Stephane Ratel’s relationship with Pirelli World Challenge really started with “a problem.”
Ratel had a contract with a promoter in Azerbaijan for a race in Baku called the “Baku World Challenge.” While in Baku, he got a letter from a lawyer telling him that “world challenge” was already owned. And the promoter in Baku wasn’t going to drop the name. An attempt at compromise became moot with the impending arrival of Formula 1, but combined with a shared supplier in Pirelli, it led to a partnership between Ratel and PWC.
Ratel, whose SRO Motorsports Group started by consulting and technical work on balance of performance and future development, was named this week to the WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge Board of Directors, as part of SRO becoming a shareholder in WC Vision. It’s a venture he’s wanted for a while.
“That was an ambition I had to get involved with racing in America and something I wanted to do for some time,” said Ratel, SRO’s owner and Blancpain GT Series CEO. “One day, they proposed if I wanted to become a partner and acquire a shareholding position in the company, which I did.”
PWC officials first forged an alliance with the Ratel’s SRO Motorsports Group and its Blancpain GT Series last year. That affiliation has expanded in 2016 with the two series utilizing similar technical regulations, including the SRO balance of performance equations and other selected particulars.
“I want to believe that teams are happy with the BoP,” Ratel continued. “The first events have been peaceful [without controversy]. Now we need to go on to what I hope will be success on the next steps.”
Ratel, whose group has launched the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2011 and has programs like Intercontinental GT Challenge, the first-ever global GT3 Series, Blancpain GT Series, including the iconic Total 24 hours of Spa and the British GT Championship, sees a unique opportunity to grow the GT brand in America.
“I am not a backseat partner,” he said. “I want to play a very active role. … I think the PWC is a good platform that can really be improved over the next couple of years.
“GT racing is booming; it doesn’t stop. We’ve had this year a new Ferrari, a new Audi, new Lamborghini over the last 18 months, new Mercedes, BMW, and they all sold so many cars. … Australian GT’s booming. The GTs we get to go in Japan in Super GT is booming. All the championships are booming with GT3s, so I think America is of course the biggest market, and there is no reason why GT3 racing wouldn’t be booming here.”
Ratel plans to use his quarter-century of experience in European racing to continue a revival of GT racing, which has been his goal since the mid 1990s.
“The American racing scene is very mature and very busy, so there is no other way [to find a way in],” he remarked. “You’re not going to come as a European promoter and start a series from scratch. I don’t think that would have worked. So the only way to enter the U.S. market, which was my ambition, was to get affiliated, to get in a partnership with an existing series. And with the PWC, I found, which is important to me, is it’s the only GT series. GT’s not a class winner, GT is the overall winner, and that’s very important. For me, the GT cars are the most prestigious manufacturers, they’re the best looking, best sounding cars, and they’re second to none.
“The No. 1 priority is to get more manufacturers involved – we have a number of brands which are not represented at the pro level in the PWC – to offer an attractive platform where some of the GT3 manufacturers which are not there today would be coming finding teams, supporting teams, selling cars, to be in the PWC.”
Having acquired and worked to grow several series, Ratel does not see this as a short-term project.
“We have to be modest, we have a very young product, we’re not going to make a miracle overnight, but we want to offer a platform that will be attractive for teams, for manufacturers and eventually, as resources allow to be able to make the product better known,” he said.
“It’s a very ambitious program, the Pirelli World Challenge,” he continued. “You have 11 rounds with only one driver on the four corners of a huge country. To our standard, it’s quite big. If I was offering a program like this in Europe, I don’t know if I would have 10 cars. It’s quite an achievement.”