Stephane Ratel says SRO Motorsports Group remains fully committed to the California 8 Hours despite a drop in entries amid a date change for this year’s edition at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
A total of 20 cars took part in last weekend’s Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli round, less than six months after the 2018 champions were crowned in a race that featured 32 entries.
The date change, which placed the event as the second round of the expanded 2019 IGTC season and first major event of the year at Laguna Seca, also saw no significant change in attendance numbers, despite a move to a Saturday race.
“It’s a challenge to go from an end-of-season event,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “It’s true that we lost a lot of cars compared to last year but the level [was] very high.
“We wouldn’t have minded a couple more cars but that will come.”
Ratel explained the move from October to late March was influenced by the number of events at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit in the second half of the year, including the addition of the NTT IndyCar Series in September.
It resulted in a reshuffle of the IGTC calendar, which was initially set to see the new-for-2019 Kyalami 9 Hour take place in March of this year.
“I think it’s good to be at [Laguna Seca] at the beginning of the season,” Ratel said.
“Laguna is not the easiest circuit for spectators, everybody knows that. But if we want to have a chance to do well, we need to put ourselves at a different time of the year.
“We have ideas for next year and could change a few things. But we will stay here and we will push.”
When asked if there will be any initiatives to attract additional U.S.-based entrants, which saw a significant drop year-to-year, Ratel said he sees room for growth from the majority of the GT3 manufacturers.
“They can have up to four cars [nominated to score points],” he said.
“To have only one Honda [in Laguna] was a surprise. I really thought that we would have a couple of [those cars]… It was same for Ferrari. I thought we would have one U.S. Ferrari coming but it didn’t work.
“We [are] still on the build-up phase. With the Intercontinental only, I think there is potential for more cars.”
Ratel said his “ultimate” objective is to have 40 GT3 cars at the event but said it’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation.
“If you want to grow more teams, you need to grow the event,” he said. “To grow the event, you need to have a bigger show. We have ideas.
“Bathurst is big, Spa is big, Suzuka is big and I really think Kyalami will be a big event.
“That’s at the end of the season and many European teams are saying that they will go to Kyalami because it’s well after the Blancpain GT season so they think they will have a big grid there.
“So [California] is the one that we have to build. But of course we are not just going to stand there. We are going to do things.
“We need to discuss with teams and manufacturers and see how we can grow.”