The annual SRO Prize Giving ceremony will take place in London on Friday, and one of the drivers collecting a trophy will be Stéphane Ortelli. In fact, Ortelli not only is the only driver who has competed in every race of the Blancpain Endurance and Sprint Series, but he has also finished at least in the top-3 of one Blancpain GT Series championship each year. In the 20th year of existence of the SRO Motorsports Group, high time to have a conversation with a man who was already competing when it all started.
How high do you rate the Blancpain GT Series?
“The Blancpain GT races are at their highest level, we are seeing the best races in the last 30 years. The championship truly represents the spirit of endurance and sprint racing, with well-known brands and cars that can be appreciated by every fan of motorsports. In terms of teams, drivers and tracks, my impression is that the competition and quality of racing is getting better and better every year.”
What is the most difficult, the Sprint or the Endurance races?
“Both Endurance and Sprint present their own challenges. Endurance has many cars and teams on the track and requires significant attention to strategy and support from the entire team, while sprint races are very quick. They demand that cars and drivers perform at their best right from the start. You can almost never make up from a mistake.”
You have also raced in the FIA GT championship. Was that more fun? Or just more difficult?
“It's true that the GT1 cars were certainly more challenging and much faster to drive. They came with a different set of risks, but they evolved to become more reliable. I have to say that the GT3 cars are a lot of fun, yet still demand precision driving to fully enjoy the car and reach its limits.”
What was the best car you have ever driven in an SRO Championship? And why?
“There have been many cars that I have enjoyed driving for different reasons, but the best by far is the 2014 Audi R8 LMS ultra. In particular because it was developed over the past five years to be the best on the track. That enjoyment does not only come from the car, but also from the WRT team and a manufacturer that supports the efforts of the driver. Another car that still puts a smile on my face is the GT1 Aston Martin. It was a powerful V12 with great aerodynamics.
It seems you have become a specialist in teaching young drivers the ‘GT way of racing’, like you did with Laurens Vanthoor, Stéphane Richelmi or Nico Müller. What is your secret?
“In fact, it's to not keep any secrets! The best way for these young drivers to advance their skills is to share with them the knowledge and expertise I've acquired over the years. It makes me proud to watch them improve and share their progress.”
What was the highlight of your years in the Blancpain GT Series?
“There are a few highlights. The first one that comes to my mind is the link between the final race in 2014 in Baku and the first race in 2015 in Nogaro, a link created when I took pole for both of those races. It gave me the feeling that the work from the previous year and during the off season was playing a role in the start of 2015, and it also gave me the feeling that we were continuing to develop the car even further. The second highlight is Spa, a track I love to drive, when we finished 2nd in 2012 and 2015 with WRT. And finally of course, my two titles - in 2012 with Mies and Haase and 2013 with Vanthoor – are very precious to me.”
What are you looking forward to for the future?
“I am really enjoying my current role with Audi. I love the competition, the car, the team and pushing myself to be the best I can be. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be among the few drivers that can really push the car to the limits, translate where the advantages and challenges lie and articulate them for the engineers, mechanics and my fellow drivers, all while keeping the car on the track and under control. I would love to help Audi win their first Blancpain GT race with the new R8 LMS.”