The conclusion of the 2019 season marks the end of an era for international GT racing as Swiss luxury watchmaker Blancpain bows out following a long and immensely successful involvement with the sport.
The 10-year association between the brand and SRO Motorsports Group has been one of the industry's strongest partnerships, beginning in 2010 when Blancpain was named as the official timing partner for the FIA GT1 World Championship. The following year saw the relationship expand through the creation of the Blancpain Endurance Series, an ambitious new five-round championship that raced at Europe's premier circuits and featured the Total 24 Hours of Spa as its centrepiece event.
In the years that followed Blancpain was a steadfast and passionate supporter of GT racing at all levels. As a globally renowned timekeeper, the company developed a system that is today recognised as being among the best in the world, serving competitors and fans alike. Its extensive contacts also assisted in the acquisition of global television deals, helping the fledgling championship to secure a vital media foothold. Its philosophy was evident in the paddock, too, where Blancpain’s high-end approach to VIP service became an integral part of the race weekend experience.
This attitude was pioneered by the company’s President and CEO, Marc A. Hayek, a passionate and ambitious gentleman racer who exemplified the profile of competitor that the new Blancpain Endurance Series sought to attract. Indeed, this has been crucial to the championship’s enduring success. Now known as the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup, the original category recently completed its ninth season of competition with packed grids of world-leading automotive brands, highly accomplished teams, and a healthy mix of professional and amateur competitors.
The collaboration also led to the successful addition of a sprint-format series in 2014, the Blancpain Sprint Series, while the overall Blancpain GT Series was introduced to combine results from both and award titles to the best overall performers.
The relationship has since expanded well beyond its origins on the European continent. Blancpain GT Series Asia was created in 2017 and this year became Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia, while a move into the U.S. market in 2018 led to creation of Blancpain GT World Challenge America, which recently completed a successful maiden season of competition. In 2019 the continental sprint series in Europe, Asia and America were linked to form the global Blancpain GT World Challenge, where manufacturers can compete through their regional customer racing squads. There has been further involvement across a range of series organised by SRO, including British GT and Blancpain GT Sports Club.
Each development followed close consultation between SRO Motorsports Group and Blancpain, whose advice became an essential aspect of the partnership.
With next year marking the 10th season of competition for what was originally founded as the Blancpain Endurance Series, the Swiss brand's importance in creating and growing the championship will endure. There will be no practical changes to what was known as the Blancpain GT Series, which from 2020 will race as GT World Challenge Europe. As has been the case in the past, this will be split equally between the Endurance Cup and Sprint Cup. What's more, the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup – including the marquee Total 24 Hours of Spa – will become part of the global GT World Challenge for the first time.
GT World Challenge will now become the banner under which all three continental series compete, giving us GT World Challenge America and GT World Challenge Asia. As with Europe, both will form part of the global GT World Challenge. The full calendar for each category was revealed during Stephane Ratel's annual press conference at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
While there is much to be optimistic about for the future, it is important to recognise the efforts that helped to build today's success. In the case of international GT racing, Blancpain has played a crucial role. Though the brand is stepping away, its vital contribution will be remembered with gratitude for many years to come.
Stephane Ratel, SRO Motorsports Group Founder and CEO: "First of all, I must say thank you to Blancpain for everything that we have achieved together over the past 10 years. We can look back with pride on a fantastic partnership, during which we have seen immense growth in GT racing across the globe. Blancpain has been a major contributor to this, bringing not only support but passion, advice and expertise. From a personal perspective, too, they have been a wonderful group to work with. Looking ahead, we have the opportunity to fully link our series in Europe, Asia and America using the GT World Challenge name. This will create consistency between the championships as we look to further strengthen GT racing across the globe.”
Marc A. Hayek, President and CEO of Blancpain: "We are very proud to have worked hand-in-hand with SRO in an excellent spirit of collaboration during 10 years. We warmly thank Stephane Ratel and his wonderful team for having made of this adventure more than just a simple partnership. We have no doubt that he will drive the "GT World Challenge" to new summits and wish SRO a bright future."