During the fourth weekend of June 1992 Stephane Ratel organised his first ever race, on the Bugatti Circuit in Le Mans. It was the launch of the Gentleman Drivers Trophy, for the French sportscar manufacturer Venturi. Its runaway success ignited the revival of GT racing, which subsequently spread through the BPR Endurance Series, Lamborghini Super Trophy, FIA GT, GT3 European and GT1 World Championships, the Super Racing Weekends, Le Mans Series and numerous national GT championships. Today, that success continues with the Blancpain GT Series in Europe and Asia, Blancpain GT Sports Club, US-based Pirelli World Challenge, the Total 24 Hours of Spa and the Intercontinental GT Challenge, British and French GT Championships, GT4 European Series and the many GT4 franchises around the globe.
Having organised many successful series, Stephane Ratel has a clear vision on what GT racing should look like. “GT racing is like a pyramid, of which the amateur racer forms the base,” he explains. “They are catered for by the Curbstone Track Events, the very first step on the ladder, from which the amateur driver can graduate to the Blancpain GT Sports Club. Those who wish to can then make another step up to the various national and regional GT4 championships. The continental series, like the Blancpain GT Series in Europe and Asia, and Pirelli World Challenge in the States, provide us with a high level of competition for both Pro and Pro-Am teams. Equally, the FIA GT World Cup in Macau is a single weekend confrontation for both manufacturers and professional GT drivers, while the Intercontinental GT Challenge represents the only global GT3 championship.”
At the base of this pyramid the Curbstone Track Events are set to undergo several innovations for 2018. Activity will increase in France, while work continues on a track day at the legendary Nordschleife in order to answer the German market’s growing demand. Monza has been added to the Blancpain GT Sports Club calendar as a support race for the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup’s opening round, while a new category and title has been introduced for drivers aged between 50 and 59.
In GT4, several new series will be launched in the short-term with a total of seven GT4 championships planned between 2018 and 2019. This begins with the European Series which will feature three additional regional series: Central, Nordic and Eastern. All six rounds of the traditional GT4 European Series will take place on Blancpain GT Series weekends and will ocassionally mix with regional championship grids. The European GT4 Series will be the only one to feature a Silver class.
After a brilliant inaugural season the French GT4 Cup (FFSA GT) continues along the same lines in 2018, while SRO is also planning to introduce a Belgian GT4 Cup. The latter will not have its own events; instead, competitors score points by participating in events staged by different series. Asia will also have a standalone GT4 Series on the Blancpain GT Series Asia package, although GT3 and GT4 cars will mix at Suzuka and Fuji.
To unite all these different GT4 championships, SRO is working hard to create a GT4 World Cup final in the near future.
Stephane Ratel wanted to emphasise that the Blancpain GT Series, probably the world’s most important GT3 championship, will stick to its original identity of a series that harmoniously mixes and equally emphasises its Pro, Pro-Am and Am categories. As such the series will be tweaked slightly for 2018, and an increased focus will be given to the Pro-Am and Am categories in order to make it more appealing for non-professional drivers. In the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup the maximum number of cars with a full Pro line-up will be limited to 26. Exceptions will be made for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, not only a round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup but also of the Intercontinental GT Challenge. On the sporting side GPS positioning of the cars will be introduced, while a new digital strategy, developed in collaboration with the manufacturers, and new and impressive Blancpain hospitality area will help improve the championship’s promotion.
After an exceptional inaugural season, Blancpain GT Series Asia will continue with a similar calendar in 2018, but there will also be a standalone GT4 Series that will race together with the GT3 cars in Fuji and Suzuka. Renewed transport support and significant prize money will help to further develop the series. A non-clashing calendar between the European and Asian Blancpain GT Series will allow for joint global promotion and a common visual identity in graphics and digital communication. A particular focus will be made on China, with dedicated communication in Mandarin.
In the American Pirelli World Challenge the FIA driver grading system will be adopted. Also, a shortened weekend format is being considered, following that of the Blancpain GT Series.
SRO Motorsports Group has answered the FIA’s tender for a Pro-Am Cup with its GT3 Cup of Nations concept, which would be to Silver and Bronze drivers what the FIA GT World Cup in Macau is to Gold and Platinum drivers. Both drivers in the GT3 Cup of Nations would hold the same passport nationality, and there would be a maximum of one car per nation. A three-sprint race format has been proposed. The event would be held at the Sochi Autodrom, Russia, on the 20-21 October 2018. The project is subject to approval by the FIA’s GT Commission and its World Council.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge, the premium global championship for GT cars, sees the introduction of the Suzuka 10 Hours as the Asian round of the series. The other rounds remain the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the Total 24 Hours of Spa and the Mazda Raceway California 8 Hours, creating a global platform for GT manufacturers. Mercedes-AMG and Bentley have already confirmed their presence, Porsche and Audi are likely to participate, and others may follow.
The Total 24 Hours of Spa will celebrate its 70th edition in 2018. The 2017 race proved to be historic – for the first time ever six cars finished on the leading lap after 24 hours of hard racing – and there is no reason to doubt that next year’s race will be of the same high level, especially since the race is one of the highlights of both the Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Following the press conference, Stephane Ratel received a surprise by Audi Sport, in the form of a unique Audi R8, celebrating the 25th anniversary of GT racing. The Official Car graphically integrates a 25th anniversary logo into the signature design with which the racecars and models for the race organizer catch the eye of spectators at racetracks around the globe.
Stephane Ratel went on to unveil a unique gathering of more than a dozen iconic cars from GT racing’s 25-year history, displayed in front of the Palais Brongniart. Cars included in the expo were:
Venturi 400 (1992)
McLaren BMW F1-GTR (1997)
Porsche 911 GT1 (1997)
Mercedes CLK LM (1998)
Lamborghini Diablo GTR (2000)
Ferrari F550 Prodrive (2002)
Maserati MC12 GT1 (2004)
Aston Martin DBRS9 GT3 (2005)
Lamborghini Murcielago R-SV GT1 (2009)
Nissan GTR GT1 (2009)
Audi R8 LMS (2009)
Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (2013)
Bentley Continental GT3 (2013)
BMW M4 GT4 (2016)
Audi R8 LMS (2017)