Stephane Ratel outlines exciting 2019 season plans for SRO Motorsports Group
The headline news concerns the sprint-format championships currently known as the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, Blancpain GT Series Asia and Pirelli World Challenge GT. From 2019 onwards this trio will spearhead a new global initiative: the Blancpain GT World Challenge.
This exciting international endeavour will present GT3 manufacturers, partners and teams with the chance to compete in worldwide customer racing and measure the success of their achievements on a truly global scale.
Each series will retain its present status as an individual championship and will be known as Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe, Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia and Blancpain GT World Challenge America.
Drawing inspiration from the concept successfully pioneered in the Intercontinental GT Challenge, where manufacturers compete through local teams, each of the 12 current GT3 manufacturers will be able to establish a line-up of 12 drivers who will score points for their brand in the overall Blancpain GT World Challenge.
They will be split across the three continental sprint series, with four competing in the World Challenge Europe, four in the World Challenge America and four in the World Challenge Asia.
To fully integrate all classes of driver, each group must include a star (classified as Platinum); a good professional (classified Gold); an up-and-coming driver or a very experienced non-professional (classified Silver); and a Gentleman driver or former star (classified Bronze).
With major manufacturers striving to demonstrate their excellence in the competitive arena of international customer racing, the new Blancpain GT World Challenge will take on-track competition to a new level in 2019 and beyond.
More action still to come in 2018
These plans offer great promise for the future and will continue to develop over the coming months. But, while this weekend’s event at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya marks the end of the Blancpain GT Series season, three significant dates remain on the SRO Motorsports Group calendar for 2018.
On 12-14 October the GT4 Sprint Cup Final will take place at Hockenheim in the context of the final round of the DTM, while on 26-28 October the Intercontinental GT Challenge will conclude its successful second season with the California 8 Hours. Finally, on 30 November-1 December, the keenly-anticipated FIA GT Nations Cup and GT4 International Cup will close the season as part of the inaugural Bahrain GT Festival.
Attention will then fully shift to a busy 2019. The calendar will once again be headlined by the manufacturer-focussed Intercontinental GT Challenge, which will expand to five events on as many continents next year. The schedule unveiled at the Total 24 Hours of Spa remains unchanged except for a small adjustment to California 8 Hours, which will now take place on March 30-31.
Europe: Consistency for successful GT3 and GT4 series
In Europe, SRO will maintain its significant presence at the continent’s premier circuits. The 2019 Blancpain GT Series calendar remains unchanged from the version presented at this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, consisting of five Endurance Cup races and five Sprint Cup events.
As with the Total 24 Hours of Spa, which scores points towards the Intercontinental GT Challenge and the Blancpain GT Series, the Sprint Cup will count towards both the Blancpain GT Series and the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe.
Entry to the Pro class of the Endurance Cup, including the blue riband Total 24 Hours of Spa, will be limited to manufacturers that compete either in the full Intercontinental GT Challenge, the full Blancpain GT Series, or the full Blancpain GT World Challenge.
Following discussions with the paddock, improvements have been made to enhance the sporting aspect of the series. A ban on private testing will be implemented from the start until the end of the season. Five official in-season tests will take place as part of Blancpain GT Series events, including the traditional Total 24 Hours of Spa test day.
At the Total 24 Hours of Spa itself, the five-minute technical pit stop will now be permitted at any time during the race. The need for a “wave-by” rule will also be evaluated.
In the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup (also labelled Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe), grids will be limited to 26 full-season cars, with exceptions made for an additional two entries on a race-by-race basis. The pit stop procedure has also been reviewed and, in the interest of safety, mechanics will be permitted to carry only one wheel at a time.
What’s more, in an effort to strengthen the championship’s amateur spirit, a minimum pit stop time will be introduced for the Am Cup, and potentially for the Pro-Am class subject to further evaluation. As has been the case previously, there will be no minimum pit stop time for competitors in the Pro and Silver Cup classes.
2018 has been a landmark year for the GT4 European Series, with impressive grids competing at each race. It will maintain its six-round championship format in 2019, with each running in support of Blancpain GT Series events. What’s more, a Spa GT4 Endurance Cup will add an additional standalone five-hour contest as part of Spa Speedweek. As in 2018, this will be staged on the weekend prior to the Total 24 Hours of Spa (20/21 July).
A new GT4 Series will be launched in Germany, under franchise by the ADAC and in place of the GT4 Central European Cup, featuring no date clashes with the GT4 European Series. Furthermore, since a performance increase will be applied across all GT4 cars, the FFSA GT4 France Championship will see the addition of the Coupe de France, which caters for cars that are unable to reach the new performance levels.
Blancpain GT Sports Club will contest five rounds in 2019, each consisting of two races of equal distance. These will range from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the event, with each grid decided by a 15-minute qualifying session. Competitors will also have access to the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup Bronze test.
In addition to its GT3 machinery, Blancpain GT Sports Club will be the launch series for the new GT2 category in 2019. The class is progressing as planned, with six manufacturers having expressed their interest to date.
America: An Enhanced presence at premier circuits
The acquisition of a controlling stake in WC Vision LLC, the producers of the Pirelli World Challenge, will establish SRO Motorsports Group as a full-time presence on the American continent in 2019. The Blancpain GT World Challenge America will consist of seven events at high-end venues, beginning at COTA (2-3 March) and concluding with a grand finale on 19-20 October.
A new-for-2019 format will see two races of 90 minutes at each event, with the successful two/three-day European programme adopted. This will be further strengthened by the presence of SRO’s vastly experienced sporting staff at all Blancpain GT World Challenge America events.
On the GT4 side, the format will be restructured around two series. GT4 America Sprint (previously GTS) will contest eight nationwide round, including major events alongside the IndyCar Series at St. Petersburg (9-10 March) and Long Beach (13-14 April), and ending as part of the grand finale in October. The series will feature one driver per-car, with competitors up to and including Gold classification eligible.
GT4 America Sprint X will compete at eight events nationwide, beginning at COTA and then joining the Blancpain GT World Challenge America for the remainder of its schedule. This will see two drivers per-car on a Pro-Am basis, with regional GT4 America East and West titles awarded from five of the eight races. TC America will contest a seven-round calendar featuring the TCR, TC and TCA classes, allowing this growing category to fully develop its own identity.
Asia: New name for GT3, new GT4 series launched
The renamed Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia will compete at six circuits and in five countries during 2019, with an unchanged calendar from the version revealed during the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The previously-announced event at Shanghai International Circuit has been confirmed for 21-22 September and, as previously stated, all teams will be required to run at least one driver holding an Asian passport.
Finally, in addition to the GT3-focussed Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia, a standalone GT4 category will also be introduced in 2019, competing separately at most of the six events. This will be restricted to Asian nationals and residents, and will cater exclusively for Am drivers.
With these plans coming into effect for the 2019 season, a new and exciting chapter is set to begin for SRO Motorsports Group and global GT racing.
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