Q&A: Stephane Ratel, CEO and Founder, SRO
At the SRO press conference in Spa-Francorchamps, Stephane Ratel gave an update on the maiden season of the FIA GT1 World Championship, outlined which future markets have been targeted and the prospect of BMW Alpina joining the series. Here is an extract from the update ...
Q: Is the first half of the inaugural GT1 season meeting expectations?
A: Thanks to the support of the FIA and most importantly to the belief of the 12 teams who have got together and entered two cars each, I think it is really a dream come true. We wanted to make sportscar racing, in the form of GT, more professional, we wanted to give it the clarity that was missing from sportscars, to have a new format, namely sprint racing, we wanted a higher level of drivers, and we have achieved all of these goals.
You will agree that the races have been extremely disputed. It took some time to perfect the Balance of Performance over the first few races, but since Brno it has all been going very well, and I think we had six brands in the top eight at the start today (Spa), with many different brands leading the race, and I think it is one of the most disputed championships in the world.
Q: What markets are you targeting for GT1 in 2011 and beyond?
A: GT1 is an achievement but it is also a beginning and with time we want to continue growing with it. We should not forget that this weekend is only the fifth race so it is still very new. Our main objective is to continue the globalization of the championship. It is a world title and we really want to visit the world.
Our aim is to bring the championship to what we believe are the key markets, and the most rapidly expanding, fastest growing markets and the main ones such as the United States. So our main priority as SRO is to bring GT1 to North America. We have extremely good contacts in both the United States and Canada.
Of course, it is never certain until the contract is signed, and even when it is signed you can have secondary problems, but I think we have a fair chance to bring the championship to North America next year.
Our other priority is the world’s fastest-growing market, China, and we have extremely good contacts with China and are working to bring the championship there. We believe that most of our existing events will continue, but it is not a secret that we will reduce the number of events in Europe to have more events overseas.
Q: What was the reason the race in Durban was postponed?
A: Durban has been more complicated than foreseen. Initially it was quite a simple deal – I made an agreement with the municipality of Durban to use the circuit used by A1 GP – they had the walls, the bridge, the fences, so they only had to put the circuit back in place.
The first complication came from the fact that they altered part of the circuit to build the World Cup stadium, so there was a new design to be done. And then the FIA became much more careful with the street circuit design.
There was various communication between the FIA and the MSA, the South African motorsports authority, and it ended up with a complete redesign of the circuit, to make it safer for the cars, which was all for the better as the cars then had to go to South America afterwards.
So even with the agreement in principal to do the work, it could not be done in the remaining time, so the event will be postponed to 2011.
Q: What will be the replacement race for 2010?
A: It is most likely we will go to Spain, to the new circuit in the region of Navarra, in the north-west of Spain. It is a brand new circuit and will be an ideal replacement race. It will be less of a headache to go straight from Europe to South America, especially considering that there are always risks of damage on a street circuit.
Q: Can we expect to see any new brands in GT1 soon?
A: There is one project that has been presented, the BMW Alpina. Some will say – 'ah, it’s a private project', but I have to remind you that the car which has won two races already this year is the Ford GT Matech, which is also a completely private project. And one of the most competitive cars in the championship at the moment is the Lamborghini Murcielago, also a private project, so I very much believe in good engineering companies.
It’s possible that we will have the BMW Alpina B6 GT1 in the Championship next year which would be something new. There would need to be a small tweak to the regulations to allow a team to enter just two cars, instead of four. So maybe next year we could have one of the existing brands to have just two cars, and two new cars.
Q: What is your vision for the number of brands in the future?
A: Our objective for 2012, I know that it sounds crazy, is to have 11 brands with two cars each. And if I look at GT3, which has continued to grow at a very high pace with more and more brands coming, I don’t think it is such a crazy dream.
Q: How do you see the growth of the series commercially?
A: What we want to continue to do is to work on the return. We have commissioned this year some important and prestigious agencies. One of them is Sport5, one of the leading companies in the world, who are working on our TV rights, and we are confident of more and more TV in the future.
This Championship is absolutely phenomenal from an entertainment point of view; it is a very beautiful series and it has attracted promoters, and TV is looking at it, and big companies are looking at it for sponsorship.
We have a very clear strategy: we want to bring GT1 to the buyers of sports cars, GT cars. We want to bring GT to a younger audience, working on video games, social networking, internet TV, so we have a very clear strategy. We are very realistic, we are not going to go into Rai 1, TF1 and BBC tomorrow, but having a different product we can attract different viewers and that is what we are working on.