The setting at the Palais Brongniart was impressive to say the least. The original Parisian Stock Exchange was transformed into a true tribute to 25 Years of GT Racing, with over a dozen iconic racing machines forming a guard of honour in front of the red carpet. From the Venturi 400 through the monstrous FIA GT and GT1 machines, to the current GT3 and GT4 racing cars, they were all there. “This car is a part of our history, we’re so proud of its success and the 2011 series is something I’ll never forget”, said JRM Group’s James Rumsey, who had brought the 2011 GT1 drivers’ title-winning Nissan GT-R GT1. “I’d like to extend my thanks to Stephane for displaying JRM’s car at the SRO Awards so that it can be admired once again.”
After unveiling the immediate future of GT racing at a press conference in the morning and celebrating the latest champions at the SRO Awards 2017 in the afternoon, it was time to take a closer look at the glorious past of GT Racing and the SRO Motorsports Group during a glamorous gala event in the evening.
In front of more than 800 guests, SRO’s founder and CEO Stephane Ratel opened the event with a heart-felt speech on how his love for cars evolved into a passion for organising events and championships which now rank among the very best in the world of motorsports. In a video message FIA President Jean Todt congratulated Stephane Ratel and SRO on the accomplishments of the past decades.
The evening brought plenty of entertainment, even including a genuine French Can Can act, various major figures from the rich history of GT Racing were called to the stage to reminisce on the events of the past 25 years. They included renowned auctioneer Hervé Poulain, who in 1992 was one of the competitors in the Venturi Gentlemen Drivers’ Trophy, the very first racing series organised by Stephane Ratel.
“Stephane had the charisma and the power to convince that would befit a general from the French Empire, and he enrolled businessmen and European aristocratic youth to return to the spirit of motorsports in its earliest days”, Poulain said smiling. “We enjoyed ourselves immensely.”
After the success of this unique single-make series, Ratel teamed up with Jürgen Barth and Patrick Peter – the B and the P of the BPR Series – and both the German and the Frenchman shared memories of their time with the young Frenchman. When Ratel then formed the FIA GT Series, in close collaboration with Bernie Ecclestone, GT racing lived some of its best moments ever. Among the actors of that time was ORECA founder Hugues de Chaunac, the team that entered the iconic Chrysler Vipers: “Stephane has good vision and at that time he was alone in having that vision. He had the capacity to invest, concentrate, develop and discuss with the manufacturers.”
Some of the drivers of that FIA GT period have fond memories of the championship. “When I saw our Maserati MC12 parked outside, it almost brought tears to my eyes”, said triple FIA GT champion and 2010 FIA GT1 champion Andrea Bertolini. “That team was like my family. SRO has played such a great part in my career, even this year I still raced in the Blancpain GT Series. It’s my life, it’s as simple as that.”
After the difficult end of the GT1 era, Stephane Ratel was one of the driving forces behind the creation of a GT3 category. One of the team owners that stood by his side was Hans Reiter, who had joined the SRO’s championships at the end of the last century. “It wasn’t love at first sight!”, the German smiled. “But we quickly had respect for each other’s opinions. I find Stephane reliable and trustworthy. If he makes a mistake, he pays for it, and that puts him in the same situation as us, team owners. In that respect we went through the same learning process together.”
At around the same time Stephane Ratel created the Blancpain Endurance Series, which evolved into the immensely popular Blancpain GT Series we know today. Vincent Vosse, former driver and now owner of one of the most successful teams of the series, was there from the beginning: “Stephane is one of those people on whom you can really rely. He will tell you the truth and explain why things can or cannot be done. He is a dreamer, but you need to dream to achieve great things.”
To thank the SRO Motorsports Group for the extensive partnership both have enjoyed for numerous years, Stephane Ratel was then given a one-off commemorative Pirelli tyre by the Italian manufacturer, with the ’25 Years of GT Racing’ logo and Ratel’s portrait engraved in the rubber.
Then it was time to present the spectacular birthday cake, decorated with the logos of all the series in which the SRO Motorsports Group has been involved. It was only fitting that to cut the cake Stephane Ratel was joined by Patricia Kiefer, his right-hand woman in the organisation for more than 20 years and current COO of SRO. Stephane Ratel took the occasion to thank all SRO teams for their efforts in making the company a global reference when it comes to GT racing.
At the end of the evening, two newly created trophies were unveiled, which award the highest profile Sprint and Endurance organised Series promoted by SRO Motorsports Group, currently the European Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup and Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup. The SRO GT Endurance and Sprint Cups are engraved with the winners’ names and Series’ logos for each year since the first BPR title in 1995 for the Endurance Cup and since the first FIA GT3 European Championship in 2006 for the Sprint Cup. This year Lamborghini-trio Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Christian Engelhart (drivers) and Brian Gush (representing Bentley Team M-Sport) took the endurance honours, with Robin Frijns, Stuart Leonard and their Belgian Audi Club Team WRT team boss Vincent Vosse receiving the SRO GT Sprint Cup.
A festive end to a fantastic and entertaining evening, linking past and future, after which all guests were given a newly-edited 408-page book commemorating 25 years of GT racing,
Stephane Ratel, Founder and CEO SRO Motorsports Group: “I would like to thank all FIA and ASN officials, the team owners, managers and staff, the drivers, the event promoters, circuit owners and managers, the marshals and volunteers at all the circuits around the world, the manufacturer and constructor representatives, all our partners and sponsors, TV and media, industries and suppliers, and – most specifically – my very best SRO team for this incredible 25-year journey. Also, a special thought for my children Max and Amaya, for their mother Alexandra and for my wife Marie, and a deep and sincere apology for all the time I spent away from them, travelling to circuits throughout Europe and around the world, spending endless hours at the office or just being away even when I was with them, busy with my Eriksson, Nokia, BlackBerry or iPhone, or simply lost in my GT racing dreams. I am very much looking forward to the next 25 years of GT racing.”