Challenge will lead to increased grids and additional growth for the GT3 platform within North America as a whole.
The SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO has targeted a minimum of 18 GT3 cars for next year’s championship, which will evolves into 90-minute, two-driver extended sprint races held over seven weekends.
Ratel said competitor feedback, particularly on the race format and event locations, ultimately shaped the restructured GT series for 2019.
“I think the combination of going to the right circuits, having shorter events, having a format that makes it a little bit special while remaining a sprint element… I think it’s a good package,” Ratel told Sportscar365.
“It’s both our experiences that if you want a championship to succeed, you go to the places where people want to go.
“The selection of the circuits was really done according to the wish of the teams. We had a precise questionnaire.”
PWC’s race format change, which will see refueling being added in addition to tire and driver changes that had featured in SprintX, was also derived directly from feedback, according to Ratel.
The Frenchman, however, has defended claims that the format is a direct copy-and-paste from SRO’s other series.
“I read some comments [saying] we’re not in Belgium or France and this is America,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely untrue because what we proposed is something we’ve never done in Europe.
“We never had a 90-minute race. This really came from discussions we’ve had with teams.”
Ratel said he remains realistic with short-term growth goals, stating that 20 GT3 cars on the grid next year would be “wonderful.”
“I think anything from 18 we’ll be happy,” he said. “We have to be realistic. We’re starting from 12 cars, sometimes 11, this year. We have to go step by step.
“We have a plan, we announced it, and we have to tweak a couple of dates, but it’s all going now.
“We’ll meet with the GT3 teams [this weekend at Watkins Glen] because we still have to finalize a couple of sporting elements, like refueling, the number of tires. We’re pushing.”
Ratel: “Positive Emulation” with IMSA
Ratel said he doesn’t feel threatened by IMSA’s launch of the WeatherTech Sprint Cup, a seven-round title for GT Daytona competitors that will be contested largely within the existing IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The announcement by IMSA came one week after SRO confirmed the restructured PWC format.
“I should be honored that a newcomer on the [North American] market coming with this idea of seven races is being mirrored by the big boys at IMSA,” he said with a laugh.
“What we’ve seen in Europe, it’s very clear. If you have a GT3 [car], you have a choice between running it for overall honors or run it for class wins, which would be with prototypes.
“You can look at ELMS, Road to Le Mans and everything, the majority of GT competitors prefer to race [for overall wins] and to race in a grid where they don’t have to look in their mirror at every corner.
“There is a element where usually people in GT3 prefer to race in GT3-only series. That’s what we see works and I believe the same should apply in America.”
Ratel said he doesn’t see PWC as competition to IMSA but rather “positive emulation” to help grow GT racing in North America.
“In Europe, we have a very positive emulation between ADAC [GT Masters], SRO, GT Open, Le Mans, Road to Le Mans,” he said. “That at the end of the day has created a huge market for sports car racing.
“We must hope the same will happen in America. If we’re successful, we should become the best contributor to IMSA.
“It’s a fact of life that if a team that starts in GT4 and grows into GT3, what will they want to do after two or three years with us [in PWC]? No doubt some will want to go to Daytona and Sebring.
“If things go well, we’ll create more teams, and more teams going from our regional [GT4] series to a nationwide series to GT3 and then to Daytona.
“At the end, I think it will be good for everyone. We just have to help structure GT racing in America like we’ve done in Europe.”