Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Lack of Support

Eurosport, the avid motorsport fan's not entirely reliable friend, showed the Porsche Supercup race at San Marino live for the first time last Sunday. The racing was reasonably diverting, though once Richard Westbrook was clear of Fabrice Walfisch, the result was never really in doubt. We might see both these guys turn up in works Porsches at Le Mans or Sebring at some point, I suppose, but the Supercup does rather have the look and feel of being a rich man's playground, a bit of an irrelevance.

Anyway, it set me thinking about the last time I had seen a Supercup race in full - as a spectator at the Belgian Grand Prix a few years back. Turning up late on Saturday evening as I did that weekend (I was hitch hiking down to the race from Scotland, and got stuck in Dover overnight), the Porsche race was the only support event I saw, and I can't help feeling that for £60 admission (and even this price was the result of buying cheaply from a tout at the gate), this was rather mean-spirited on the part of the organisers, Bernie Ecclestone, or whoever it is that makes these decisions. Is F1 now so precious that it can't countenance a proper support bill?

Last weekend, I went up to my local race track, Knockhill, to watch the Kirkcaldy and District Motorcycle Club do their stuff and for a tenner, I got a whole afternoon's worth of racing. I wasn't counting, but I think we got 14 races - less than a quid a race. For sure, it wasn't top level motorsport, but it was entertaining, sometimes close fought, and there was never dead time between races. And despite being all but unknown to the wider world, and despite the fact that temperatures weren't much above freezing point, the day drew a good crowd. F1's organisers could learn a lot from these enthusiastic amateurs.

It wasn't always like this. When I went to my first Grand Prix, at Brands Hatch back in the mid 1980s, there was a full support bill with rounds of the national touring car series, the F3 championship, historic racing, one make Renault Alpine racing and a counter for those rather eccentric Thundersports cars that essentially served as an opportunity for John Foulston to show off his incredibly quick ex Can-Am Lola.

Now? Well you get a GP2 race on Sunday morning, which is a good thing although we've lost the Sunday morning warm up, thanks to the FIA's parc ferme rules. Then there's the playboys in the Porsches and, uhm, for most of the European races, that's about it. Given what ticket prices are like these days, that really isn't good enough. (though, did James Allen say that basic admission at Imola this year was £30?! Must pay a visit some time in that case!).

Why aren't Grands Prix supported by their country's premier racing series? Why not a round of the DTM at the German Grand Prix? The strong Belcar GT series would be good at Spa and the British F3 championship still has reasonable strength in depth, and would sit nicely on the bill at Silverstone. Howabout outings for the Thoroughbred Grand Prix championship so casual fans can see what F1 cars used to be like? There are some really good quality international series which might benefit from the exposure that a GP support race would provide too, and help make a Grand Prix weekend a real festival of motor racing. A slot for the FIA GTs perhaps? The knockabout WTCC? Or the F3 Euroseries? The Australians, seemingly alone, have grasped this, and their Grand Prix is often supported by historics, Aussie V8 touring cars and Formula 3.

Hell, even celebrities in saloon cars would be better than nothing. Eddie 'the eagle' Edwards (Britain's famously useless ski jumper) provided great value for money in the wet round Silverstone in an Alfa 164 many years back, and I have a nagging suspicion that Ellen McArthur would make a fine racing driver, which I'd like to see put to the test.

So why won't it happen? One word. Money. I've heard that the Porsche Supercup guys pay an awful lot of money to appear on the GP support bill - an amount that other series simply wouldn't contemplate. Space for corporate guests in the paddock has priority over space for support race teams (one more reason to hate Red Bull's bloody energy station). Sponsors get upset when people who have paid far less money to back an F3 car, or whatever (or worse, in the case of TGP - sponsors have long since ceased paying anything at all) and still get the visibility of being at a Grand Prix. So it looks like its only going to happen if us race fans simply stop turning up at all, unless they get the support races sorted out.

correction - A1GP

You never know who reads your blog. A couple of weeks back, I wrote a review of the A1GP series in which I stated the cars had just 380BHP - despite the fact that the organisers have always said the cars have 500BHP. This was based on information I had received in response to a previous post which implied that the 500BHP figure was a "PR figure" only, and the cars' power output was significantly lower. Well since that post, I've been contacted by someone close to the A1 Team Malaysia, who also know's Lola's Rupert Manwaring. He assures me that the cars do indeed have 500BHP, pointing to the fact that they slide around an awful lot more than F3000 cars ever did, precisely because the cars have so much more power than F3000 cars ever did. The lap times are slow because of the relatively primitive aerodynamics and the rock hard tyres. So there you go. Draw your own conclusions.


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