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Intercontinental GT Challenge

24H Spa End-of-July Date Currently a “Question Mark”

Spa IGTC round may need to change, while SRO has no current plans to move 10H Suzuka…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

The traditional late July date for the Total 24 Hours of Spa is currently a “question mark” because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel.

The second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli season is due to be held on July 25-26 and SRO is trying to ensure that the event can keep to this date.

However, Ratel told Sportscar365 that a change of weekend remains “an option” during the current period of uncertainty.

Like most of Europe, Belgium has implemented strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19 and to relieve pressure on the country’s health service.

All sporting events and public gatherings excluding personal exercise have been banned until April 19, although the government has indicated that this could be extended if necessary.

According to the World Health Organization, as of Tuesday Belgium has reported a total of 19,691 COVID-19 cases and 1,447 virus-related deaths.

Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe, GT Sports Club Europe, TCR Europe and the GT4 European Series are also set to race on the Spa bill.

“The government in Belgium has already indicated that summer music festivals could be suspended, so we have a question mark on the 24 Hours of Spa,” explained Ratel.

“It’s difficult to have any clear visibility for the time being.

“We have a plan which is to restart [SRO’s championships] in late June or early July, but this is becoming more unlikely as things last.

“We have another plan which is to start with the 24 Hours of Spa, and our last plan would be to start in the fall. We’re working on all these different scenarios.

“The most important thing for our company is our teams because we don’t want the teams to go out of business.

“We [at SRO] are not really thinking of ourselves; we’re thinking of the whole industry that we’ve created around GT racing.” 

A delay to the 24 Hours of Spa would also likely result in a major disruption to the IGTC calendar, which relies on a tight global freight schedule to reach all five events.

Ratel explained that there is currently no intention to postpone the Suzuka 10 Hours IGTC round, which comes after Spa on Aug. 23.

Last week, Japan introduced a new indefinite entry ban on people who have visited any one of 74 identified countries and territories, including the whole of Europe.

The IGTC is also set to race at Indianapolis on Oct. 4 and Kyalami in South Africa on Nov. 28.

“Wuhan [in China] went into confinement at the end of January and it’s getting out of it two and a half months later, but it doesn’t mean you can travel freely there,” said Ratel.

“When we talk about the end of August, we have time. We can’t say that we cancel the season and rearrange everything for next year: that is not our intention.

“I think everybody is waiting for a moment when it will be possible to restart. Managing any company, you simply need to wait and see.

“It’s true that Japan just introduced a new travel ban, but it’s possible that in two or three months this travel ban will be lifted and travel can resume.”

Ratel added that SRO is trying “not to panic too early” by avoiding hasty decisions to postpone or cancel events.

“Our sporting director Jacquie Groom made a good parallel in that it’s like last year’s [rain-hit] 24 Hours of Spa,” he said.

“When we stopped the race in the middle of the night at 4 a.m, when it was in the middle of the storm and people were panicking. All the teams were saying to stop the race.

“There was a meeting with the race director and then finally they managed to restart six hours later. In fact, it could have restarted two hours later or it could not have been stopped.

“Sometimes, in the middle of a storm, you may take decisions that you may regret.

“That’s why we don’t want to immediately decide to postpone everything to September, because eventually something can happen.

“Maybe the pandemic goes… we don’t know. We just don’t need to take too early decisions but stay close to reality and have secure backup plans.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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