Endurance Formats

The last weekend in July was a busy one at dsc, the calendar dictating that we had a 24 hour race (Spa), an ALMS race (Portland) and a Grand Am race (Barber Park), all within a 30 hour period. With Russell Wittenberg on vacation, that meant no Barber race report, for which we apologise. Thanks to James Davies and John Healey though, we did present you with masses of Rolex Series images.

Other races have a habit of coinciding with major events at Spa: in April, it was the ALMS event at Road Atlanta clashing with the LMES in Belgium, thus ensuring the dsc crew were still on the road at the exact moment that Robin Liddell was fending off Timo Bernhard, for what became the first, dramatic win for the Panoz Esperante. Endurance racing does have a worldwide following, but each clashing race has to lose something, certainly from the fans’ point of view, when races coincide like this.

Here in the UK, we’ve got the second test match going on (that’s cricket, for those of you brought up on baseball), between England and Australia. Day 1 of the (five day) match was so enthralling yesterday, I had to leave the television on, and leave this desk to go and catch up with proceedings from time to time.

The highlight of the day was watching ‘Freddy’ Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen thrashing the Aussie bowlers all round the Edgbaston ground. The ball was flying off the bat to all parts of the ground, and England scored over 400 runs in the day, almost unheard of in a test match, especially on day 1.

So what’s this got to do with motor racing? Well…. 400 runs in a day was the motorsport equivalent of two and three quarter hours round Portland, wasn’t it? There were even (almost) exactly the same number of 'players' involved: 23 (cars) at Portland, 22 playing cricket. Flintoff and Pietersen thrashing the Aussie bowlers for fours and sixes – James Weaver thrashing his way past Emanuele Pirro (and Chris Dyson) to take the lead. Entertainers, all three of them. Portland was packed with dramatic action of course, throughout the field.

Day 2 in Birmingham, England, today is a rather more typical test match day, Australia moving along towards 200, for the loss of three wickets, so far. This is more like the Spa 24 Hours – or at least the second 12 hour period, with positions more or less established. Or perhaps Spa is the equivalent of the fifth day in the test, as England bowl out the Aussies to wrap up the win (dream, dream, dream).

So what is endurance racing? Well, in the ALMS it’s a 12 hour race, a 10 hour race, a four hour race and seven 165 minute races. In FIA GTs, it’s a 24 hour race and ten three hour races.

Oooh, four wickets down at Edgbaston….

But what should endurance racing be? There’s a fascinating thread on the dsc Forum – here – discussing this very subject, hence these thoughts in this column … also ‘provoked’ by events at Spa, on the Friday of the 24 Hours meeting.

Eurosport / the WTCC seem to have given SRO an ultimatum – two hour races, or you can’t be part of our programme. Stephane Ratel rightly acknowledged that FIA GT races couldn’t be based on mainly two hour events, and that was that.

The FIA GT Championship is in an unusual position though, sharing its programme with the short (terribly short) WTCC races. For every other series, the endurance event is the headline race – so the race length can be set according to each series’ own values.

Six wickets down in the test match….

The ALMS introduced a four hour race last year, at Laguna Seca, and that worked very well indeed. Sebring and PLM are now both established as the endurance races – and somewhere like Portland seems to work superbly well over the sprint duration.

Lime Rock is a problem for ’06 though, so perhaps here’s a chance to reduce the calendar by one race, but make another race a longer one? Less travel for the teams, and a chance to make Mosport or Road America, say, another ‘headline’ event? Nine races during the year are quite enough, aren’t they?

Four LMES events in ’04 was a very good start, all of them on the only classic tracks left in Europe – so why add a fifth at Istanbul? We’ll judge the success of that one when we see the entry list. It would be hard to pick a fifth, classic track in Europe though, which fits in with the other four. But the Bugatti would have made more sense, surely?

And then there’s Grand Am. One 24 hour race and thirteen ‘sprint’ races. Sorry, wrong here of course - there are two six hour races, at Mont Tremblant and Watkins Glen.

The theory advocated here is that fewer, bigger events has to be the way to go – doesn’t it?

Perhaps there’s a chance to create something in Britain next year, following this principle. What about a 1000 kilometre event at Brands Hatch, four hours at Oulton Park, 500 miles at Donington Park, six hours at Silverstone GP and two hours at Snetterton – for GT cars and prototypes. Big events, big grids, £10 entry fee for spectators for the whole weekend, camping, beer tents, a band…. And perhaps then we would have our best UK circuits attracting large numbers of spectators to see the best kind of racing. Of course, they’d need radio web coverage to be able to follow it all, but the cost of that is modest anyway – when you’ve got grids of 40+ and crowds in their tens of thousands.

They could fit neatly around the LMES dates, and suddenly teams have got a full calendar (nine or ten races), if they want it. If one car is too fast, adjust the rules, just as the ALMS has done in GT1.

Even silly old cricket still gets the crowds in for major games (test matches) – and there’s no clashing event.
Malcolm Cracknell

PS Australia 308 all out. Perhaps England can level the series? And only Britcar (on Saturday) this weekend (I used to play cricket once upon a time, but then racing took over - and I can't see the ball anyway).

 

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