The highlight of the 2015 Blancpain GT Series, the Total 24 Hours of Spa, will be held in less than eight weeks. Time to ask the CEO and founder of SRO Motorsports Group his thoughts on the endurance classic.
2015 will be the fourth edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa which the SRO Motorsports Group has organised and promoted itself. What is the main conclusion after these editions?
“It has been a success. There are two parts to organising the event: the sporting part and the promotional side. Concerning the latter it is very good that we are now out of the red. The Total 24 Hours of Spa had a deficit for a quite a while and when SRO took over, we took a bit of a gamble. We lost money on the first two editions we organised ourselves, but now we manage to balance the accounts. This is very important for the long-term success of the event. The biggest progress was made by increasing the number of spectators attending the event. We asked the public what they liked, what they did not like and tried to adapt our organisation with what we learned from their remarks. Although this was not always successful, most of the time it was. So generally speaking, we are very happy with the current situation and hope to continue to grow.”
Does the Blancpain GT Series need the Total 24 Hours of Spa or is it the other way around?
“It goes both ways. The Total 24 Hours of Spa is the heart of the Blancpain Endurance Series, its most important event, so I can’t imagine the series without it. Can the Total 24 Hours of Spa be a stand-alone event? I don’t think it would have the same success it has today. The race grew together with the series, you cannot see one without the other.”
The entry list for this year’s edition will again be larger than last year’s. How big could this starting grid become?
“I think we are at the maximum, grid-wise. The only progress we could make would be to have more factory-supported teams, from more brands. The diversity of potential winners is growing year after year. There are four marks of success for an event like this. The first is the size of the grid. Anything between sixty and seventy is an exceptional number and we have been used to this amount for a number of years now. There is not much we can do on the sheer number of cars. Anyway, we would not have the room to accept more cars. The second mark of success is the number of different cars and different brands that are in a position to take the overall win. That number is growing, but there is still room for improvement. I would love to have a factory-supported Ferrari in Pro Cup, or a factory-supported Porsche or Aston Martin. For the moment we have factory-supported teams from Audi, Bentley, BMW, Lamborghini, McLaren, Nissan and we should have a Mercedes in Pro as well. That makes six or seven different cars that can have a go at the win. That already shows huge progress, but we are still missing Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche, who don’t put any importance on Spa and I think they are wrong.”
That ever increasing number of potential winners is due to the Balance of Performance, but some say that that same BoP decides a large part of the outcome of the race, even before the start is given. What do you say to that criticism?
“First of all: that is simply not true. When establishing the BoP, we work totally independent. Our dream is to have all the cars within the same three tenths of a second. That has to be our objective. But I will never forget what Peter Wright, the father of the BoP at the FIA, used to say: ‘As long as we are within eight tenths of a second, we are right’. We already narrowed the window by introducing different BoP’s for four different types of circuit, to really pinpoint the right Balance of Performance. But then again, we are never protected from manufacturers playing around. In GT3 there is always uncertainty and there is always a risk that a manufacturer could sacrifice the first races of the Blancpain Endurance Series, only to win in Spa. We can only regulate what we see and if someone hides some of their assets, we could be surprised. In the past that has led to the suspicion that someone was not showing everything and then was unfairly restricted. That is what happened to Audi two years ago. It’s definitely not an easy task to get the Balance of Performance right, but we do it in all honesty and with total independence.”
You mentioned that there are four marks of success for the Total 24 Hours of Spa. There is the size of the grid and the number of factory-supported cars, but what are the other two marks?
“The number of spectators attending obviously, which is in turn directly linked to our capacity to invest more and to further develop the event. Like we did by introducing the concert on Saturday evening or by increasing the off-track entertainment factor or improving the comfort of the spectators. The introduction of giant screens is a good example. For any long-distance race, the entertainment factor is as important as the race itself. There is still progress to be made, but every year we make a step in the right direction and try to make it a pleasant experience for every fan, whether they stay on site for three hours or three days. The fourth factor with which to measure the success of the event is the worldwide media coverage, where we are also making progress. We have more television channels covering the event, more media channels as well, with our new app and the different social media. So apart from the size of the grid, which has reached its maximum, we continue to work on the three other points to make the event an even bigger success. I would like to have ten, eleven manufacturers which have a car that can win. I would love to see the number of spectators grow as well, especially on an international level. More German spectators, more French, British, Dutch fans. Because for the moment, the Total 24 Hours of Spa is an international event with what is essentially a Belgian public.”
