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Ratel: “24H Spa is Our Biggest Success”

Stephane Ratel reflects on success of Total 24H Spa…

Photo: Brecht Decancq

Photo: Brecht Decancq

If there’s one endurance race that brings out the world’s largest collection of GT3 machinery, stacked with world-class drivers and teams, it’s arguably the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

This weekend’s twice-around-the-clock Belgian classic sees a 58-car grid, including factory or works-supported efforts from more than a half-dozen manufacturers for the fourth round of the Blancpain Endurance Series.

It’s an achievement that’s been a number of years in the making, according to Stephane Ratel, whose SRO Motorsports Group has transformed the event into one of the premier endurance races in the world.

“Spa is our biggest success,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “The Blancpain Endurance Series is an outstanding success. With 62 cars at Paul Ricard and the quality of the field. We have seven manufacturers which are backing teams to [win Spa].

“In all the motorsport world, I really don’t see a championship where you have [more than 55] cars of the same category with 30 of them in Pro and seven manufacturers that are supporting teams to win the race outright. I think we’re at the level, which is outstanding.

“The good thing is that we see no sign of it getting tired in any way. We all know that there are new manufacturers working on cars. It’s looking like it’s getting bigger and better all the time.”

The 67th edition of the race sees added manufacturer interest, with the arrival of Lamborghini and its Huracán GT3, which joins the established GT3 marques such as BMW, Nissan, Mercedes, McLaren, Bentley and Audi, the latter coming off a dominant win for its new R8 LMS at the Nürburgring 24.

“I’m unable to say who’s going to win it this year,” Ratel said. “We have a very good, strong display of performance of BMW at Paul Ricard. The Marc VDS team did very well.

“Bentley definitely want to win and we saw what the Nissan can do, as they won at Ricard. McLaren won at Silverstone. The Ferrari is strong and I still hope to have a Ferrari in Pro as they definitely could win the race.

“You can never forget Mercedes. They are coming with a couple of Pro cars. Audi, of course, even though we were a bit surprised by the lack of performance for the new R8, but they won the Nürburgring and we can’t discount them. Lamborghini has come with a really strong car.

“You take all of these together and it’s seven [manufacturers] and [any] of these can win the race.”

Ratel has emphasized the quality of this year’s field over the quantity compared to 2014, a race that was marred by numerous serious accidents and a red flag, which has resulted in SRO taking further steps to ensure a safer and less eventful race this time around.

“We’ve really done what we could,” Ratel said. “We introduced the Sean Edwards Test to make sure of the safety knowledge.

“Then we have the longer Bronze test. We’re also the only non-FIA championship that has accident data recorders. All of these come together.

“Most importantly, we’ve introduced Full Course Yellow. One of the problems was that the cars were slowing down a lot with tires getting cold, and restarts and then ‘boom.’

“That’s what we had last year. With FCY, the car have less speed that should keep the tire temperature and when it restarts, it’s not a new start, the race continues.

“That, I think should be the most important measure.”

While already featuring the strongest single-class grid in the world, Ratel hasn’t stopped in his mission to attract additional factory backed entries in the future that would further raise the event’s profile.

“I know the objective,” he said. “At the moment, we have seven manufacturers who want to win it and I’m missing three who are concentrating on Le Mans, which are Porsche, Ferrari and Aston Martin. I really hope we will convince them to come.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

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