Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Following Stephane Ratel's decision to withdraw from promoting the FIA GT1 World Championship, the SRO boss outlined his plans for next season to the assembled media in a press conference ahead of this weekend's Blancpain Endurance Series Spa 24 Hours race.
Although GT1 will no longer run as an FIA Championship in 2013, Ratel confirmed plans for a revised sprint-format GT series, as well as the continuation of the highly successful Blancpain Endurance Series. “The growing economic concerns in Europe should not be ignored,” he stated, “So SRO is being extremely careful for 2013. Championship organisers can't dictate the market – the market has to dictate to championship organisers, based on how much money the teams have available to spend.”
They key difference for 2013 is that the Sprint and Endurance series will be designed to complement each other, with identical technical regulations and Balance of Performance, plus a two-week gap between events from either series. This is intended to allow European GT teams to cut their costs by running cars in both series and selling seats in each to different drivers.
2013 will see the Blancpain Endurance Series return to a five-event calendar, down from this year's six. “This will obviously result in a reduced entry fee,” Ratel commented. “A sixth race may be added in exceptional circumstances, and we have one of the five races in mind that we could possibly extend to a 1,000km/six-hour event.” In a further effort to reduce costs, no more evolutions of the current crop of GT3 cars will be accepted. The series' spec tyre supplier will also switch from Michelin to Pirelli for 2013. “They offered by far the lowest cost and the best promotional support package for the series,” said Ratel, “and the final decision on what tyre supplier was made by the teams.” The 2013 BES schedule is almost identical to this year's, with the exception of Navarra being dropped. It will visit Monza, Italy on April 14; Silverstone, UK on June 2; Paul Ricard, France on June 30; Spa on July 28 for the 24 Hours; and the Nurburgring on September 22.
Turning to GT1, Ratel discussed the challenges the World Championship had faced this season. “The rapidly degrading economic environment made it impossible to fulfil the financial and regulatory obligations of an official FIA championship,” he said, “and some national sporting authorities have destroyed the feeder-series structure that SRO built up in the past by taking our format and using it to build rival championships that clash with our calendar.”
Although he did not mention any series by name, it's clear that Ratel is referring to ADAC, the German governing body, which runs the GT Masters series, and the French FFSA, which has its own domestic GT Tour championship for GT3 cars. Both were previously under the SRO umbrella. Ratel also alluded to competition for entries from the FIA's World Endurance Championship. “It's another World Championship platform for GT manufacturers and teams, so that has definitely affected us,” he said. “GT1 World proved that GT cars can deliver good sprint racing, but unfortunately there was no promotional support from the manufacturers of the cars involved.”
The revised calendar for the end of the 2012 GT1 World season was also confirmed, after the championship's two Chinese races were cancelled. The series will make a second visit to Slovakia on August 18-19, before going to Moscow on September 1-2, the Nurburgring on September 22-23 (alongside the Blancpain Endurance Series) and India on December 1-2. The Slovakia and Nurburgring races will see the GT1 grid combine the 11-car GT3 European Championship.
For GT1 in 2013, the FIA World Championship title will be dropped, and Ratel is hoping a secure a title sponsor to name the series, as watch manufacturer Blancpain does for the Endurance Series. In contrast to this years' all-Pro format, the Sprint Series will have both a Pro Class and a Silver Cup, allowing teams to offer a more enticing prospect to gentleman drivers with a budget. This year's rigid requirement of one car per brand two cars per team will also be dropped. “If teams confirm their participation before September of this year, we can offer them partner team status and they can apply to be the exclusive representative of a certain manufacturer,” said Ratel. “But if they haven't confirmed by then, we won't apply the same restrictions as this year. Ideally, we will have nine two-car teams, but we would also accept seven teams with three cars each.” The Sprint Series will award both drivers' and teams' titles at the end of the season, with a team's highest-finishing car in each race scoring points, regardless of whether it's a Pro Class or Silver Cup entry.
This year's structure of two one-hour sprint races will be retained. The 2013 Sprint Series will open with a race in Abu Dhabi on February 17, which will also incorporate an extended test session for Sprint and Endurance Series teams. After that, the series' provisional calendar consists of races in Nogaro, France on March 31; Zolder, Belgium on April 28; Navarra, Spain on May 12; Zandvoort, Netherlands on July 14; Slovakia on August 18; Moscow, Russia on September 8; Algarve, Portugal on October 6 and a season finale in India on December 1. Although this is a nine-event calendar, Ratel says the season will consist of seven rounds, giving him the flexibility to drop two of the above races in the event of any issues. It's believed that financial trouble at the Portimao circuit in Algarve in particular could put paid to its chances of hosting a round.
Teams and manufacturers that elect to enter both the Sprint and Endurance Series in 2013 will be eligible for GT World Series teams' and manufacturers' cups, based on their results in both championships. There will be no equivalent drivers' title awarded – as mentioned above -- the expectation is that teams will run different drivers in the two series.
Ratel's 2013 plans will be presented for approval at the next FIA World Council Meeting in Paris on October 28.