This year, the Blancpain Endurance Series has seen a significant increase in the number of teams participating in the Pro Cup. What do you think caused this?
“That is difficult to say. The number decreased in 2014, and we did not really know why. This year it went up, to levels we have never seen before. The Series has never been this successful. In Silverstone we had 62 cars, with 25 of them racing in Pro Cup. One of the means we used to boost the Pro Cup was to introduce prize money, but I can’t believe this is the only explanation for these high numbers. So I don’t know why we have so many cars. We must be doing something right. But I fully realize that it is one thing to create a success in motorsport, but it’s something else to remain successful. And that is what we want to be for many years to come.”
Aren’t you afraid that the higher number of pro drivers will make the amateur drivers, the real gentlemen drivers, feel uncomfortable?
“When I talk to the drivers that drive in the Am Cup, drivers whose age is closer to mine, I get the feeling that the success of the Blancpain Endurance Series is due to the fact that there are three categories. I assure you that the guys battling in Pro-Am or in Am are fighting as hard as the drivers in Pro. For the moment we have fourteen cars in the Am Cup, which is not bad. The amateur category in the WEC has seven or eight cars in average, for example. And when you win a category which has fourteen cars in it, that is a nice performance. So I do not see a problem for the amateur drivers, especially since our amateur drivers are good drivers. It is true that some older drivers or drivers with less experience started to feel a bit excluded, but for them we created the GT Sports Club.”
Final question: last year’s event was marred by a number of accidents and extra safety measures have been taken for the 2015 edition. Do you think they will be enough?
“Motorsport is dangerous and something can always happen, even with the best safety measures in the world. But if we compare ourselves to other endurance races, we do not have a big speed difference between our cars, since they are all GT3 machines. With the Sean Edwards Test we made a step forwards, and the new long Bronze/Silver test on Tuesday will pay off, I’m sure. The last thing we want is to throw rookie drivers into the event without verifying that they really understand the sporting environment in which they will be competing. We give them every opportunity to get the practice they need. And that is not all. We are one of the few non-FIA championship that enforces the FIA Accident Data Recorder system and we are sitting in the FIA GT Commission and give our views on Safety. All this is also part of our commitment to safety.”
Practical information - Total 24 Hours of Spa
When: 21-26 July 2015
Tickets: from 15 €
General Entrance : 30 € (includes free entrance on Thursday and Friday)
General Entrance + paddock : 60 € (includes free entrance on Thursday and Friday)
VIP packages : from 180 €
Children aged 12 or under, accompanied by an adult, enter for free
Sales on : www.ticketmaster.be
Test Day: Wednesday June 24th
Tuesday July 21st
Bronze test 15:00 – 18:00
Wednesday July 22nd
Parade Spa 16:00
Autograph session 17:00-18 :00
Thursday July 23rd
Free Practice 12:00-13:30
Night Qualifying 22:15-23:45
Friday July 24th
Super Pole 15:30-15:55
Saturday July 25th
Warm Up 09:05-09:25
Starting procedure & Grid walk 15:45-16:30
Start of the Total 24 hours of Spa 16:30
Information & reservation : www.24hoursofspa.com / www.blancpain-gt-series.com
Facebook : Total 24 hours of Spa / Twitter : @24hoursofspa / @blancpaingt
Blancpain GT Series APP available on :
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Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.
Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past.The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.
Total - Official Sponsor of the Total 24 Hours of Spa
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SRO Motorsports Group - The architect of modern GT Racing
SRO Motorsports Group was founded by Stephane Ratel and has specialised in the promotion, support and organisation of many national and international motorsport series since 1995.
In 2015, SRO promotes several championships and series, such as the Blancpain GT Series (with the Blancpain Sprint Series and the Blancpain Endurance Series, including the iconic Total 24 hours of Spa), the Avon Tyres British GT Championship and the newly-created GT Sports Club and Ultracar Sports Club. SRO Motorsports Group has various franchise agreements, including the GT4 European Series.
SRO Motorsports Group runs also the SRO Race Centre by MMC, a high-level technical centre at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France.
SRO has offices in London, Paris and Liège.