SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel says he’s been “very pleased” with the rebound of the GT3 grid in Blancpain GT World Challenge America, with additional growth possible throughout the season of the new-look championship.
This weekend’s opening round at Circuit of The Americas sees a 23-car grid, nearly double the number of GT3 cars that took part in last year’s race at the Formula 1 circuit.
The grid is on par with Blancpain GT Sprint Cup, which along with Blancpain GT Series Asia, will all fall under the new-for-2019 ‘World Challenge’ moniker within SRO’s global umbrella.
“We know from experience COTA is usually the most successful event in terms of entries; we’ve seen it in the past. We’re not going to claim victory immediately,” Ratel said.
“We’re very pleased with the level of entries in all categories. But it’s a long season ahead. We’ll see how things develop.
“We now need to deliver on the quality. We have a larger enforcement from SRO within sporting, technical, TV, operations and communications. Everyone’s here ready to continue the integration into the global SRO.”
Ratel admitted he was concerned at the health of the series during its season-ending round at Watkins Glen International last year, which saw only 11 GT3 cars on the grid.
“When I came back from Watkins Glen last year, I was not sure I made the best investment in the world,” he said.
“The event was really dull. The grids were extremely low. GT3 was on the edge of collapsing.
“Thanks to the teams and the manufacturers, we presented a plan, we listened to the customers, we delivered the product, which is a combination of our experience and what we heard from our paddock.
“It has worked. It’s really a combination of local and global.”
North America Has ‘Biggest Potential’ for GT3 Growth
Ratel believes the North American market has the biggest potential for further growth and could see the Blancpain GT America grid exceed 30 cars in the years to come.
A study by SRO, published last year, found that around 180 GT3 cars were actively in competition across Europe in 2018, compared to only 34 in North America.
“Looking at the potential of GT3 growth, America is the one, objectively, where you have the biggest one for growth,” Ratel said.
“Look at the size of the one-make series, the size of racing. That’s where we need to build the platform.
“The market, in size, in wealth, and interest, is the same [as Europe].
“We don’t intend to go to immediately 180 cars but 90 GT3 cars racing in the U.S. in the next three years is an objective. I think the manufacturers believe in it.
“People like Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes really got behind it and pushed.
“They see that if we succeed, I don’t see why we wouldn’t have big grids, with the Sports Club and everything we want to develop [from] what we have in Europe.”