With 2018 right around the corner now, DSC sat down and spoke to British GT and Blancpain GT Series Asia general manager Benjamin Franassovici at length about how 2017 went, and what’s in store for 2018.
Part 1 covers all things British GT Championship, with the entry list forming quickly and the calendar already set.
So, to start, let’s talk about the GT3 class, which is always a big talking point. Going into next year, how healthy will it be?
“We are doing better in GT3 than I expected, we have more cars for next year than last season. Same time last year I wouldn’t have expected it. Every year we seem to get entries two weeks earlier.
“We have more entered than we have last year full-season. I’m surprised, and very happy with that. Especially after the press were writing the class off two years ago. So we went away, tweaked the formula, made it more attractive. We know it’s expensive, but people love GT3 racing, and we have 13 cars already entered.
“Yeah, 10-15 is a good number. I think we’re going to have health and diversity. More GT3 cars and more brands.”
There was a lot of talk about the possibility of split grids, which hasn’t materialised. What was the decision-making process for that like, and how do you feel about the keeping the multi-class format?
“There was a time when the GT4 interest was coming along, that the possibility of splitting the grids was a potential scenario. In my head I had to think about it, but realistically splitting the grids was a long shot.
I think we’ll end up with 34 cars for Round 1.
“I think we’ll end up with 34 cars for Round 1. I hate to announce a number and go lower, I like to be conservative. But I’m very happy on paper I have more than 30 entries. You will have some people dropping out, it happens, it’s part of our environment.”
Say there was split grid next year, how would the teams react, would there be more GT4 and GT3 teams onboard?
“No, if we did split the grid I don’t think we would have more GT4s, people are interested in it, they like our platform. Teams weren’t turned on by it. Did we have the numbers to do it? Did the clients like it? Not really. If I’d have had 16 or more GT3 cars on the entry quickly, then maybe it would have happened.
“But split grids are behind us now, we will go into 2019 hoping for a similar number of GT3s and a good grid.
“Multi-class racing is a little challenging, but it’s part of the platform. It’s got two main classes with serious cars in GT4. Now you have Mercedes, Audi, McLaren, Aston, Ginetta all these big brands, it’s cooler. It’s done very well, GT4. That, along with different formulas is a great cocktail, and nobody else has it. It’s the charm of British GT.”
Multi-class racing is a little challenging, but it’s part of the platform
We’re seeing new GT4 cars hit the track almost by the month at the moment. Are we going to see any of the brand new models in British GT next year? Cars like the AMG GT4, R8 LMS GT4, Mustang GT4 or M4 GT4?
“Well people have orders in so we should see the new German cars coming in. It’s going to happen. The only thing is that some manufacturers are having to work very hard to deliver them on time, that’s going to be an exciting part!
“But we will see those cars on the grid.”
How do you feel about the direction of GT4? It’s growing incredibly fast at the moment across the globe…
“It’s been bonkers the last two years. Before that it was harder to get a grid. I remember pushing to have the Aston in GT4 back in 2011, the Mazda. I wanted diversity, interest, as before that we had the Ginetta, X-Bow and it wasn’t really getting people interested because the diversity was weak and the numbers were low.
“But we pushed, and insisted. And it picked up after I persevered. Because around 2011 I did feel like I was dragging a dead horse with GT4. Then the Aston came in, and it all began to build. And since so many teams have looked into it and come along to race because they realised it’s affordable.”
Is the rise in costs for both GT3 and GT4 a concern to you, as someone in charge of a national, pro/am championship?
“Yeah, it’s getting expensive, because it’s high-level racing with exotic cars. We’ve kept the number of tyres down, and have tried to control the cost as much as possible. But teams are more professional, and it’s not getting cheaper. GT3 isn’t cheap, but there is a market for it, there is an appeal.
“When you look at the start shot at Silverstone you see the big GT3s and GT4s behind, you see how encouraging it all is.”
