With expected increased full-season involvement from teams next year, Stephane Ratel has admitted the Intercontinental GT Challenge could evolve into a ‘floating championship’ with the utilization of equipment being sea-freighted around the globe.
The SRO Motorsports Group-run series, which expands to five rounds next year, has established a logistics-friendly schedule that could make it possible to complete the season nearly entirely on sea freight only.
The 2019 season kicks off with the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in early February, followed by the California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in late March, with stops at Spa-Francorchamps and Suzuka before closing out with the new-for-2019 Kyalami 9 Hours in November.
Ratel said interest levels from teams looking to commit to the entire season is high, following successful full-season campaigns from the likes of Bentley Team M-Sport, Strakka Racing and Black Swan Racing this year.
Sportscar365 understands that at least two current Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup teams could switch its focus to IGTC next year, amid the expanded, cost-effective calendar.
“We’re hearing of some [additional] interest,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “We can see the number of teams from various parts of the world are quite keen to do the whole Intercontinental.
“It’s not really the concept because it’s for drivers to use local teams. But there’s teams like Strakka and M-Sport that are doing it this year, and others looking to do the whole thing next year.”
Aside from the one-month gap between the Total 24 Hours of Spa and Suzuka 10 Hours, which makes sea-freight impossible, Ratel said the remainder of the calendar is possible to be achieved with the same set of equipment in economical fashion.
Several teams, such as Strakka, have been air-freighting its cars between multiple series this year.
“It’s true that if the calendar flows and allows for sea freight, it becomes a ‘floating championship’ like we have in Blancpain Asia,” Ratel said.
“The cars are on containers and they cruise around. Maybe that could be a similar way of thought for this. They could have a [dedicated] car to [do IGTC]. We’ll see.”
While coming as a benefit logistically, Ratel said the date swap for the California 8 Hours may hurt local team participation amid the start of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Pirelli World Challenge seasons.
“It will be a challenge in some way because maybe it’s more difficult for U.S. teams to race at the beginning of the season than other at the end like we have now,” he said.
“On the other hand, there are many events at Laguna at the second half of the year.
“Spring allows us a more fluid calendar. With sea freight, you can go from Bathurst to California in time without requiring air freight.
“If we were doing it the other way around, we would have two air-freight legs.”
Seven Manufacturer Target for IGTC
Ratel believes that having seven manufacturers in IGTC next year is “achievable” amid the increased global interest.
The series currently sees involvement from Audi, Bentley, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche, although Ratel admitted McLaren is currently “a bit weak” with only one car having taken part in last weekend’s Suzuka 10 Hours.
“I think we if we can go from 4.5 to 6 or 7 would be good,” he said. “I think seven would be achievable and would be great. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
It’s understood Honda is nearing a decision on a potential manufacturer commitment with its NSX GT3, although Lamborghini has expressed no interest in joining the globe-trotting series.