Q&A: STEPHANE RATEL, 2010 FIA GT1 BOSS
Insights into the new GT1 World Championship from the man at the top
Ahead of the official launch of the series (which takes place in Paris on March 1st), the organisers have released this Q&A with the boss...
What have motorsport fans to look forward to in GT racing this year?
I am hugely passionate about the new FIA GT1 World Championship and I truly believe sports car racing has massive potential to become more popular around the globe. The championship will feature the most iconic marques including Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati, 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, San Luis 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.
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. The FIA granted us full approval last summer which cements GT1 as the fourth FIA-sanctioned world motorsport championship.
What major changes will we see to GT racing in 2010?
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 One has achieved this simple two-car team set-up in a world motorsport series. The FIA GT2 and GT3 European championships will support the GT1 events in their own individual races.
What is your ambition for the FIA GT1 World Championship?
My ambition for the new GT1 world championship is huge. It draws on SRO's 15-year heritage of promoting sports car 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 sports car racing in a single world championship and become one of the 'big four' international motorsport series recognised by the FIA.
How have you developed sports car racing over the past 15 years?
The development of sports car 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 Weekend 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.
What was Bernie Ecclestone like to work with?
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.
How secure is the long-term health of GT racing?
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 One. 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.
GT racing has a big focus on exotic car brands - what are their expectations for the new-look championship?
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. Sports car 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.
Tell us something which not many people know about you?
I have a playboy image but, really, I am a very hard working man. I am very lucky to be working in what I think is the best business in the world. It's an every day, every hour, round the clock schedule. Motorsport is my life. My Blackberry wakes me up in the morning and the first thing I do is check my emails from around the world. I'm not a morning person so I choose to work late into the night. I don't get to sleep until 2am most nights.
You've also tried a hand in being a racing driver...
I didn't really have a racing career as such. I enjoyed going club racing from a young age and when I was managing the Le Mans sports car programme I was in a position to test the cars a lot and even fill in for some drivers in races from time to time. I was reasonably quick - my best result was second in the 1995 Suzuka 1000km in a Porsche 911 GT2.
Do you enjoy the travelling involved with motorsport and which is your favourite city?
I don't mind the travel. My work takes me to many vibrant cities around the world but my favourites are Paris, Rome and London. I would say Paris is my absolute favourite for its lifestyle and beauty - not being biased, of course! I'm lucky to live in both London and Paris and I enjoy cruising on the roads between the two listening to my favourite music. I also drive a Bentley but I use my Fiat Cinquecento on a day-to-day basis for convenience.
How do you like to spend time away from work?
Although I have a hectic work schedule, I make sure I spend some quality time with my kids. To me they are the best thing in the world because I have so much fun with them. They are 12 and 14 years old so they are very active and, like me, like everything to do with speed.
So you like your extreme sports?
Yes, I do a lot of skiing, skating, surfing and gym work to keep fit. I'm a big fan of motorbikes and 1098s Ducati Sport bike with which I do a rally every year. I do a lot of free ride skiing with my son and it gets harder every year for me to keep up with him!
Quick fire questions:
Who inspires you?
Favourite food and drink?
Steak and Coca Cola
First road car?
Golf GTI convertible 1981
If trapped in a lift, who would you want it to be with?
My children, aged 12 and 14
Last song played on iPod?
A friend's remix track
Blackberry or iPhone?
If not involved in motorsport?
I'd be in the music industry