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Ratel: “24H Spa is the Heart of the Blancpain Endurance Series”

SRO’s Stephane Ratel discusses key points ahead of 24H Spa…

Photo: Brecht Decancq

Photo: Brecht Decancq

The highlight of the 2015 Blancpain GT Series, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, will be held in less than eight weeks’ time, with the twice-around-the-clock Belgian enduro set to see a record grid and increased factory team presence.

SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel discusses some of the key points in the build-up to the race, in the below Q&A.

This year will be the fourth edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa which the SRO Motorsports Group has organized and promoted itself. What is the main conclusion after these editions?

“It has been a success. There are two parts to organizing the event: the sporting part and the promotional side. Concerning the latter it is very good that we are now out of the red.

“The Total 24 Hours of Spa had a deficit for a quite a while and when SRO took over, we took a bit of a gamble. We lost money on the first two editions we organized ourselves, but now we manage to balance the accounts. This is very important for the long-term success of the event.

“The biggest progress was made by increasing the number of spectators attending the event. We asked the public what they liked, what they did not like and tried to adapt our organization with what we learned from their remarks.

“Although this was not always successful, most of the time it was. So generally speaking, we are very happy with the current situation and hope to continue to grow.”

Does the Blancpain GT Series need the Total 24 Hours of Spa or is it the other way around?

“It goes both ways. The Total 24 Hours of Spa is the heart of the Blancpain Endurance Series, its most important event, so I can’t imagine the series without it.

“Can the Total 24 Hours of Spa be a stand-alone event? I don’t think it would have the same success it has today. The race grew together with the series, you cannot see one without the other.”

The entry list for this year’s edition will again be larger than last year’s. How big could this starting grid become?

“I think we are at the maximum, grid-wise. The only progress we could make would be to have more factory-supported teams, from more brands. The diversity of potential winners is growing year after year.

“There are four marks of success for an event like this. The first is the size of the grid. Anything between sixty and seventy is an exceptional number and we have been used to this amount for a number of years now. There is not much we can do on the sheer number of cars. Anyway, we would not have the room to accept more cars.

“The second mark of success is the number of different cars and different brands that are in a position to take the overall win. That number is growing, but there is still room for improvement.

“I would love to have a factory-supported Ferrari in Pro Cup, or a factory-supported Porsche or Aston Martin. For the moment we have factory-supported teams from Audi, Bentley, BMW, Lamborghini, McLaren, Nissan and we should have a Mercedes in Pro as well.

“That makes six or seven different cars that can have a go at the win. That already shows huge progress, but we are still missing Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche, who don’t put any importance on Spa and I think they are wrong.”

That ever increasing number of potential winners is due to the Balance of Performance, but some say that that same BoP decides a large part of the outcome of the race, even before the start is given. What do you say to that criticism?

“First of all: that is simply not true. When establishing the BoP, we work totally independent. Our dream is to have all the cars within the same three tenths of a second. That has to be our objective. But I will never forget what Peter Wright, the father of the BoP at the FIA, used to say: ‘As long as we are within eight tenths of a second, we are right’.

“We already narrowed the window by introducing different BoP’s for four different types of circuit, to really pinpoint the right Balance of Performance. But then again, we are never protected from manufacturers playing around.

“In GT3 there is always uncertainty and there is always a risk that a manufacturer could sacrifice the first races of the Blancpain Endurance Series, only to win in Spa. We can only regulate what we see and if someone hides some of their assets, we could be surprised.

“In the past that has led to the suspicion that someone was not showing everything and then was unfairly restricted. That is what happened to Audi two years ago.

“It’s definitely not an easy task to get the Balance of Performance right, but we do it in all honesty and with total independence.”

Last year’s event was marred by a number of accidents and extra safety measures have been taken for the 2015 edition. Do you think they will be enough?

“Motorsport is dangerous and something can always happen, even with the best safety measures in the world. But if we compare ourselves to other endurance races, we do not have a big speed difference between our cars, since they are all GT3 machines.

“With the Sean Edwards Test we made a step forwards, and the new long Bronze/Silver test on Tuesday will pay off, I’m sure.

“The last thing we want is to throw rookie drivers into the event without verifying that they really understand the sporting environment in which they will be competing. We give them every opportunity to get the practice they need.

“And that is not all. We are one of the few non-FIA championship that enforces the FIA Accident Data Recorder system and we are sitting in the FIA GT Commission and give our views on Safety. All this is also part of our commitment to safety.”

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