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Back to the future - Pirelli SPA 24H

Modern inspiration from past glory

Sometimes, to find the key to the future, you have to go back to the past. Motorsport really started at the turn of the previous century with epic road races such as the 1907 Peking to Paris: Pirelli’s first major success in international competition, which covered a total of around 16,000 kilometres through deserts, river crossings, forests, and fast gravel roads. Incredibly, one of the four tyres went all the way without needing to be changed – and then drove back to Milan from Paris once the race was over.

Back then, seeing a car on the road wasn’t so different to seeing a UFO. These were magnificent machines, stunning everyone with their power and technology, beyond the comprehension of most normal people. Back then, motoring was romantic and aspirational, magical and yet mysterious.

Stephane Ratel, the founder of the SRO company that promotes GT racing across the world with Pirelli, is reinventing the concept of the epic road race – only this time, using cutting-edge alternative energy cars. From 2021, SRO will promote the new GTX World Tour series, which will be for state-of-the-art electric cars travelling from city to city as part of a road show, recreating the golden age of automotive adventure. It will be split across four classes: GT-X E for fully electric cars; GT-X H for plug-in hybrids; GT-X H2 for hydrogen-powered cars and (introduced at a later stage) GT-X A for autonomous vehicles.

Ratel’s logic is impeccable: customer racing is all about delivering emotions and experiences. And as much as it’s politically correct to pretend otherwise, electric cars just don’t tend to deliver the same visceral impact as petrol-powered racers. So rather than try to emulate what you have now, you need to do something different. The goal is to make electric cars something for petrolheads to dream about, rather than grudgingly accept.

As easy as 1, 2, 3

This is just one of a series of measures that Ratel is introducing over the next few years in order to future-proof GT racing and introduce fresh concepts to a new audience. The established main category is GT3 – as showcased at the Spa 24 Hours and also at the GT World Cup in Macau. With so many manufacturers building GT3 cars, this will continue to be the premier class, but other categories will join in too.

The cheaper GT4 formula will be adopted more widely for national GT championships, and the same principles – of taking a road-based car, with minimal adaptions – will also apply to the new GT2 category.

Whereas modern GT3 cars are bespoke lightened race cars, GT2 cars will be based on more powerful road cars, with limited modifications. Because of that, they will be heavier, which makes them better suited for sprint rather than endurance events, in the hands of amateurs.

Finally, there is GT1. This will be for the rarest of the rare: track day hypercars such as the Aston Martin Valkyrie and Ferrari FXX (we imagine), with GT1 supporting the Blancpain GT series on a few selected rounds in future.

At the moment, these extreme hypercars have no natural home apart from private track days. owners will now be able to enjoy them in the company of other such cars to a race format that is still to be decided. These hypercars mostly run on Pirelli tyres – along with 50% of all premium and prestige cars in the world.

The Olympic ideal

And then there’s something else; something very different indeed. Inspired by the Olympics, the FIA Motorsport Games have been created, which will take place at Vallelunga near Rome from November 1-3 this year. Just like the Olympics, teams will compete by nation across a variety of disciplines, including single-seaters (Formula 4), GT (GT3), touring cars (TCR), drifting and karting.

This is the next step on from the GT Nations Cup that was run for the first time in Bahrain last year, with gold, silver and bronze medals awarded. Last year, Turkey took gold with a Mercedes. This year, there will be many more medals to play for.

These are all reasons why Pirelli has been a long-term partner and supporter of SRO, which has constantly come up with innovative ideas to keep GT racing at the forefront of international motorsport.

The spectacle offered by GT racing is always incredible, with 72 cars taking the start at Spa this year, and one of the world’s biggest pile-ups making global headlines at Macau a couple of years ago. Now, the GT action is about to get even more thrilling. And in these environmentally-conscious, socially responsible days, it’s good to know that you can still dare to dream.

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