SRO Motorsports Group founder and Blancpain GT Series boss Stephane Ratel was in Long Beach today where he joined WC Vision President and CEO Greg Gill, producers of the Pirelli World Challenge, in announcing an expanded relationship between the two GT-based racing organizations.
Ratel has been named to the WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge Board of Directors as part of SRO becoming a shareholder in WC Vision.
Sportscar365 caught up with Ratel after the announcement to get his thoughts on what the expanded SRO Motorsports relationship with WC Vision will bring to both organizations and to gain more insight on the partnership.
What does this expanded partnership with WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge Bring to SRO Motorsports?
“This makes SRO a true global company. In 25 years, we have raced everywhere, but we are essentially a European-based company.
“I think this involvement and shareholding with Pirelli World Challenge is making us a global company with a big ambition in this country.
“For me personally, it is really a fulfillment of a dream because I was a Frenchman, almost not speaking any English, when I lived and studied here in 1987.
“I started my first business in San Diego, trading exotic cars, and I always had the ambition to do something more in America.”
Has establishing a stronger presence for SRO and its racing series in North America been a longtime goal?
“With the start of GT3 racing, which has been an instant success since 2006, we immediately expanded.
“We started a championship in Brazil, a championship in Germany and in many other places, and I really believed that it would be the right formula for America.
“I presented the concept to different people and organizations in American motorsport but I have to say that the response was never what I could have expected!
“World Challenge did propose involvement around five years ago, but I was very much into the GT1 World Championship, which was not the easiest series to organize, so I didn’t really follow up on it. It was also a mix-match of touring cars at the time and I was looking for a more prestigious platform.
“Then, last year, I discovered the series as the Pirelli World Challenge, got to see the progress they made and the opportunity came to get involved.
“We started step-by-step with a collaboration agreement on BoP and consultation on development.
“I really got to appreciate the management, I got along well with Greg Gill and the partners in the series, and I have been offered this opportunity to become a partner and to be involved and I take it very, very seriously.”
What makes WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge a good fit with SRO?
“Pirelli World Challenge is the only GT3 series in America. It’s a series with a lot of potential that fits perfectly with the strategy that I have for GT3 racing.
“My conviction that I have had all along is that GT cars are second to nothing. There is a fundamental disagreement between the world of sports car racing, as seen by Le Mans and IMSA, that consider GT racing a subdivision.
“I want to promote GT racing not as a class but as an overall competition.
“We are proving it in Europe, we are proving on every Blancpain weekend that when GT racing is alone it has so much appeal that it can very much work on its own.”
How long have you been working on this expanded relationship with WC Vision?
“The first I ever heard of Pirelli World Challenge was actually in a letter from an American lawyer (laughing) in 2013! Our promoter of a race called the Baku World Challenge in Azerbaijan was told they couldn’t use the name World Challenge.
“It wasn’t SRO, just our promoter partner, but I ended up talking to Scott Bove and, to solve the problem, we invited the Pirelli World Challenge winners to race in Baku.
“There was no sense fighting about it, but that made the introduction and was how the whole thing started.
“Then Pirelli had an active role in saying we should really get closer and, on the recommendation of Pirelli’s Rafael Navarro, I got to meet with Greg, we started talking about the collaboration on the BoP and this was the logical next step.”
How big of a role will you play alongside the existing Board of Directors?
“If I am involved it is to have a very active role. I am not at all going to stay in the backseat. I am not a backseat person.
“Of course, I will do everything in collaboration and with the CEO and we will decide together on the progress to be made in the evolution of the series.
“As you can imagine, I have a lot ideas. I fully understand the specific needs of the series and U.S. market, which is different than the European market, but many keys of the phenomenal success we are having in Europe can be transferred to the U.S.
“It is all a matter of discussion and a step-by-step approach. No revolutions but evolutions.”
What percentage of ownership did SRO acquire and are there any specific terms of the agreement you can share?
“This I will leave to the management and Greg to comment on if he wants to comment on that, but it is a share acquisition.
“If you want to ask me if we paid for it, yes, we paid for it, because the series is successful and it has value.
“Pirelli World Challenge is a successful business and therefore it has value. We are in America. People don’t give you things for nothing.”