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Q&A: Stephane Ratel on his new investment with PWC

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The biggest news in the Pirelli World Challenge paddock at Long Beach last weekend was the confirmation that Stephane Ratel was named to the WC Vision and Pirelli World Challenge Board of Directors, as part of SRO Motorsports Group becoming a shareholder in WC Vision.

NBC Sports had the opportunity to catch up with Ratel and discuss his vision – no pun intended – for the future.

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MST: I’m sure this has been a long time in the works. Now that it’s out, what are your immediate thoughts and reactions?

Stephane Ratel: “As I’ve said to a number of others, it was a long held ambition to do something in America, especially since I started with GT3 more than 10 years ago. Spoke to many people over the years about GT3. Some people I didn’t think would do it, did it. Pirelli World Challenge was a very step-by-step approach to fulfill potential of series, work with management and partners. I decided to go make this investment and to play an active role in trying to develop the series further.”

MST: Last year at St. Petersburg you were first introduced, and there’s obviously been a lot of evolution since then. Do you feel the series has improved?

Ratel: “The first evolution over the last couple years is that it is becoming a GT3-only series, which is important for SRO since we’re a global promoter for GT3 racing. The GTS category is also moving towards GT4. So it’s very much in line with what we’re doing. I see a real potential into expanding our business… similar to our model in Europe. It’s different here, but what makes success in Europe can be used to help promote and bring the Pirelli World Challenge forward.

“With Greg Gill, we have a very good relationship. He’s the right person for the job. It’s the right type of management, and hes’ good at talking with people. That’s exactly what we need.”

MST: Do you see the GTS class becoming GT4-spec only?

Ratel: “It’s just a contraction of interests merging the regulations. We’re not far off the pace. I’m sure the intention is to have one class. You’ve seen the new McLaren… we know a number of manufacturers are doing GT4 cars in next couple months. It’s logical that it might move that way.”

MST: How often will you be at PWC events?

Ratel: “I will be at every non-clashing event. I can’t be at Barber (next weekend) because I’m in Monza for Blancpain, but I’ll be back at Mosport and Lime Rock. I have to look after my investment now!”

MST: Balance of Performance is often a sore point but how do you feel the SRO BoP presence is helping PWC?

Ratel: “With SRO we have reached a critical mass, either with our own series in Europe, Blancpain GT, and then the work we do monitoring others, Australian GT, Pirelli World Challenge, there is a lot of monitoring for so many events. Claude (Surmont, SRO Technical Director) is almost on the road every weekend getting information.

“The problem most series have is only one series reference, so you miss balancing drivers and cars. No team will admit their driver isn’t up to it. So that creates a bit of confusion.

“The BoP made of so many cars, so many series, many of them are on Pirelli… so same cars, same tires, many different tracks and drivers, good performance on the car.

“I know before there was a lot of controversy in this paddock about BoP. I haven’t heard of it now. No one in the first three races have come to me and said this is not right.”

MST: In terms of scheduling, do you like PWC’s near-equal part with IndyCar, part standalone balance or would you like to see PWC move more towards standalones first?

Ratel: “This is something I very much like in this series. It’s a wonderful combination and I think it should remain like this.

“It wouldn’t be good to only be at IndyCar events, and having standalones is important… but so too is being at events as big as this one. I’m so impressed by Long Beach. I’ve never been. It’s such a huge event. I think for the teams, the drivers, to have events like this, and our timing… it’s much better this year (ahead of the IndyCar race).

“I would recommend if where we go, we get good times to compete. Look where you’ll get the best timing to compete.

“But it’s our job now to grow the standalones, with more promotion. The first one I’ve seen at COTA I was quite impressed. Good weather, good public, good event.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.