Small Balls – Phil Bennett’s Turn
/ 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
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
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.