A new era for global GT3 racing begins this weekend at Bathurst with the launch of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, an initial three-round championship that’s aimed to provide a cost-effective way for manufacturers and drivers to compete for a world title.
Sportscar365 caught up with SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel for further insight into his new project.
Do you feel there’s a market for a global GT3 championship?
“The concept and what we see is that the manufacturers understand it. Most of them are using local teams and that’s exactly what we wanted.
“I’ve learned the hard way with the GT1 World Championship of how difficult it is to transport [the equipment]. You need two 747 cargos and you need to transport the championship around the planet.
“I think what we do is extremely efficient. You have GT3, which is the only category that’s absolutely global today.
“You have cars in all of the important markets, so you can really do a series where it’s more cost-effective and environmentally friendly to fly a couple of drivers and engineers than to fly a full team of car, equipment and personnel. That’s what we’re proving now.”
There’s a few new-spec GT3 cars that were not eligible in Bathurst because the BoP has not yet been completed. Was there any consideration to allow new cars in anyway?
“You have to do it seriously. By the time the process goes with the initial BoP done by the FIA, the information that’s released, our own tests we need to do and with the weather conditions in Europe, it’s impossible.
“I think they understood and even if the event did lose some cars because of this, everybody thinks that the prestige and credibility, you can’t show that.
“With all due respect to Dubai , they accepted all these new cars and they changed the BoP during the event. It’s not the way SRO does things.
“I’ve spent 17 years promoting FIA championships, so I’ve learned that you need to put some formality and some credibility, especially when you welcome manufacturer-supported entries like this.
“I would never put a SRO stamp on something that’s not properly tested. It’s too important [of an event] to try experimentation after each session.”
Next year, could we see a GT3 Pro Cup class at Bathurst, to have it harmonized with the other Intercontinental GT Challenge events?
“I believe that it’s the right thing to do because [the Pro-Am format] puts a lot of pressure on the system of driver categorization.
“When you can win an event overall, the biggest factor would be finding a driver that’s the best possible Silver. It’s difficult.
“Being part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, I would rather have the overall class being pros. But I fully respect that [Bathurst] is not a SRO event.
“This is an independent event that’s just contracted to be part of our series. We have an agreement where we’re in charge of the BoP; that’s entirely SRO.
“But for the sporting regulations and the format they want, it’s their choice. If the reality of this market that it needs to be this, then so be it.
“I’m not going to say you’re not part of the Challenge if you don’t do that.”
Were you surprised by the lack of entries that ultimately led to the cancellation of the COTA round?
“It’s true what we maybe didn’t properly anticipate it. If we look at our Blancpain grid in Europe, we see that all the cars but ten are going to be replaced [by new cars] for this season.
“It means it’s all new cars and teams are just receiving their cars now so there was no way teams were ready to go by the time of shipping on January 30th.
“And it’s always difficult to have a race ahead of the season, like in March. It either needs to be like [Bathurst] in early February, which is still in the [European] winter season, and not to have anything around March when the season starts in April.
“I think the date was an issue. We had a lot of interest because it would have been the first endurance race in America that GT3 could win overall.
“But it was only two weeks before Sebring and the Pirelli World Challenge teams wanted to do it but it would have been difficult to do both races in the same event.
“The European teams, just getting their new cars, didn’t want to risk anything before the start of the Blancpain season.
“All of this didn’t work but we’ll not forget the idea and we’ll definitely work on it, but at the end of next year’s season.”
Are you 100 percent committed to Circuit of The Americas as the U.S. venue in 2017?
“We’re discussing it with Pirelli World Challenge with [PWC President/CEO] Greg Gill. We think COTA is a prime idea.”
How many Intercontinental GT Challenge rounds would you like to have in 2017?
“Four. The three races we have this year with Bathurst, Spa and Sepang, adding the race in America.
“If we have four, and maybe one day five if we can find a place in Africa. The idea would be to do Kyalami.
“But let’s go one step at a time. If we can add America in 2017 and Kyalami in 2018, then we’d have five races on five continents. Then what else would we need?”
Are you still working on the expansion of additional SRO races in the Asia-Pacific region?
“Already this year we have the Intercontinental GT Challenge and our responsibility with Pirelli World Challenge. So step by step.
“We have no intention to be involved in Australia. I like what they’re doing and I think it’s good.
“SRO has no dreams of global domination. We’ve built it up in terms of what we believe but then we’re very happy that GT3 develops in other areas we’re not involved directly.”