SO WHAT IS THE FIA GT3 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP?
An interview with Stephane Ratel
SR: "Because we felt there was a need for a more accessible international series, with all the famous brands of GT cars. There has been an evolution throughout the years of GT2, and GT1, and you all know that this sport is getting more and more professional. At the start, when, along with Jurgen Barth, we started the BPR series there were a lot of gentlemen drivers, of keen enthusiasts, who were there just for the fun of it. Slowly but surely it became more professional. I thought there was a need for a more accessible formula, with cars which will be less expensive to run, to purchase, and to enjoy."
What is a GT3 car exactly ?
SR : "The concept is very original, and is one that we started experiencing this year with GT1. It is very simple. In motorsport either you start from some regulations - a lot of legal text, which tells you what you can and cannot do with a car. You put a lot of engineers on the job, a lot of money, and you arrive with cars that are all similar to each other. If you look at Formula One, or at Sports Prototype LMP1 cars - if you painted them all the same colour, you would have difficulties telling one from the other. When you start from a GT car, and we want to start from road-cars, you start from very different architectures. You have cars with front engines, mid engines, rear engines. You have six cylinders, eight cylinders, ten or twelve cylinders.
"All of this is very complicated. If you look at the history of GT Racing, we always started from cars which were very diverse, and slowly the teams began to transform them. In 1997 and 1998, all the cars became GT1 Prototypes, all starting to look the same with long front overhangs, long rear ends. We looked at this evolution, and came to a conclusion. The architect of this was Peter Wright, and the idea really came from President Mosley, which was that if you start from production cars, there will be a way to balance these cars and give them the same performance. You can play with the aerodynamics, cutting the wing or the spoiler, you can reduce the performance of the engine via air restrictors, and much easier than anything, you can add weight. We haven't invented anything, this has been used in horseracing for years. You handicap your cars and put them on the same level of performance and get great racing.
"We thought about it, and decided that if it worked so well, as we experienced this year in the FIA GT Championship - and if you follow that Championship, you will have seen how disputed it has been, perhaps a little bit too much at the end - so we thought why not apply it to another category, the GT3 cars. You just come with what you have : a Porsche, a Ferrari, a Maserati - we are not going to look too closely at the technical regulations, but we will put all these cars on the racetrack, starting tomorrow in Paul Ricard, followed by another test in March and a final test in April, we will compare their performances and, with the same system used in GT1, with the expertise of Peter Wright and all the technical department of the FIA, we will put these cars under the same performance. We are very confident, after what we proved in GT1, that we will succeed in GT3."
Second element, the drivers. Who can, and who cannot, race in the GT3 Championship?
SR: "GT racing was re-started mainly with gentlemen drivers, and we wanted to give room once again to these drivers who, I have to say, have deserted the FIA GT Championship. There are very few of them left. We need a category exclusively reserved for them. When I say gentlemen drivers, I do not mean beginners, or inexperienced drivers. Someone like Enzo Calderari, Lilian Bryner - drivers who have been racing with us for many years and who are very talented, but the fact remains that they are not top professionals. So we have made a very simple rule which is, if you have ever been a Formula One driver, if you have finished in the Top Ten of a major international single-seater series, if you finished in the top six of a Formula Three Championship, if you won Le Mans overall, if you have ever been a contracted factory driver, and you are under 55, you are considered a professional driver.
"Between 45 and 55 years of age, the GT Bureau will look at his record and decide whether you can be accepted or not. A Formula One driver who stopped his career at 30 and has not raced for fifteen years may be accepted. Someone like Alain Prost, who has continued racing and is competing in the French GT Championship will obviously not be considered an amateur. Obviously, if someone falls through the net, someone like Mike Hezemans who has never done any single-seater racing but who is one of the fastest GT drivers today, obviously would not be accepted as an amateur driver in the GT3 Championship."
On to the Calendar - what will it be like and what is the race configuration?
SR: "The FIA GT3 calendar will follow most of the European events of the FIA GT Championship. We selected the nicest circuits in Europe - Imola in Italy, Magny-Cours in France, Silverstone in the UK, we will go to Oschersleben in Germany and Spa in Belgium. We have limited it to five races for the first year as we considered the starting costs would be high for the first year. We will have six races in the second year, and I am also an expert in finding exotic locations around the world, so we are sure to go to somewhere in Asia or the Middle East to find somewhere sunny to finish the season. Now that the FIA GT Championship has separated from the FIA World Touring Car Championship, we have space in our meetings, so the GT3 Championship will not only share the same weekends, but the same garages. It will be a very full paddock, with an impressive line of trucks. It will look very busy, and give a very good impact."