Stephane Ratel: Questions and Answers
With six races having been run, and five to go, the 2004 FIA GT Championship has seen some thrilling and close action. The GT class is stronger than ever, with three different types of car fighting for the lead at each round : the Ferrari 550 Maranello, the fast-improving Ferrari 575 M Maranello and the Saleen S7, which has definitely come of age this year. Despite slightly reduced numbers in N-GT, the category battle is as close as ever, as proved by the points. They now face the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with double points on offer and a full day of racing round one of the most beautiful and challenging circuits in the world.
Q: The FIA ETCC has been granted the status of World Championship for 2005. Will this mean any changes for the FIA GT Championship and the LG Super Racing Weekend ?
SR: The FIA GT Championship is not really looking for an official world title. This neutral name has allowed it to be a real global series between 1997 and 1999, then to regroup in Europe for a number of years before expanding again starting this year with the objective of having half the races outside Europe in 2006. At the moment, interest comes mainly from the East, with opportunities of events in Dubai, Bahrain, China, Japan and Australia. As for 2005, it has been decided that the two Championships will race together for the European rounds, within the LG Super Racing Weekend series, with each Championship having overseas races independently. These have been announced for the FIA World Touring Car Championship; for the FIA GT Championship, the provisional calendar should be published after the next meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in October.
Q: What is the situation with the Maserati MC-12, which was due to make its Championship debut in Imola ?
SR: During the recent meeting of the FIA World Motor Sport Council, it was decided that the Maserati was not eligible for the FIA GT Championship in its current configuration and that a new agreement must be found between Maserati and the FIA Technical Department. This means that the car is not certain to be present at the Imola round, as originally planned, but may apply again for homologation to the next World Council at the beginning of October. This leaves the possibility to see the car racing before the end of the season. SRO would be glad to run the car if it was judged to be eligible, and I believe it would be best to see it in 2004 to stop rumours. Many teams were very concerned about the Saleen before it entered the series. Now it is an essential part of the FIA GT Championship and fully accepted. If a new agreement is not reached for 2004, we hope that it will be for next season, in the context of the new FIA / ACO regulations.
Q: And what about the Lamborghini Murcielago ? We have not seen it since Valencia --
SR: After the successful debut of the Lamborghini Murcielago in Valencia, DAMS was hoping to make its scheduled race debut at Donington. However, delays meant that the car was not ready for delivery in time for the race. As round 7 is the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa -- hardly an ideal location for a race debut - the team has now confirmed that it will start with two cars at Imola, and will run the last four rounds of the season.
Q: There are rumours of a manufacturers' title in the future --
SR: Currently, as defined in the sporting regulations of the Championship, the FIA GT Championship is restricted to private, professional teams. Manufacturer involvement is restricted to the supply of parts, drivers etc, although there has been a possibility for manufacturers to take part in a limited number of rounds, at the end of the season, to demonstrate the potential of a new car (eg Prodrive in 2001, Lamborghini in Valencia this year).
In order to avoid any repeat of the 1997/1998 scenario, when manufacturer involvement very nearly killed the FIA GT Championship, and saw the end of the GT1 class, any future involvement from manufacturers would have to be clearly defined. One way that this could be controlled would be to insist that each manufacturer committing to the Championship should enter a minimum number of cars, which should be run by factory-supported teams. The idea is to avoid having a manufacturer team competing against its clients. The set-up with BMW in the FIA ETCC is the ideal situation the FIA GT is aiming for, with a number of manufacturer-supported teams competing on an equal basis. Should a minimum number of manufacturers be prepared to commit to such a plan, then the FIA GT Championship would put forward a request to the World Motor Sport Council to consider creating a Manufacturers' Title.
Q: Which cars do you hope to see running in the future seasons of the FIA GT Championship ?
SR: I would hope to see a GT category with Ferrari 550 and 575, Maserati, Lamborghini Murcielago, Aston Martin DB9, Corvette CR6 and Saleen S7 cars all competing on an equal footing. I believe that a performance-balanced series is definitely the way forward for a successful championship. This is why we will develop a clear set of measures with the objective to balance the performance of different models of cars through controls on aerodynamics, weight and engine restrictors. Once the performance of the cars, regardless of their shape or technical characteristics, will be achieved, we will balance the performance between team by way of weight penalties gained or lost depending on the results of the races. Over the last three years, these handicap weights have created extraordinarily close events. Our most recent round, at Donington Park last month, was decided on the last corner of the last lap. --
Q: What about the N-GT category ?
SR: Although it is true that the category has seen a reduction in numbers this season, it should be noted that those numbers are gradually rising, and that the competition in the class has been just as close and fascinating as it has been in other years; the quality in the main teams competing in extremely high. However, it is true that the class has suffered. This is partially due to the over-direct involvement of Porsche and Ferrari. When the Porsche clients heard that Freisinger was going to enter two cars for Ortelli-Collard and Maassen-Luhr, they were discouraged. It cannot be denied that the new Le Mans Endurance Series has also taken some of our N-GT teams -- the series of four 1000 km races is ideal for amateur drivers with lower budgets. And finally, the current economic climate, a number of teams have preferred to race in the currently booming National GT Championships, in France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain or Belgium. Nevertheless, in a traditional balancing movement, we may welcome some of these national teams back once they have had enough of their home races and want to head back to the international stage.
Q: How do you envisage the rest of the season ?
SR: With the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa -- an extremely important event in our calendar, around which many teams base their entire season -- a first visit to the Formula One circuit in Imola, a return to the German circuit of Oschersleben and then two overseas rounds in Dubaï and Zhuhai, all of this spiced up with the entry of DAMS, with the Lamborghini and possibly Maserati Corse, the second half of the season promises to be thrilling !