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.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.