WTCC promoter Francois Ribeiro has lamented the difficult economic conditions for modern motorsport, saying the recent off-season was the toughest yet for his series.
"I tell you what, I have never ever seen such a difficult winter," Ribeiro told Motorsport.com at the WTCC season launch.
"Now I really see the economic situation is biting very, very hard on motorsport, any series.
"You see the level of the single-seater series entries... Maybe GT, because drivers are sharing the seats, and endurance is probably an exception, but I see all the rest under unbelievable economic pressure.
"We announced 20 entries [in WTCC] and to get there... really has not been easy and now I really look forward for the season to start.
"To get on more positive scenes, to see the good fights, the new entrants and, I think, hopefully, more balanced between the different entities."
A more balanced season
Ribeiro believes that a host of changes to the regulations will make the 2016 season into a more competitive affair than the previous two years where Citroen dominated the championship.
"Maybe I am over-optimistic, but I have reasons to believe that it will be more balanced than the last two years.
"The job we have done with the FIA - the new race format, the reset of the weight composition which came back what it has always been, where it kicks in the first event with the manufacturers' champion.
"We made the mistake in the last two years to not introduce it, and now it was time to do it.
"The new race format made Pechito [Lopez] a bit nervous. I was on the plane with him yesterday and he said: ‘Why did you change it? It is more risky for me in the opening race and so on.’
"But we always leave the door for the most aggressive and talented driver to clinch the title."
Faith in Citroen's opposition
While Ribeiro admits Citroen continues to be strong, he said the other manufacturers in the series have done a good job over the off-season and can finally threaten the French marque's dominance.
"I see a lot of work from Citroen competitors," he said. "Honda really take it seriously, and now they have accepted to go with three cars, put a lot of development on the table, recruited probably the best RML engineer Duncan [Laycock].
"And Lada as well, they made a big job on suspension, big upgrade on the engine, they have now Gabriele's [Tarquini] experience to get as much as possible before the season starts and Hugo’s [Valente] recruitment is a nice move, because he has no mercy and he will never leave the other two breathing for one second.
"And it would be very difficult to say that Volvo is coming into the championship unprepared, the preparation of the car, composition of the team, reliability of the car, solid seven months of testing period, exactly what Citroen did, so nobody knows their level.
"Normally, if you put all those ingredients together, hopefully it can make a good mix, a good cocktail for 2016."
MAC3 will come good
Ribeiro also thinks that the new Tour de France-style Manufactures Against the Clock [MAC3] format will spice things up.
"I expect 50 percent to like it and other 50 perecent to dislike it, who would say probably that it is completely stupid, that it is the stupidest thing I have seen in motorsport," Ribeiro said.
"I think people in sport are very conservative, I believe in the format, it will bring something, it is a bit like having three drivers in Q3 together 10 metres from each other.
"It is not easy as it sounds, we will get all the radio communications to really see and understand what’s going on, and again that will require not only three good drivers, but no mistakes."
Interview by Stefan Ziegler