Stephane Ratel says the inaugural season of the Intercontinental GT Challenge has met his expectations, despite two of the four registered manufacturers not being present in this weekend’s title-decider in Sepang.
Both Bentley and Mercedes-Benz, which entered the third and final round of the season 1-2 in the manufacturers championship, elected not to send cars to Malaysia, although understood to be for different reasons.
It’s left only three IGTC-entered cars — two Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS cars and a single K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 — on the grid for Saturday’s Sepang 12 Hours.
“I didn’t expect to have four [manufacturers] at the beginning of the season,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “I’m confident, without the current difficulties, Bentley should have been here. It’s definitely not a disappointment.”
Ratel cited two unrelated issues for the absence of both Bentley and Mercedes from Sepang.
“Of course the Volkswagen Group in general has cut programs,” he said. “I think we’ve been a victim of that cut, concerning Bentley.
“Mercedes was a disappointment. I don’t know, maybe they were not happy after the situation in Spa. It’s possible. But we have a grid which has progressed from last year.
“I think we have a very good competition between Porsche, Audi, McLaren and Ferrari, so I think it’s not bad. Step by step.”
While Saturday’s 25-car overall grid features 12 GT3-spec cars, representing a half-dozen manufacturers, Ratel said he remains committed to the IGTC concept, which focuses on utilizing local teams to field cars on behalf of manufacturers.
He would not, however, be drawn into the number of manufacturers he expects that will commit next year.
The IGTC will expand to a four-round calendar with the addition of an eight-hour enduro at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with plans to add a nine-hour race at Kyalami in 2018.
“When I see the huge success of the Bathurst 12 Hour and the huge success of Spa, we’re growing with this race in America and then we will have the race in Sepang,” Ratel said.
“If the platform grows together… I always say that things don’t come overnight; you have to build up year on year.
“We definitely need an endurance race in Asia and we have this one so we’ll see how it progresses.
“The manufacturers are there. They’re all in Bathurst and they’re all in Spa. Now we need to see how many will continue in America and how many will come here.
“Over time it makes sense, to join these big races together.”