Stephane Ratel is upbeat on future growth in Blancpain GT World Challenge America, despite a drop in car count in last weekend’s second round of the season at Virginia International Raceway.
A total of 17 GT3 entries were on the grid for the third and fourth races of the new-look championship, down from the 23 cars that took part in last month’s season-opener at Circuit of The Americas.
It came despite the addition of RealTine Racing’s Acura NSX GT3 Evo, which is confirmed for the remainder of the season.
The SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO explained that the drop-off at VIR was largely due to the lack of one-off and partial-season entries for the event, although he expects it to rebound in the races to come.
“The objective was always to have 18 full-season [entries] and we had [that],” Ratel told Sportscar365.
“Unfortunately we lost the P1 [Motorsports] car. That happened and the rest is on race-by-race, so we’ll be fluctuating [total entries].
“I think we should have 18 or more at all of the other races, and probably between 18-22 cars this year.
“We hope that will show sustainability and a solid grid that has room for growth for next year.”
Ratel said initial feedback on the new-for-2019 format of 90-minute races with live refueling and tire changes has been positive and doesn’t expect any significant changes next year.
“We don’t want to have revolutions,” he said.
“The series has gone through evolutions in names and formats and I think now we need stability and make little improvements here and there that we always do in Europe.
“I think the 2x 90-minute format for GT3 is very well-received. The teams are happy. GT4 works with the two formats and the various TC classes are working. It’s good.”
World Challenge Features “Global Strategy” with “Local Tactics”
While having had the initial vision of aligning all three World Challenge championships under a single rulebook, Ratel has conceded that each series will likely continue with variations.
He revealed that he proposed the 90-minute format for Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe, although paddock feedback in the championship formerly known as the Blancpain GT Sprint Series dictated otherwise.
“I like the [90-minute] format and my idea was to introduce it in the European series but the teams didn’t want it,” Ratel said.
“That’s why you see that markets react differently. The initial idea was to completely unify the sporting regulations of all three series.
“In America, there was a need to differentiate the GT3 from GT4, for a longer format.
“In Asia, they definitely don’t want refueling and the complications of that.
“In Europe, they think that it will only make it more expensive, [while maintaining] the two-driver format, so you won’t get more revenue and just adding costs.
“Each market reacts in a different way. You need a global strategy but local tactics.”
GT2 Integration for 2020 To-Be-Determined
A decision on how SRO’s new GT2 formula will be integrated globally remains a topic of debate, according to Ratel, who said to expect further news at its annual press conference at Spa in July.
“It all depends,” he said. “If a series really needs to be reinforced by GT2?
“What would the first reactions be of the clients who have the cars… Would they prefer to be in a class or a standalone [race]?
“This is a work in progress. As always, the decision you make is by talking to the stakeholders.”
Ratel said he “definitely” sees a market for GT2 in North America.
“They will be more cost-effective to run, as they are closer to road production cars,” he said. “They are very exciting in performance, in power so I’m sure it will be [good].”
While Porsche has been the only manufacturer to officially confirm a GT2 car, Ratel said he’s expecting cars from three manufacturers for its debut race in the Blancpain GT Sports Club round at Barcelona in September.
An additional two or three manufacturers are targeted for 2020, meanwhile.