Reaction among team owners was largely positive following Stephane Ratel’s raft of proposed changes for the 2016 Blancpain GT season, outlined in a press conference at the Nurburgring last weekend.
In response to concerns that the better-funded teams were gaining an unfair advantage by refuelling more quickly and not having to change their brakes, Ratel announced a minimum pitstop time, sought to address the worrying decline in entries to the Blancpain Sprint Series with revised calendar of five races and an increased cash pot to be distributed among more teams than ever before, and launched an Intercontinental GT Challenge for 2016 – comprising Bathurst, COTA, Spa and Sepang – to give the teams much food for thought heading into the off-season.
JRM Partnership manager James Walters was wholly supportive of plans to reduce the Sprint Series calendar from seven to five rounds, with Grand Prix venues Hungaroring and Barcelona replacing the little-loved Nogaro and Moscow rounds.
“I’m quite happy that there’s been a reduction in the Sprint Series, ten rounds is good and the move to better circuits is definitely a big plus. For teams that are maybe just looking at Sprint it might look like a small calendar, but for us it’s better to focus on a couple less races and then have a better testing programme,” said Walters. “Especially coming from the side of the manufacturer, we want to attract more young drivers in regularly, so having less commitment on races means we can run more driver coaching programmes and get new prospects in, so I’m pretty happy with it.
“I also think it makes a lot of sense to standardise the classes in Sprint and Endurance. We’re looking at adding an Am car to the full season programme for next season and it was going to be a bit tricky before with the Cup, Pro-Am and Silver in Sprint, so the introduction of a Bronze-Bronze category will help.”
M-Sport team manager Matt Wilson similarly welcomed the alterations to the calendar, but cautioned that levelling the playing field will be no easy fix.
“I think it’s really positive, obviously the Sprint Series was suffering a little bit so losing the smaller circuits like Nogaro can only a good thing,” he said. “And the Intercontinental Cup which doesn’t have a full name looks really interesting; obviously we’ve done Bathurst before, we’re planning to go to Sepang and Spa we’ve done, so on the whole it’s very interesting, the calendar looks really strong.
“The BOP question is a really difficult one to answer; if you look at how close all the manufacturers were to each other at Spa, it was fantastic, but you’ve got some cars that take much less fuel than others and others that can run 150 kilos lighter which is going to be easier on it’s brakes. It’s an interesting preposition, but trying to balance them is probably an even bigger job than trying to balance them on track.”
SRO also announced that Pirelli would take on the tyre contract for the 2016 British GT championship, replacing long-serving suppliers Avon. Whilst Barwell Motorsport boss Mark Lemmer remains unconvinced that his team will extend themselves to a full Sprint campaign alongside prior commitments in the British GT and Endurance championships, he approved of SRO moving to a single tyre supplier across both series.
“We’re very happy in many respects because it reduces our testing costs,” said Lemmer. “The only thing that would change slightly is going from an extremely durable Avon tyre to a slightly more regular-life tyre means we would probably have to increase the number of tyres we use in British GT, which will increase the budgets slightly, but it makes sense on a lot of levels and should make life a lot more straight-forward.
Not everyone was entirely happy however. Motorbase Performance Team Principal David Bartrum was disappointed with the decision to split with Avon, but praised Ratel for listening to the team’s concerns.
“It does make sense in a lot of ways because if you’re using Pirellis in Blancpain and Avon in British GT, you’re more likely to make a mistake and take a British GT tyre to a Blancpain round – but I’ve got a lot of time for Avon, they work really well with the teams and deserve great recognition for that. They’ve refined their business to a local championship in the UK and they did a good job with it, so it’s an absolute travesty that they won’t be there in future,” said Bartrum, who also runs a successful touring car team.
“I think the gulf has opened up in the teams within Pro, which he has identified, and Pro-Am a little bit as well. They’ve identified that some teams have got a lot more money to spend on their fuel rigs and on their brakes, which will keep the series alive,” he continued.
“If you don’t let people like Ahmad [al-Harthy] and the Silver-Bronze guys get a result, or feel like they’re getting somewhere, then they’ll be driven away from the series and you’re left with a load of manufacturers, so it’s very important that they do make these changes and they keep it balanced and realistic – rather than futuristic and up in the sky somewhere!”
Drivers view: Joe Osborne, Triple Eight Race Engineering
“It works both ways, I’ve been in British GT for nine years so I’ve known Avon a long time and they’re top guys, but I think for the greater community of GT racing it’s better to have a uniform tyre, so teams can jump in and out of the series and know what setup to go for. The Pirelli is probably the better Pro tyre but the Avon is very good for gents, so there’s not all positives but when you look at the bigger picture it’s a better deal for GT racing.”