GT1 world series is go

A world sports car champion will be crowned at the end of next season for the first time since 1992.

Plans for an FIA GT1 World Championship, which could stretch across as many as five continents, were given the go-ahead for 2010 in June. The decision reinstates a global title 17 years after the Sportscar World Championship, which ran continuously from 1953 under various names, withered and died.

Stephane Ratel’s bold plan to create a world series for independent rather than factory teams out of his existing FIA GT Championship was signed off five months ahead of schedule at the June meeting of the FIA World Council. It had been due to go before the governing body’s legislature in November.

Ratel said the World Championship had been given the green light early because he had effectively met the conditions laid down by the FIA. Its rules state that a World Championship must visit three continents or more, have representation from a minimum of four manufacturers and have at least 18 cars on the grid.

Ratel already had contracts in place that will take a planned 12-round series out of Europe to South America and Asia. He is moving towards finalising contracts with promoters to have races in South Africa and Australia in the inaugural season.

Nissan is already racing a GT-R built to the new low-tech 2010 GT1 rulebook in FIA GT, while the Swiss Matech squad has fielded two Ford GTs in the series. Reiter Engineering, which is Lamborghini’s official GT tuner, has committed to building a GT1 version of the new Murciélago SV, while Ratel claims there are at least five other projects in the pipeline.

He maintains that “there are two teams pencilled in next to each brand” and that he will have no problem reaching 18 cars.

“I have no doubt that out of those eight brands we will have four, five or even six next year,” he said.

Others looking at the new championship include Ferrari and its out-of-house tuner Michelotto. It is evaluating an upgrade to its GT2-spec 430 GT, one of the routes allowed into the new series.

Aston Martin Racing has also revealed that it is looking at producing a car for the series, a downgraded DBR9, following enquiries from potential customers. The interest of Ferrari and Aston is significant, because they were members of the so-called ‘gang of four’ that tried to derail Ratel’s plans for a new GT1 category in favour of a one-class GT structure based on the GT2 rules.

Key to the new World Championship is the contribution Ratel’s organisation will make to the teams’ travel costs for races outside Europe, including paying for air freighting the cars. Start money will also be paid for the flyaways.

The creation of a GT1-only World Championship is part of a reorganisation of GT racing. A separate FIA GT2 European Championship will be organised for pro-am driver pairings.

The most controversial aspect of Ratel’s plan is his decision to abandon the endurance format of FIA GTs in favour of two one-hour sprint races, most likely without refuelling. He claims this is necessary to attract the TV coverage that a World Championship needs.

There is still scepticism among FIA GT teams. Some have questioned whether promoters will be able to pay the fees Ratel needs to cover the travel costs in the long term.

Long-time sports car driver Jean-Denis Deletraz, who has raced on and off in GTs since the early days of Ratel’s Global Endurance GT Series in the mid-90s, has questioned the sprint format.

He insisted that wealthy amateurs such as himself, who have been a cornerstone of FIA GTs, do not want to fly halfway around the world to drive for 25 minutes in two one-hour races.

Ratel believes he can buck the downturn in the economic climate. “The concept of the rules and of [running] independent teams is right,” he says. “People have been asking if the World Championship is going to happen, now we can say it is.”