Relishing What We Have
Just a short editorial for now, if only to remind you that the Ed. still writes one now and again! Pre-Le Mans mayhem and then the furious activity that continued throughout June prevented any valid thoughts being put together, but now that such a rush of races are behind us, here’s a thought for early July… let’s simply rejoice in what we have.

The highlights of May, June and early July here were the first LMES race at Monza, the Le Mans 24 Hours, the LMES event at the Nurburgring, and the return of the ALMS. There has been some very good racing elsewhere – British GTs, FIA GTs at Donington Park – but Monza, Le Mans, Mid-Ohio, Nurburgring and Lime Rock Park were ‘it’ for us…. plus the ill-timed ‘Ring 24 Hours, of course.

The racing in these events has usually / always been of such an intensity that trying to keep up with all the dramas, for hour after hour, has been a mental undertaking in itself. And what heroes have been launched at these events. The achievements of such drivers as McNish and Lehto (for just getting their cars home at Le Mans), of Kaffer, Davies, Herbert etc., of Phil Bennett for driving for four and a half hours at the Nurburgring, of so many drivers coping with such changing conditions in the LMES races, of drivers setting standards, on circuits among the toughest around (Lime Rock park for example), that put them into the unofficial record books for heroic exploits, alongside names such as Ickx, Rodriguez and Siffert – this has been very real, very tough, endurance racing of the highest calibre. The entertainment value has been immense.

A season that began with precious few new cars is turning out to be one of the most fascinating ever.

And then there’s F1. Sorry, can’t resist it, as we approach the British Grand Prix. The speeds these guys are racing round at are now irresponsibly quick, aren’t they? Faster and faster – but heading where exactly? From the letters page in Autosport, the fans are leaving in their droves, and precious few seem to care.

The British motorsport magazine still has its weekly appeal: there are a number of interesting sportscar / GT items in this week’s copy, as there usually are, but is it just me that sees the irony of a magazine that devotes so much space to one series, a series that is actively turning off the fans who are the bedrock of any racing? The letters page is full of complaints. The stands will be largely empty as the cars qualify on Saturday, using whatever system has been agreed, or not, this week, and there will be room aplenty at the track on Sunday, won’t there, despite fans being banned from the inside of the circuit?

And the racing is dire: “…little more than a meaningless shambles as the fuel stops and strategies distort everything,” says one Autosport letter writer this week. Even the cartoon has Jim Bamber taking the p1ss out of F1, again.

Yet we're told that hundreds of thousands turned up to see the F1 cars run in Central London this week. Perhaps the organisers should see that that has more to do with the aural appeal of the cars than the 'show'. Overtaking has become a reason for a headline in F1 and racing seems to be at best a secondary concern.

In its quest to satisfy its greed, F1 has cast aside its fans and their opportunities to get close to the action are few and far between. The massive popularity of the Goodwood Festival of Speed is surely further proof of that.

Sportscar racing is different: the fans are welcomed with open arms, the teams are more often than not delighted to show off the efforts of their labours, the drivers are accessible and the racing is just that, racing.

So based on the two 1000 kilometre races so far, Saturday August 14 will provide hour after hour of brilliant endurance racing. How many fans will arrive to see it? Will it just be the hard core of British enthusiasts, or will it have a wider appeal? The target has to be the 20,000 who turned out for that magical ALMS evening in 2000. With British motor sport in its current state, perhaps it’s asking too much for this event to generate the crowd that it deserves. But you know how good it can be, don’t you? You’ll be able to see the likes of Minassian, Herbert and Kaffer (Brabham, Wallace?) dicing wheel to wheel, lap after lap, as they pass the slower cars, which themselves are having their own battles. Then you’ll be able to talk to them. See you there, in just over five weeks’ time? West coast fans, do enjoy Sears Point and Portland in the meantime, while we devour the excitement that is the Spa 24 Hours.
Malcolm Cracknell

 

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