Small Balls – Phil Bennett’s Turn

Nordschleife / prototype racer Phil Bennett pitches in with his view of sportscar racing – following on from those of Janos Wimpffen, Paul Truswell and Mark Howson. The index of all the opinions is here.

If this upsets people then I am sorry, especially if it hurts the feelings of drivers/teams in British GT, because obviously for many this is a fun thing. However there is an element of game raising needed ….. begins Phil. (You have been warned. Ed.)

It is very interesting to me when parallels are drawn between other sports and motor racing, because commercially they just aren’t the same thing.

Proper football, NFL, baseball, hockey, tennis, whatever; when you talk of the professional game then that is exactly what you have. Motor racing - even at the highest level - is very rarely that.

We can all look up the word professional and in sports car racing (even Le Mans 24hr/LMES/ALMS) the event as a whole is made up of more amateurs than professionals (ALMS Phil? Ed.), and as such you simply cannot expect the same as you do in real professional sports.

For instance, talk of communicating with the fans or spectators is fine in NASCAR or F1, when huge corporations are more keen to spread the word than you are to receive it. However when most are simply there to relax and have an enjoyable “day off” racing - as is the case with many in sports cars - the spectator just isn‘t a consideration.

Then we have perhaps the most ridiculous situation in motor racing, which is that question mark hanging over fielding a strong team. If you overlay a sports car business model on British football then the Premier League would be filled with teams made up of blokes who could afford to buy a way into the first team - making the FA cup a dismal affair, as tubby 50 year olds play a toe poke version of the long ball. Hardly quality viewing…

Now before you all start giving me economic lessons and “commercial realities”, remember this is what you have all signed up to and do nothing about. In Europe prize money is a miracle and start money is something that causes old BRDC members to gaze into the middle distance, casting minds back to fond memories of 917s, Goodyear, Champion and Shell.

Sure everyone comes to Le Mans because for most it’s a once a year booze up and on the “pitch” you have half a dozen quality teams at the front battling for the win and one or two decent teams in each class. But what’s the incentive to watch, say, British GT?

I watched the last round at Silverstone and I think the lead Ferrari 360 was building on his advantage at a rate of almost two seconds per lap. There was very little depth to the quality of the field - in fact some at Silverstone were eight seconds off the pace of a 1m 21second pole time!

Then in the UK we have this huge desire for the safety car, which is sent out far too often: we hate noise, we hate proper endurance events (the British GT meetings are 2 x 1 hour races) and we love having a multitude of classes just so the casual punter has absolutely no chance to understand what is going on.

Sadly the commercial stucture is just as poor, which means that the quality of teams/drivers is unlikely to change any time soon. Series sponsor? Product support? Prize money?

The fact we have this stuff available on radio, web or TV doesn’t and will not change the actual stuff that’s available. That quality simply isn’t there and the proposed six hour race series doesn’t suggest that to me it’s adding quality.

Ultimately sports car racing has always been, and probably will stay, a niche of our sport, overshadowed in Europe by touring car racing and F1. However that doesn’t stop people from enjoying the spectacle - sadly it’s the spectacle that is missing in many series.


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