Together’s editors Colin Moors and James Drew had the privilege of an exclusive invitation to Spa Francorchamps over summer, there to witness a new racing phenomenon, the FIA GT1 World Championship.
French entrepreneur and CEO of SRO Motorsports Group, Stephane Ratel, 46, the long-time promoter of GT racing, has devoted the past year to the creation of a new world championship, which evolved from the European-based FIA GT Championship and was launched in Paris on 1st March. Colin and I were there, on 30th July and 1st August, for the later heat and the beginning of the Total 24 Hours of Spa marathon in Spa Francorchamps, to soak up the atmosphere, thrill to the screams of high-performance engines and talk with Stephane about his plans for the future of racing.
As a backdrop to our discussions, Stephane had announced on 30th July the latest target markets for the FIA GT1 World Championship calendar, and the prospect of a new brand joining the starting grid in 2011.
Discussions are advanced with promoters in North America and China to host a round of the series – that would take GT1 racing to five continents around the globe – Asia/Middle East, Europe, North America, Africa and South America.
‘As a world championship, we want to visit the world’
“Our main objective is to continue the globalization of the championship,” Ratel explained. “As a world championship, we want to visit the world. We want to bring the championship to the biggest markets, the fastest-expanding markets and all of the main markets such as the US. Next year, we are making a priority of taking GT1 to North America, and we have excellent contacts in the US and Canada.
“Our second market, the fastest growing market on the planet, is China. We have extremely good contacts in China and we are working hard to take the championship there.
“We believe that most of our existing events will continue, but in the future it is no secret that we will reduce the number of events in Europe in order to have more events overseas.”
Together: First of all, Stephane, thank you for the extraordinary opportunity of joining your race meeting here today. With the GT1’s approval by the FIA, how do you think it will compete with Formula One racing?
SR: Well, Formula One is already at such a level, we cannot pretend that we will be competing with it, but we are also in the process of promoting the cars themselves, the luxury brands that participate in GT1, but which are nevertheless brands that people feel are more accessible that Formula One vehicles. In addition, of course, we want to provide great entertainment, the cars are very balanced performers, so it’s very competitive, and comes down completely to the skill of the drivers. That is what I believe will appeal to enthusiasts – a lot of action and the short format.
‘We want to provide great entertainment, the cars are very balanced performers, so it’s very competitive, and comes down completely to the skill of the drivers’
You’ve also spoken about making your championship far more ‘media friendly’ – could you explain this in a little more detail?
Well, again, we can’t pretend that we will be able to compete with Formula One in terms of coverage, we’re obviously not going to be shown on the BBC for a while, but we are developing the possibilities of being on French sports channels, and working as much as we can with new media, making sure that we have as much live coverage as is possible on the internet – we are the ‘luxury sports brand’ of motor racing, so we want to bring our concept to as many potential buyers as possible, as well as attracting youngsters with interactive video games and so on.
So, your aim would be to stress the fact that, although these are obviously supreme vehicles, there is nevertheless a greater level of accessibility to them, yes?
Yes, well, GT1 is a concept where we blended the clarity of Formula One, the shorter format, and the balanced performance of the vehicles, so there is no technical competition, it’s simply up to the drivers to win!
Stephane, I think it’s fair to say that we are both somewhat envious of the fact that you probably have the best life in the world. Together’s standard question, to finish – what would you say are the secrets of your success?
Yes, well, I love my life, there is no doubt about that! [laughs] It isn’t perhaps as rewarding financially as it might be, as outside Formula One there isn’t a lot of money, but it’s an incredibly exciting environment, no question. Like everything else in life, my success has come with sticking with something that I am convinced is good and worthwhile, and not letting any doubts hold any dominion over me. What else can I say?
‘Like everything else in life, my success has come with sticking with something that I am convinced is good and worthwhile’