Now you’ve kept the calendar the same, bar a format change at Spa, which will see a single race instead of two for next year. How important is the stability in the series’ schedule?
People come back because they know there’s stability in the calendar, dates, BoP and service; it’s customer orientated.
“Stability is important, it’s not always part of our racing environment. People come back because they know there’s stability in the calendar, dates, BoP and service; it’s customer orientated. We deliver what the clients want.
“There’s always going to be someone moaning wanting to go somewhere else. But where? The rest are too small. And we go to Spa still, because it has a big appeal. I’ll ask again at the start of next year if we should look into another place, but when we went to Zandvoort and the Nurburgring, they wanted to go back to Spa, straight away.
If we went to Monza, everyone would throw their arms in the air.
“We will go to another place if it’s better. Can we go to Paul Ricard? Monza? It’s something I’d consider.
“There’s a desire to have an away round. They all like it. I don’t think we could do more than one. But Spa works because it’s so close once you get to France. If you do Ricard and Monza, it’s another day and a half of truck driving, and a higher cost.”
It’s clear that teams like the product you offer, and keep coming back. How about the fans? We saw ‘Circuit Safari’ debut at Silverstone this year. What was the reaction to that like?
“The safari is an example of an idea we like to create in the office. We like to do little things that become big out of nothing. It’s creating little moments. I tried it last year and I had so much red tape that I didn’t do it. So I dropped it. Then I tried again this year, before Silversotne, and I saw a crack there that meant I wasn’t pushed away completely.
“I spoke to a couple of bus companies, told them my story, told them about Silverstone. Then slowly it all fell together until the last minute. I had paperwork and approval, and it wasn’t finished until a few minutes before the briefing started. It was fun, but really hard to put together. Silverstone were helpful, I acted and we put it together.
“And it was so nice, and made for some great photos.”
Will we see it return in the future?
“Maybe, we might do another bus version. When something is so successful I like to do a different things. But when you have Bentley, Aston and a route master bus on track at Silverstone, it gets you noticed. So many people sent messages, and it was a real reward.”
We also saw the races streamed online for the first time this year too. How would you evaluate that?
“I think it’s the way forward, it’s quite simple. The TV environment has changed in recent years and streaming seems to be what people want. Is it viable? I’m not so sure, but I’m pushing it. I think we’ll have it next year, we’ll continue the streaming.
The TV environment has changed in recent years and streaming seems to be what people want. Is it viable? I’m not so sure, but I’m pushing it.
And how about the fans coming to the races? Were you impressed with the attendance?
“It’s always been difficult, but we are bucking the trend. Three years ago I thought we’d never get big crowds again because there’s so many things to do, and so much to keep you occupied and following it at home. But last year we could see we had more people coming, because of good social media work, attractive grids, and the numbers keep increasing.
“Look at Rockingham, there were people, you could see the increase. Silverstone was a great success too, that’s down to both the circuit and SRO pulling strings and investing in promotion. And at the MSV rounds we went back to our original date at Oulton Park and you get 20 thousand people.
“It looks professional, it looks nice. When you see the grid walk at 9am at Brands, you see Donington. It’s cold, you think nobody will show up, then suddenly the pit lane is full.
“Sometimes it doesn’t materialise, but it finally has for us. It’s reassuring that supplying great racing cars, pit stops, overtaking, then you have a show that gets people to come along to circuits.”
How much of a priority is it for you to get people to races, in a pro-am championship which is very much customer focused?
“Technically it wouldn’t change much if nobody came, because I still pay a lot to go to race tracks, and don’t get much from people going through the gates. There were times four or five years ago with very few punters going through the gates. We will still go racing with or without fans.
There were times four or five years ago with very few punters going through the gates. We will still go racing with or without fans.
“The difference is the atmosphere, and the satisfaction from a busy paddock and track. When you have a busy track it’s attractive to teams and drivers. It’s important when you bring partners and sponsors too.
“It’s not Mickey mouse, it’s a serious platform, and if fans watch, it validates that.”