Stephane Ratel On GT3
Internationally & Domestically

The latest FIA GT Newsletter contains a revealing interview with SRO’s Stephane Ratel, in which he discusses the European GT3 Championship as it has worked out so far (after one round at Silverstone), and also his thoughts on the future, with some significant comments relating to national GT championships.

Here is the interview in its entirety (comments relating to national championships in bold).

Q. It is now a year since the very first brochure was set down, outlining the FIA GT3 European Championship - you must be very pleased with how things have developed?

SR “The main thing is that we have built up the FIA GT3 European Championship without compromising on the initial idea. The only difference has been to allow, very exceptionally for the first year only, some manufacturers to be represented by one team of three cars, and some others, to compensate, to be represented by nine cars. But that, in 2007, will go back to the initial idea of six cars per manufacturer. But apart from that, the concept is exactly as we described. Nine manufacturers should be represented - Venturi is still missing, but should come at some point during the season. For the moment, therefore, we have eight different manufacturers. I think the FIA has done a terrific job in balancing the performance between the cars. At Silverstone, in dry conditions, we saw six different manufacturers separated by less than four tenths of a second, and some very closely-fought races. The whole thing is looking good. We had a plan, and we fulfilled the plan - so that’s great !

Q. What has the initial reaction been to the first round of the Championship?

SR The initial reaction after Silverstone was excellent. The press was very complimentary, the teams are pleased, the drivers really had a good time. When you put a lot of cars like this on the track - 44 at Silverstone, 48 at Oschersleben. We are working on a second Ferrari team, and the Venturi should come at some point, so we could be up to 52 or 54 cars. I think that contributes a lot to the drivers’ fun. They are never alone on the track - they always have cars ahead, cars behind. If you make a small mistake, you’ll have three cars passing you. If someone ahead of you makes a mistake, you can immediately gain places. It’s very entertaining for the drivers. In many series with large grids, there are four or so classes. Here, they are all supposed to have the same performance, which is really a lot of fun for the drivers. The best sign we’ve had after Silverstone is that we’ve been contacted by a number of manufacturers who are looking at GT3, and by a large number of teams. So we’re going to be up to our maximum capacity - we are going to have to look at ways of regulating the choice of teams. We cannot go over 54 cars, so nine manufacturers with six cars each is what we can take. We will have to define the conditions to accede to the Championship very carefully. Obviously the teams which have been there since the start will have priority. But we have to be very firm and very strict on the essential conditions of the GT3 Championship. The cars are not that expensive; we have limited it to five races for the season, which is very little. But in return, the teams have to commit and be there with all their three cars at every time. GT3 is different, and that is why we want this uniform presentation, garages with a similar design, we want all the drivers to have similar racing overalls, with just the colours changing per manufacturer. The teams are not yet very educated in this area, which is something we will have to push.

Q. One of the principles is the performance balancing. How has this worked out?

SR It has not been easy! But as the FIA says, when everyone complains, we know we have found the right solution. When the FIA decided to put 110 kg in the Dodge, 90 kg in the Corvette and 100 kg in the Ascari, we had a mini-revolution in the paddock. But you just have to look at the results, and you see that it was correct. The Dodge won a race, the Corvette was on pole. But some of these cars are also competing in National Championships, and what I love now is that the same teams that were complaining, are ringing to say that the same criteria should be applied in the national series.

Q. What are your priorities for the future?

SR For 2007, we will continue building the European Championship. One improvement will be to have six races, following all the European rounds of the FIA GT Championship, as we are working on four overseas FIA GT events next year. The second new item would be that GT3 will be an integral part of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, in a relay race concept that will be presented to the next GT Commission. Each team will compete with all of their three cars, with the transponder acting as the baton. The regulations have not yet been finalised, but the idea is that if one car stops on the track, they would get a one-hour penalty. It is a very original concept. Also, GT3 will become the standard class in National Championships. I will propose it for the British Championship next year, to go all GT3, and we are working on the concept of GT3 National Championships in a number of countries, and I think it will become very important. But this would be done following the same principle: limiting the number of cars per manufacturer, and balancing performance. Teams should then trust the organisation. Teams have, in the past, all tended to buy Porsches or Vipers because they believe it is the best, most competitive car. While if you balance everyone, there should be more variety.

Q. What about the drivers? There were some surprises when the initial entry lists were announced.

SR It’s true that many people did not read or understand the regulations carefully. We said from the start that by ‘gentlemen drivers’, we did not mean beginners. In the French Championship, we decide who is an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ driver. It is just down to a personal judgment on the performance of the driver. For the FIA, a large, professional organisation, with an important legal department, a more standardised system had to be set up, which would stand up to legal scrutiny should a case be sent to the court of appeal. We needed regulations based on a clear test. The only thing we could use was the driver records. These are official. We set down a very precise definition so that if you have achieved certain things, you fall into the net, which might might seem rather unfair. We are using the same regulations in GT2, to penalise teams with two ‘well-known’ drivers. For example, Rui Aguas finished 10th in F3000. So he falls into the net, and has a weight penalty in GT2, and would not be acceptable in GT3. Whereas if he had finished 11th, he would have been OK. But those are the regulations. We state very clearly that after the age of 55, whatever your driver records, you are accepted. So that explains Klaus Ludwig, who is 56. And between the age of 45 and 55, it is up to the FIA to decide. Tiff Needell was accepted because he was very close to the upper limit. Anthony Reid is really a special case. He was accepted because he is driving with Gilles Duqueine, who is paraplegic. The team presented their case: they need more time at the driver changeover to get Gilles in and out of the car, which constitutes a natural penalty. Anthony Reid would not have been accepted with any other driver; he also falls into the discretionary period. Only one driver pairing, after Silverstone, was considered unacceptable: Aaron Scott and Ben Collins were a little too close in performance times, and the team has been asked not to put them in the same car. Apart from that, it all looks quite OK and is exactly what we wanted. It might seem a bit strange, but we are building the right balance for everyone to have fun. It’s about offering a good show for the spectators - lots of overtaking, lots of action - and for the drivers.

Q. The cars have also appeared in National championships - do you think this would have happened without the FIA GT3 European Championship ?

SR There is no doubt about it . The GT3 idea started it all. It was because of this Championship that we went to Dodge and brought the Competition Coupe over here, which are now being distributed in Europe. Many cars are being built now for the GT3 Championship, like the Corvette. It’s really good. And it will work only if the National Championships keep to the same regulations. Otherwise, it will not work. There are almost no technical regulations for GT3. But there is a very precise homologation form, and the homologation form freezes everything. So if you start playing with the cars, or do not use the penalties set by the FIA, it will not work. We’ve tested it. We rented four tracks, we’ve had Christophe Bouchut, Jean-Marc Gounon and a gentleman driver in these cars, and we know exactly what they can do in performance. The Dodge, Corvette and Ascari cars, unrestricted, are way ahead of the rest. There would be no competition. On one side we are penalising some cars, and we are trying to help some others, such as the Maserati and the Lamborghini, to improve their cars. They will then have to do a back to back test with their old and new cars, inviting the FIA, so they can measure the improvement that has been made and recalculate compared to the others. It’s a lot of work, which doesn’t come easy. We, as SRO, have been instrumental at creating the concept, and will look at the implementation of it in the national championships. If we want it to work, it has to be in the same spirit, with the same regulations. The principal is that none of the national championships would clash with the European one, so that a team can build up a good programme. In the UK, we have already 12 cars which could race at home, with a non-clashing programme, so that is what we are going to push.

 

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