The news that luxury watch brand Blancpain was stepping back as a title sponsor of a range of SRO-run Series and Championships has trickled out over recent months, but was finally confirmed at the season-ending Night of Champions in Las Vegas last month. It is all part of a wider plan though, for SRO to remodel its international and continental products under a simplified set of ‘brands’.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge was the first of these, a now five race series, aimed at factory efforts. It utilises a combination of some well-established blue riband events (the Spa 24 Hours and Bathurst 12 Hour) a pair of re-invented endurance classics (Suzuka 10 Hours and Kyalami 9 Hour) and, a second stab at establishing another endurance event in the United States with an event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway replacing the somewhat damp squib that was the California 8 Hours at Laguna Seca.
The newer addition to the marketing armoury is World Challenge, now with series running under that moniker in North America, Europe and Asia. It’s clear that this has been a development that has been under consideration for some time, as Stephan Ratel himself explained last month:
“There was a small article which asked: ‘Why is no SRO championship as well known as it should be considering it has been there for 25 years?’
“It was a good question! One reason that the article suggested was that we changed the name for our championships all the time.
“That is true, we were the BPR, FIA GT, FIA GT1 World Championship, Blancpain Endurance Series, Blancpain GT Series. That means that it is difficult to follow, apart from the motorsport fans who are kind of keeping up with it.
“The less interested people, by the time they understand what it is, we had moved on to call it something different.
“Whilst it is also true to say that things have changed in recent years. If at dinner 20 years ago I said I was in motorsport, they would say ‘F1?’ and when I said ‘no’, they would immediately lose interest, now in the last 10 years when I say GT racing one or two will have heard of Blancpain. ”
The strategy now though is to build on SRO’s own brand rather than rely on the brand in the name of a sponsor.
“Now we have one brand, it is GT World Challenge, a really good asset that I acquired with the company (when SRO took over the World Challenge organisation in the USA).
“They have a registered trademark that is to me very valuable. GT World Challenge and that has to be our global entity as long as I’m still there.”
So does that mean that SRO is not looking for a replacement global sponsor for Blancpain?
“I am looking for “powered by” event sponsors.
“World Challenge is global competition for customer racing. We think this will be popular for the manufacturers that have built up large customer racing departments, to give them something that they can promote for their customers as an achievable goal.
“I see that as being entirely sustainable – customer racing will remain. If one thing is there in 20 years, it is electric racing and customer racing. I have no doubt that will continue and we will offer real value not only for the customers, but for the brand they get a lot of marketing return for a very reasonable investment.”