Where Are We Going?
Wimpffen would say, sportscar and GT racing is always in a
state of flux, and nothing stays the same for long. Except in Grand
Am, Janos, with a 20 year plan there.
When we cover
a major meeting such as Spa last weekend, we spend all our time
covering the meeting. It would have been a pleasure to have sat
down with Stephane Ratel for an hour, but we didn’t have
an hour to spare. Gary Watkins of Autosport clearly
did (much less space to fill with race coverage there), but
comments in Autosport today from Stephane Ratel leave
Perhaps your point of
view is largely dependant on whether you’re a prototype man,
a GT man, or both. We are passionately and resolutely in the ‘both’
category. Spa was the confirmation of that (with slight reservations
of course), although you could easily argue that the Proximus 24
Hours was proof that GTs don’t need prototypes. Which event
had the bigger crowd? The 24 Hours, of course. But perhaps we’re
not comparing like with like. Maybe a comparison of the Monza FIA
GT crowd with that at Spa last weekend (25,000 over three days)
would be fairer.
The bitter disappointment
at Spa was the appearance of just 11 prototypes. Imagine 11 of them
racing around on their own for six hours. No, best not to. But let’s
look upon Spa as the beginning of 2004, not the end of the FIA SCC.
We’ve made the point already – repeatedly – that
we love the mix of prototypes and GTs. Kristensen and Wallace going
round the outside of TVRs and Morgans, in the wet, made you suck
in your breath. Such breath-sucking happens every fortnight in the
ALMS. In-car camera footage of Lehto at Mosport was fantastic stuff.
The speed differential is so, so important. Instant drama, on every
lap. Even Kristensen at Le Mans in the Bentley – and with
a safe cushion, there’s still the potential for an incident
with a backmarker: it’s a real test of a driver’s skill
to go quickly – but also know when to settle for losing a
second by following someone through a corner.
Ian Dawson gave his view
of 2004 here, yesterday. He’s a prototype man. He fervently
believes that the Le Mans Endurance Series is the salvation of prototype
racing in Europe. He’s got a calendar he can sell to backers:
Sebring, two in Europe, Le Mans itself, two more in Europe, then
off to the Petit Le Mans. He can build on that. The worrying factor
is of course that production of new prototypes is at an all time
low. But let’s have a bit of belief here: let’s assume
that the LMES will be as good as we and Ian Dawson hope. Let’s
assume that it will be the catalyst for the manufacture of new cars.
Let’s believe that French teams in particular (Courage and
Pescarolo) will begin to make long term plans, with new cars, with
proper French backing, giving French spectators someone to really
get behind at the 24 Hours.
If Pescarolo appears
at the first 2004 LMES race with one car, and Yves Courage doesn’t
appear at all, then the dream is doomed.
Could they beat Audi?
Unlikely. There is a sense that Audi actually frightens away potential
rivals, as it did Cadillac. But prototype racing isn’t just
for Audi’s benefit. Did Ian Dawson shy away from Spa because
an Audi was there?
We’ve counted 20
competitive prototypes that are available to race in Europe next
year, as things stand now. Oreca showed how hard it is, of course,
to find the budget to race at Le Mans, but the LMES could be the
resurgence that kick starts this kind of racing. Of course, we could
have had the FIA GTs and John Mangoletsi’s prototypes running
together as an ‘LMES’ for several years already….
But what we do have is
an FIA GT Championship that consistently gets out 30 or more cars,
for a ten race Championship of three hour races. Why are they three
hour races? Why are there ten of them? TV, presumably. On Eurosport,
the timekeeping wizards of the TV schedule….
And now we read
that the FIA GTs and the ETCC are going to go global, if Stephane
Ratel has his way (Autosport today). He is looking at the
prospect of one race outside Europe next year (Dubai?), then two
or three in 2005. Presumably he can negotiate transport costs that
make it possible, but this coming weekend we have a race in Sweden
with a smaller entry than usual (29) and N-GT teams in particular
struggling to complete the season. Max Mosley has already made the
point that the ‘World’ title would only be assigned
if the series raced on three continents. Why does it need to be
a World Series?
Then there’s Stephane
Ratel’s view that GT supercars should go head to head with
prototypes at Le Mans. So Lamborghini will be encouraged to race
in the LMES, and compete with the prototypes? So do we slow the
prototypes down again? And lose that vital speed differential? The
Frenchman seems to be at odds with the ACO here, yet the two are
working together on the LMES, with Ratel still in charge of the
FIA GT Championship.
If other manufacturers
come in to prototype racing, Stephane Ratel seems happy to let this
idea rest, but if they don’t, “I will be personally
pushing for the ACO and FIA to sit around the table to come up with
regulations to equalise the new GT cars, such as next year’s
Maserati…and the open top sportscars,” he says in Autosport.
More new prototype regulations
wait and see if what we have next year works in Europe. The LMES
should become what the ELMS should have become in its second year.
Some would say that the FIA GT Championship is strong enough to
carry on untouched, and that there is no room for anything else.
We’d suggest that it’s time for GT entrants to be given
a choice, and prototype entrants to be given what they deserve.
Spa last weekend was proof that the ACO / ALMS format still works.
The next test will be the entry for the Le Mans 1000 Km. We think
every man and his dog (in Europe) will want to be there, and we
hope it is the catalyst for mixed racing to take off in Europe.
We could have six ‘Sebrings’ (well almost) each year
– two in the USA and four in Europe. And mixed racing could
get stronger on both sides of the Atlantic. Just look at the ALMS