SRO Motorsports Group boss Stephane Ratel is confident about the plans set out for the delayed start of GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS as countries around the continent continue to ease social restrictions put in place to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like all motorsport series, GTWC Europe Endurance Cup and Sprint Cup were affected by the global health crisis with both undergoing extensive calendar revisions.
The Endurance Cup is set to start on July 26 at Imola, while Sprint Cup will launch two weeks later at Misano. A full GT World Challenge calendar was presented on Thursday.
Ratel told Sportscar365 that the current outlook is a positive one for SRO’s European GT3 series, based on the gradual reopening of areas in which the races are being held.
Confirmed COVID-19 case numbers were lower in May than April across Italy, Germany, France and Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands where GTWC Europe races are held, leading to the easing of many social restrictions and enabling some teams to return to testing.
“You read the news and it’s all going in the right direction, so we are happy,” said Ratel, who suggested at the height of the European case numbers spike in April that SRO and GT racing would be strong enough to ‘go through the storm’.
“I think we are getting slowly and surely out of this pandemic, at least for the time being.
“That doesn’t mean it won’t come back to us next winter, but I think we should be able to have our seasons. The next question mark is the public attendance at events.
“We hope that it will be OK for Spa which is really the one where we will try to have fans. In France, they have been starting to say that public events could be accepted.”
Ratel explained that teams have largely remained loyal to their programs despite the significant disruption and uncertainty caused by the health crisis.
The first GTWC Europe withdrawal announcement was made on Wednesday by Silver Cup team Rinaldi Racing, however this decision was not driven by the pandemic.
GTWC Europe is still set to achieve strong car counts in 2020 after announcing full-season grids of 53 entries for Endurance Cup and 33 for Sprint Cup back in March.
Ratel described the general maintenance of these numbers as a “good surprise” less than two months before the season starts.
“We haven’t had the phone ringing and teams saying they are dropping out or asking for their entry fees to be reimbursed,” he said.
“It’s all holding up there. Our biggest concern, next to the health issue, is that there could be an economic issue, and that may be a problem that we have to deal with.
“We have felt it more in GT4, more in the smaller teams with smaller budgets, where people are maybe more concerned than the bigger teams in GT3. But we will see on the starting grids.
“We are almost six weeks away from our first race in Europe and a lot can happen in those weeks.
“People that still believe they’re going to race might realize that the situation is much more difficult than they thought, in terms of their company or their personal finance.
“A lot can happen. But for the moment I would say that we are hopeful of a good grid.”
Hygiene Policy to be Reviewed Throughout Season
Ratel added that SRO’s new COVID-19 protocol, which sets out the requirements for teams to ensure hygienic operations at races, will be reviewed throughout the season.
The policy has three separate phases depending on the level of restrictions required, with the current ‘Phase 1’ plan banning public access and limiting teams to essential staff.
Ratel noted that the intention is not to run the entire season under Phase 1.
“We hired a medical delegate, who is a doctor with good experience,” he said.
“We also had some guidelines from the FIA. We were issued some guidelines from the Italian federation, which is where the first two of our European events will take place.
“With all these and a bit of common sense on top of that, we drafted this protocol and we will apply at the first two events, or the first three, as long as we have restrictions.
“Then we will see. The idea is not to do the whole season like this. The idea is to start and then we will see how the situation will follow in the national sporting federations and governments.”