Conducted and provided by the GT1 World Championship press office.
A new chapter in the history of sportscar racing begins this year with the launch of the FIA GT1 World Championship. Former French racer, Stephane Ratel, 47, is the long-time promoter of GT racing and has spent the past year envisaging a new world championship which evolves from the European-based FIA GT Championship.
Ratel speaks ahead of the official launch of the 2010 FIA GT1 World Championship which takes place in Paris on March 1st.
Q. What have motorsport fans to look forward to in GT racing this year?
Stephane Ratel: I am hugely passionate about the new FIA GT1 World Championship and I truly believe sportscar racing has massive potential to become more popular around the globe. The championship will feature the most iconic marques including Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Corvette, Maserati, Ford,and Nissan who will race the best looking and sounding cars in the world! They are truly inspirational cars - the ones everyone dreams of owning.
Renowned motorsport teams have signed up to race and they will compete with the most talented sports car drivers around. The cars are extremely similar in performance so it is down to the driver and his team to make the difference on the track.
GT1 will also visit some of the world's most legendary and iconic circuits including Spa-Francorchamps, Interlagos, Silverstone, Nurburgring and the incredible Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi, to name a few. Overall, the new GT1 world championship will be ground-breaking, truly global, prestigious, and technically innovative.
Q. What were the key steps taken to create FIA GT1 World Championship?
SR: There were some key steps that needed to be taken to develop a successful platform for the new GT1 world championship. Firstly, we needed at least 10 races in three continents for the FIA to grant us world championship status. We secured 10 events on four continents. The FIA also asked us for 18 cars and we secured a 24-car grid with 12 teams and six supercar brands.
We worked hard to upgrade the technical specifications of the cars to meet strict FIA regulations set for the new GT1 world championship. Thankfully Max Mosley granted us FIA approval before he left office last summer which cements GT1 as the fourth FIA-sanctioned world motorsport championship.
Q. What major changes will we see to GT racing in 2010?
SR: GT racing will see some major changes for the better in 2010. We have shaped the new FIA GT1 World Championship with the aim of making GT racing more fan and media friendly. Before, the racing consisted of long-distance racing, a mix of GT-spec cars in the same race, teams competing with a different number of cars - it was all very confusing to follow.
The GT1 championship will run one-hour races, 12 independent teams with two cars each in the same livery. Only Formula 1 has achieved this simple two-car team set-up in a world motorsport series. The European-based FIA GT2 and GT3 championships will support the GT1 events in their own individual races.
Q. What is your ambition for the FIA GT1 World Championship?
SR: My ambition for the new GT1 world championship is huge. It draws on SRO's 15-year heritage of promoting sportscar championships around the world and we must continue to build from the strong foundations we have set. I feel we are now ready to showcase the pinnacle of sportscar racing in a single world championship and become one of the 'big four' international motorsport series recognised by the FIA.
Q. How have you developed sportscar racing over the past 15 years?
SR: The development of sportscar racing has been a gradual process. My first major role was as founder of the BPR Endurance Series which revived GT racing worldwide with the first ever international races in 1994. I then partnered Bernie Ecclestone in creating the FIA GT Championship which became too dependent on manufacturers to survive long-term.
I then helped develop the LG Super Racing Weekends platform with Eurosport. The inclusion of Touring Cars and single seaters at race meetings helped to increase the profile of GT racing around the world. Since then SRO has focused on taking the FIA GT Championship to new heights.
Q. What was Bernie Ecclestone like to work with?
SR: Bernie Ecclestone is a very inspirational figure for any business person working in motorsport. I worked with him for three years when we developed the FIA GT Championship and I think he is a brilliant personality for this business.
Q. How secure is the long-term health of GT racing?
SR: We now have a clear and marketable product for the fans and media to understand. SRO is supported in this venture by reputable commercial and technical partners including global TV partnerships and I have all the confidence the new GT1 championship will be a huge global success.
The championship will be organically grown and its growth will rely on our own resources which we have developed over the past 15 years in going sports car racing. A key factor for the long-term health of GT racing is not to become dependent on direct manufacturer involvement. We have seen the risks of this in the past in GT racing and more recently in Formula 1. We will learn from this.
It takes time for any sports series to become well established but GT racing will take a major step forward in becoming one of the major world motorsport championships in 2010.
Q. GT racing has a big focus on exotic car brands - what are their expectations for the new-look championship?
SR: All the brands currently signed up to GT1 fully endorse the new-look championship and everyone involved is extremely excited about 2010. GT racing has always provided a platform for the cars and prestigious brands to shine.
Sportscar racing is the perfect commercial platform for these brands to show off their production machinery to the world - it does this better than any other motorsport series. The global exposure that GT racing brings to the manufacturers is excellent value for money and I am confident that the GT1 championship will attract more brands to compete in the future.