SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel says he still remains fully committed to Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli, despite a reduced schedule this year and a potentially similar situation developing for 2022.
The global GT3 championship had a delayed kickoff last weekend at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, which was initially due to serve as the second round of the five-race season.
Both February’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, and for the second consecutive year, the Suzuka 10 Hours, have been canceled due to travel-related restrictions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has resulted in a reduced three-round schedule that will include the Indianapolis 8 Hour in October and season-ending Kyalami 9 Hour in December.
While SRO had looked into replacing Suzuka with a round in the Middle East, Ratel said they have ultimately elected for quality over quantity amid the current pandemic conditions.
“I had a proposition to join events or to put up events. The problem is that Intercontinental can only be justified [to manufacturers],” Ratel told Sportscar365.
“GT World Challenge is customer racing competition and Intercontinental is supported by the manufacturers.
“For manufacturers if they put in marketing money, they need marketing return.
“We’ve managed with Bathurst being a national event with national television and national press with a crowd.
“Suzuka and Spa are the same and Kyalami from year one has been the same.
“America has been more difficult and I wouldn’t say the Indy 8 Hour is a national event but it’s starting on the right foot and I think this year it will be a lot stronger than it was with the potential for growth.
“Do I stick to that or do we go join an event? But if the marketing return is not there for the manufacturers we won’t do it.”
Ratel said he had an offer to “do something” in Dubai, which would have served as the Asian leg of this year’s championship although elected to forgo the opportunity.
“We really thought about it but then we thought if the manufacturers would be happy to spend money to go [to other events],” he explained.
“You already have the Gulf 12 Hours, the Dubai 24 Hours, the two [Asian] Le Mans events. There’s plenty of them.
“I don’t do races to do races. I do races to have something that makes sense.
“My view is that it’s better to do less but stick to the concept, being confident that one day both Bathurst and Suzuka will come back and we will be back to the five stars of our calendar.
“If a great opportunity comes in the meantime, why not? But it needs to be great.”
Bathurst Return Unlikely for 2022
Ratel admitted that a return to Bathurst, at least in its traditional February time slot, is unlikely due to Australia’s continued lockdowns and ban on overseas travel that doesn’t look to be lifted until late 2022 at the earliest.
The Supercars-promoted event had initially explored the possibility of proposing a travel bubble to the Australian government although those prospects now look unlikely.
“Bathurst was like, ‘OK if Formula 1 is a special bubble organization maybe we can do the same in Bathurst,'” said Ratel.
“Then Formula 1 got canceled. So I doubt it [will happen in February].
“Will it be possible later [in the year]? I don’t know. All these questions we need to answer before announcing the final [IGTC] calendar.”
Ratel nor anyone from SRO have been able to travel to Australia since the onset of the pandemic, despite the launch of Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia powered by AWS, a joint effort with local promoter ARG.
“It’s true that we would really like to be there and to be more present and work more hand in hand with them and not just over conference calls,” said Ratel.
“Of course Bathurst is a big part of the equation in Australia. The 12 Hour was the one motivating teams to buy GT3 cars that they would eventually run in GTWC Australia.
“We hope Bathurst will restart and be strong. The interest from all of the manufacturers is really Bathurst. It’s the second one in terms of importance [to Spa].
“They all want to go to Bathurst. Let’s hope it will restart earlier than later.”