As Stéphane Ratel and his eponymous organization are gearing up for what announces itself as another season of stellar Blancpain GT3 racing, the Frenchman is satisfied with the current developments in the GT scene. (En Français)
“How can I not be? It’s suffices to take a look at the entry list, having 23 GT3s in the Pro Cup is amazing” Ratel told Endurance-Info.
“We knew early on that the Endurance Series would be a success. In contrast, the entries for the Sprint Series came in a bit late.
“Our first idea was to have around 24 cars on the grid, but we will be at 21 or 22 entries for the kickoff in Nogaro.
“Nevertheless, the overall image remains positive because the absence of Aston Martins is caused by a clash with the British GT races at Oulton Park.”
With a new wave of next-generation GT3 machinery set to hit the market in 2016, there’s always the looming risk of costs and and technical specifications spiraling out of control.
“The system isn’t fragile; we tend to forget how good we have it right now,” Ratel said. “The entire field will be renewed in little over two years’ time, which shows just how strong GT3 is at the moment.
“There won’t be an escalation as long as we remain a customer-based competition. Otherwise the manufacturers simply won’t sell cars.
“For example, the new Audi R8 LMS has the same price tag as the old one and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 costs less than 400,000 Euros ($420,000).
“We also need to ensure that the operating costs will not increase. It’s important to have competition between the manufacturers so that customers have a choice.
“Nonetheless it has to be noted that British Pound has more value now, resulting in higher prices for the British GT3s.”
However, SRO also realizes there’s still work to be done, with the organization taking on the leading role in guiding GT3 towards the future.
“There are two main challenges,” he said. “The first is the huge responsibility resting on SRO’s shoulders; we cannot afford to miss out on the Balance of Performance.
“The second one is to keep the GT3 a customer-based competition. If we drift away from this idea, we’re heading straight towards the wall. The homologation of every car has to be respected at all time.”
While the GT convergence talks are effectively out of the picture for now, the underlying tension between GTE and GT3 remains.
New GT3 cars, such as the Audi R8 LMS, edge ever more closer to GTE looks and specifications, perhaps making it easier for manufacturers to modify their product to be eligible for the omnipresent lure of Le Mans.
“I remain faithful to what I always say, GTE is perfect proving ground for manufacturers,” Ratel said. “It doesn’t bother me to be told that the Blancpain GT Series is the second division of endurance racing.
“It doesn’t have a [bad] meaning when you take into account the number of manufacturers involved in GT3, while there are currently only four brands in FIA WEC.
“If Audi, Bentley and McLaren want to go to Le Mans, they must develop a GTE because it’s factory racing.”
In the build up to the Blancpain GT Series test days at Paul Ricard, the SRO front man returned behind the helm of a racecar, a Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT.
Ratel will enter in SRO’s new GT Sports Club, reserved for Gentlemen racers competing solo in their own car.
“At first, I was completely lost as it’s been a while since I took the wheel of such a car,” he admitted. “I am preparing myself to drive in our new GT Sports Club.
“The idea is to race an Aston Martin DBRS9 GT3 in Barcelona, without any pressure or ambitions.”
Standing between an impressive collection of GT machines in the new SRO Race Centre by MMC at Paul Ricard, the Frenchman ends the conversation by reminiscing about his personal highlights.
“The 2010 season is simply unforgettable. GT1 was sublime, even if it cost me a lot,” he said. “It was [splendid], at each race we witnessed a real battle on the track.
“There has never been anything more beautiful than GT1 in the entire history of GT Racing. For me it was a dream and one can say that this dream became reality.”