> 2021 calendars unveiled ahead of Belgian endurance classic
> Newly launched initiatives mark clear return to the roots of GT racing
> Cost-effectiveness, e-sports and sustainably placed at the forefront
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Stephane Ratel has outlined plans for SRO Motorsports Group in 2021 and beyond during his annual Total 24 Hours of Spa press conference, presenting a full complement of calendars and launching targets that will reduce costs and accelerate the drive towards sustainability.
The traditional media gathering was staged on the eve of a unique autumn edition of the world-renowned endurance contest, which will begin its 20th running as a GT race on Saturday afternoon. Following a 2020 campaign that has seen plans significantly redrawn in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the schedules put in place for next season represent a return to the established order.
Four of the five Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli rounds originally scheduled for this year will run in 2021, with the Total 24 Hours of Spa reclaiming its rightful summer date on 29 July-1 August. The only change sees the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour take a one-year hiatus due to travel restrictions in Australia.
GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS will return to a 10-event calendar split equally between the Sprint Cup and Endurance Cup formats, highlighted by the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Across the Atlantic, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS will stage seven rounds, including a place alongside Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli at the Indianapolis 8 Hour.
After being paused in 2020, GT World Challenge Asia Powered by AWS will resume next year at Sepang on 19/20 June, with the starting date reflecting a cautious approach. A non-championship warm-up race will be staged at the same track on 29/30 May, while five more events will run in Japan, China and potentially Thailand.
The GT4 European Series retains the schedule first announced in September, with six doubleheader rounds running alongside GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS.
There is positive news on the domestic front, too. The FFSA French GT Championship will return to a six-event schedule that begins with the Coupe de Pâques at Nogaro, while the Intelligent Money British GT Championship is also set for its traditional Easter Weekend opener at Oulton Park. What's more, both series will participate in the returning Spa Speedweek, which is set to take place one week before the 24 Hours (24-25 July).
GT4 America and TC America will undertake the same seven-event calendar as GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS, taking each series to some of North America's premier road racing venues and concluding at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Further announcements regarding the final schedule details for 2021 will be made in due course.
Back to the roots of GT racing
A strong emphasis on amateur competitors has been placed at the heart of SRO's future initiatives, signalling a clear return to the roots of modern GT racing. In particular, significant work has been invested in re-establishing GT Sports Club on the international calendar as an umbrella category for three distinct championships.
Thanks to an expanded partnership with Rebellion Timepieces, the renamed GT Rebellion Series will provide gentlemen drivers with their own championship for the latest generations of GT3 cars. This will see two Bronze-graded competitors join forces for three-hour races at some of Europe’s premier circuits.
Within the same events, the new GT2 European Series will create a competitive environment for the next generation of machinery, which will expand to feature four manufacturers next year. This will consist of two 50-minute sprint races, either in pairs or driving alone, with Am and Pro-Am podiums.
The calendar for both series will include the Monza GT3 15th Anniversary meeting. This special four-day event will celebrate a special milestone for the enduringly popular category by bringing together 30-minute “Anniversary” races for Generation 1 (2006-2009) and Generation 2 (2009-2013) GT3 machinery, the new GT Rebellion and GT2 European Series, as well as the opening round of GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS. Crucially, both new series will enjoy the same volume and quality of media coverage as GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS.
Complementing these series, the GT1 Sports Club draws upon the same ethos to create a non-competitive programme for super sports cars such as the Aston Martin Valkyrie, Lamborghini SCV12 and McLaren Senna GTR, which do not usually have the opportunity to join together on-track. This non-racing, race-inspired concept will offer eight hours of track time and limited numbers on the circuit, with events to follow GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS weekends.
First staged in 2019, the FIA Motorsport Games will undertake an expanded second edition that features an ambitious programme. The unique multi-disciplinary event sees drivers compete in the colours of their national flag, with a strong emphasis placed on amateurs and young entrants.
Next year it will move to Circuit Paul Ricard, while Marseille acts as host city. A number of new categories will be added, with a total of 15 to 17 expected to be staged in 2021. The concept will also grow to encompass a competitor village, entertainment area and sports forum.
The Vendôme 80 Rally will transport participants back to the 1980s with the cars, music and style of the decade. Running on 21-23 May, the event will include a Concours d’Elegance and prize-giving ceremonies, celebrating the eighties’ bold aesthetic, instantly recognisable soundtrack and remarkable machinery.
Finally, a new series will race under the SRO banner next season. Launched by the French Federation of Automobile Sport (FFSA) and organised by SRO Motorsports Group, FFSA TC France will bring the touring car discipline back to one of its spiritual homes.
Multiple brands will compete at the nation's top venues, with the calendar following the FFSA French GT Championship schedule. This will place FFSA TC France at high-profile events such as the Coupe de Pâques, Spa Speedweek and at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Cost-effectiveness, e-sports and sustainability
To meet the challenges that will follow the events of 2020, a cost-effectiveness programme is being discussed with GT World Challenge Powered by AWS teams. Measures under consideration include running a mandatory Silver-graded driver, as well as a restriction to one truck per-car. A reduction in the number of tyres and a ban on the use of tyre warmers, as well as revised pit stop rules, will also be reviewed with the aim of driving down costs.
E-Sports has enjoyed significant growth this year, with a considerable uptake in sim racing among professionals and amateurs alike. The SRO E-Sport GT Series was part of the revolution, staging a multi-event championship that featured real-world drivers and professional sim racers.
Further progress will be made next year as SRO continues to expand within the e-sports space. In 2021, continental series will run in Europe, Asia and America between March and November, focussing solely on sim drivers. The best from each will go head-to-head at the season’s end, while a winter series for real-world competitors will run from January through March.
Further integration between e-sports and real-world competition is also under consideration. This would see Pro and Silver teams enter one driver in an on-site sim racing championship that would contribute points towards the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS teams’ classification, while a prize fund would also be on offer.
First announced at last year's Total 24 Hours, GTeXperimental World Tour will draw inspiration from the city-to-city contests that laid the foundation stones of motorsport during the early part of the 20th century. Just as those events saw new technologies put to the test, so GTX World Tour will embrace the latest automotive developments.
It will officially launch in 2021 with a two-day media event that travels from Geneva to Monaco via Turin. This condensed tour will demonstrate the full potential of the GTX concept, combining a scenic journey with legendary automotive institutions, fine cuisine and high-exposure brand promotion in three key markets. The next step, in 2023, will be an eight-day journey from Paris to Berlin, adding circuit racing, hillclimb and rally stage demonstrations to the regularity element of the competition.
SRO would not be credible in promoting GTX World Tour without making efforts to reduce its own carbon footprint. As such, a sustainability strategy will be introduced to meet the firm objective of achieving carbon neutral status by 2023. The organisation will work alongside Futerra to quantify its carbon emissions, while Permian Global will offset what cannot be reduced.
Emissions will be minimised through a variety of efforts, such as sustainable tyre recycling, optimised logistics and an environmentally sustainable approach to live events. What's more, SRO will establish and promote a sustainable motorsport network, encouraging its teams and partners to follow a set of guidelines that allow them to support green racing.
Before these developments are put in place, there is still more to come in 2020. Following the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS campaign will conclude at Circuit Paul Ricard on 13-15 November, while Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli wraps up its season at Kyalami on 10-12 December.
There are also concluding events for the GT4 European Series, FFSA French GT Championship and Intelligent Money British GT Championship, bringing the curtain down on a uniquely challenging season that has, thanks to the hard work of all involved, run with considerable success.