Stephane Ratel – 15 Minutes With “Mr GT Racing”

SRO founder Stephane Ratel took some time out of a very busy schedule in Bahrain on Friday to talk to dsc’s Deputy Editor about the future of the FIA GT Championship, the next GT Festival, LMES date clashes and the prospects for racing in GT1, GT2 and GT3.

dailysportscar.comWhat exactly do you currently have in mind for International GT racing?

I have started a globalisation of the FIA championship, with two races outside Europe this season (Dubai and Zhuhai). There will be four in 2005 and more still in 2006, when I hope half of the rounds will be outside Europe.

And what plans for a further GT Festival?

The GT Festival is I believe a good tool to test the organisation, both of the circuits and of SRO, and we will certainly use some of the lessons we have learnt this week when we return next year with the FIA GT Championship.

We may also use this format as a way of testing the promotion of proposed events for 2006. There are advantages for all involved. We get to learn more about our own capabilities and about the strengths and weaknesses of the circuits, while competitors from all of the national series get to enjoy racing at top class circuits in a nice country, after the main season is completed at the end of November.

We limited the numbers to 54 this time and then unfortunately lost six with problems in China, but next time I hope 60 cars will be possible.

Rumours here in Bahrain suggest that you may be planning to take the Festival to Philip Island next season?

dailysportscar.comNo, nothing is settled. It is well known that I have just returned from Australia and that I had discussions with several circuits: Surfers Paradise and Bathurst, as well as Philip Island.

A race at Surfers Paradise would be fantastic but that cannot happen while the circuit is still under contract to Champcars. It is possible that we can do something with Philip Island and it is possible that we might do something with Bathurst.

Australia is a very interesting market for us, but for a Festival it would be very expensive. If we were to keep to a late November date the shipping would be difficult, with national championships often finishing in late October and air freight is of course far more expensive.

Could you envisage an arrangement to promote the 24 Hours at Bathurst?

Not immediately. Bathurst would like to work with SRO but there is a lot of work to do to see whether that means the festival, or perhaps later the 24 Hours.

The new GT1 cars coming on stream are fantastic but they are also very expensive. Are you convinced that there will be enough teams able to afford to race them?

dailysportscar.comThis all fits in with our globalisation. In order to grow the sport you need not only races in the Gulf, Australia etc you need national interest in terms of teams and drivers too, and you need commitment to TV coverage to support the events in those markets.

Make no mistake it is a risky approach: we will certainly lose some of the smaller teams from the championship, but hopefully we will attract larger teams with a better package for them.

We have learnt from the mistakes in the past of direct factory involvement and I am fully aware that enthusiasts like Frederic Dor do not come along every two years. We need to avoid factories campaigning two car teams against their clients.

The manufacturers need to support a number of cars in their class. Perhaps five manufacturers supplying and supporting five cars each. In answer to the original question, yes I am convinced, we have the interest from manufacturers and teams and we have the cars.

People have said it would fail before, that the LMES would take away our entry. As it was the LMES took away five cars, from smaller teams. Dubai and Zhuhai had 30 cars each and I believe we can sustain that.

Will GT2 numbers suffer or recover in 2005 and beyond as the cost increases?

dailysportscar.comIn 2005 there will definitely be two classes. GT2 will definitely have a part to play in the FIA championship. In the future, as the strength of GT1 grows, I can see that the two classes might appear with two separate races, each with their own promotion.

2005 will be a quiet one in GT2: Nissan have confirmed that they are racing but it will be a development year for the 350Z. Porsche’s 997 is not yet ready and the Ferrari 360 is coming to the end of its development. In 2006 though the Nissan will be up to speed and we should also by then have the Porsche 997 and a new Ferrari 430 racing.

And what about GT3? When grid numbers got low it was mooted that this class too could feature on FIA GT entries?

We are working hard on GT3 for the future. It is growing in the national championships and yes, eventually I would like it to have a class, or a race of its own, on the FIA GT bill.

The 2005 LMES dates have raised voices of disappointment with the clashes with ALMS?

dailysportscar.comOur agreement with the ALMS was to respect both Sebring and Petit Le Mans. There was never any commitment to avoid other clashes. With international and national championships to consider it is very difficult to avoid other conflicts.

Are you happy with the LMES events so far on the promotional front?

Silverstone and Spa were very successful and we had some great racing at all four races, but there is still a lot to do to promote the events at the ‘Ring and Monza. We need to grow the audiences at the circuits.

And what is currently happening over a possible fifth LMES race in 2005?

I’m not against a fifth event but I do feel we need to consolidate the existing races. There are others involved who would like to see a fifth event, but we need to consider carefully where that might best be held. If we stay in Europe then Spain is an obvious market, but China is very appealing from the perspective of manufacturers like Audi.

Again though you need to look at the costs involved. With four races over 1000kms each, the costs are relatively reasonable. Five, six or even seven races start to get expensive, particularly for the smaller teams.

And what about LMES grid numbers in 2005?

We had a strong first year and I believe we will have 50 cars coming in ‘05.


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