Stephane Ratel believes the expected increased manufacturer participation in the Intercontinental GT Challenge will lead to potentially larger grids for next year’s California 8 Hours despite a date change.
The third running of the American leg of the IGTC season is set to move from October to late March next year, as part of an expansion and realignment of the calendar that sees the addition of Kyalami 9 Hours as the new season finale.
The March 29-31 event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will now serve as the second round of the season, following the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in early February.
“At first we thought it could hurt but because we think we’ll have more manufacturer participation,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “Also, don’t forget the event is quite well-scheduled.
“Its advantage is that it’s at the beginning of the season.
“If you are at the beginning of the season and you’re a manufacturer and you want to win the Challenge, you’re going to be highly motivated to put four cars on the grid.
“Here, we achieved this grid without having McLaren here and Porsche having less cars. If they had been in contention for the title, there would have been more cars.
“That, you can reasonably except that anybody being serious about winning the Intercontinental [GT Challenge] will push hard to get three to four cars per brand. If you have six brands, that starts being a very good base number.”
The move will also bring the race to the first major event of the year at Laguna Seca, which Ratel expects to help attendance numbers.
“All the big events are in the summer, so we’ll be at a different time of the year and it should work better in terms of marketing activations and looking for spectators,” Ratel said.
The revised date, which falls two weeks after the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and four weeks following the Blancpain GT World Challenge America season-opener at Circuit of The Americas, could also be better-placed for North American-based operations.
Head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Stefan Wendl said he’s hopeful of having U.S.-based teams part of the German manufacturer’s factory-supported operation in the race next year, after supporting the French AKKA ASP and British-based Strakka Racing operations this weekend.
“I think it works better,” Wendl said of the date change. “The biggest problem so far is that it’s so close to Petit Le Mans. Last year, it was one week, now it’s two weeks.
“Sebring next year is two weeks in between but if you have enough time to prepare properly, it should be possible.”
Audi Sport customer racing boss Chris Reinke shared similar views on the date change.
“I think a season kickoff for a one-off event is a more positive one than having another race after most teams have closed up for the season,” he told Sportscar365. “It will have a positive effect, yes.”
“Great Satisfaction” to See California 8H Growth
Ratel said he’s been very pleased with the year-to-year growth of the event, which launched last year following the cancelation of a planned six-hour IGTC race at COTA in 2016.
“It’s a great satisfaction because if you think two years ago we had to cancel it because we didn’t have enough cars,” he said.
“Last year we made it [on the edge] with 19 cars. This year we have over 30 cars. It shows the progress. We’re very happy.
“The first step was to build a sustainable grid. I think we have it. Now we have to build the event and attract public and do a promotion and everything and expect the manufacturers to activate a little bit more.
“Things need time. You don’t create an event like this out of nothing.
“It’s the only GT3 long-distance race in America that can win overall with manufacturer participation. I think it looks good.”