Roger Etcell – On The SCV8 Series
Can It Revitalise British Motorsport? Will It Work?

Roger Etcell is one of the three moving forces behind the planned introduction of the Supercar V8 Series onto the F3-GT schedule in 2004. He agreed to answer questions posed by the Editor and Deputy Editor, at Oulton Park on Sunday morning. He was very convincing……….read on and decide if you are convinced.

For the benefit of those who haven’t been following this development, the basic concept is for standard chassis, fitted with one of a range of 17 possible bodyshells, powered by 3.3 litre racing engines, producing 550 bhp.

dailysportscar.comRoger Etcell describes the series like this: “It’s a new category in its own right. It’s neither touring car racing nor GT racing. It’s a race chassis, with a race engine plus an original manufacturer bodyshell - for short distance, one-driver races. It creates an all-new category. We still see GT racing as a direction in its own right: GTs allow teams to explore their engineering expertise, but this series will only require basic suspension adjustments.

“It’s something new, something that will help us to attract back the crowds we’ve lost since the early and mid ‘90s, and also draw in new spectators, attracted by an entertaining format.”

As we spoke, a five mile queue was building up outside Oulton Park, as 14,000 fans headed towards the Cheshire track. The weather was of course perfect for a day at the races - as long as fans came prepared with plenty of sun-screen – but a figure such as 14,000 is the exception rather than the rule for the F3-GT schedule. SEAT had a very significant role in bringing the crowds in, with tickets costing just £10, including a very good £5 programme – free.

Having kept an eye on the whole schedule of races during the day, we’d readily accept that Roger Etcell does have a point regarding creating something new to attract the fans. Sunday didn’t give the fans poor value for money, far from it, but we came away feeling that they’d seen a reasonable day’s racing, not a great one. There had been delays to the programme to repair barriers, races had been shortened, one race cancelled at the end because of time constraints – and some of the races hadn’t exactly been thrillers. We’d pick out the usual F3 problem - no overtaking – as a real disappointment for the spectators, and did wonder why there were two F3 races on the programme. The SEAT Cupras were fun, the Tuscans too, the GT race was good but not a thiller….so reasonably you’d have to conclude that the current format does have something missing.

Roger Etcell explains the problems he has with the current set up.

dailysportscar.com“Typically with GTs we have a poor start to the season, and that’s very difficult to sell. At the start of the season we had twelve cars, and that creates a problem. It’s always something like that. F3 is the other way around: its numbers usually start at 30, and then fall away a little as the season progresses.

“The commercial rights holders for these series have neglected them over the last two years. I don’t have a promotional role to develop GTs, which is frustrating, but it means that we’re at a certain level and that’s it.”

GT supporters will be familiar with what happened to the PowerTour concept: that idea was developing very nicely in year one and at the start of year two, but was then unceremoniously ‘dumped’, just when it was beginning to work very well. The reasons for that don’t need exploring here, but PowerTour proved that an entertaining package, well promoted, does work. As did the Oulton Park meeting – but we’d accept that there is something missing from the current F3-GT programme.

Roger Etcell would argue that there is also something missing from the ‘ladder’ of categories in the UK, and that the SCV8s will create a market that drivers will be very keen, and able, to fill. That leaves something of a dilemma though for event organisers, as the SCV8s are a “tier 2” series in the recently announced matrix for British motorsport, while F3 and GT are both “tier 1” series. Etcell does admit that “it doesn’t fit the matrix. It’s neither an open or one-make series – it’s something altogether different.”

dailysportscar.com“We have drivers coming through from Formula Ford, Formula Renault, Palmer Audi – they’re looking for a professional career, but they come across the F3 budget hurdle. A season of F3 costs upward of £300,000, and a lot of talented drivers can’t find those sums. But they’ve reached a stage where they have a very good understanding of racing, and big, rear wheel drive cars will help in the next stage of their development.”

So how much will a season of SCV8s cost?

“£110,000 to £150,000.”

A frequently heard complaint from those who aren’t converted to this concept is simply, ‘Where are drivers going to find that sort of money?’ Roger Etcell can answer that one.

“TV is the most important part of any Championship. Sponsors need TV. We’re creating something with budgets half that of F3, but with the class structure we’re putting in place, two drivers can share one car, and race in one event each, so we’ve potentially halved the budget.”

The programme is based around 10 meetings and twenty 30 minute (50 mile) races, so drivers sharing a car will race in ten races each. Roger Etcell has an idea that a blend of younger and more mature racers could feature strongly in this series.

“Fathers and sons could race together in one car at each meeting - for example John Cleland and his son, Andy Rouse and his son. Then there are the mature drivers coming back to British motor sport, such as Mark Blundell. There’s a very good chance that Mark will be in an MG-bodied car next year. We’re attracting the sort of guys we’re not seeing in regular drives…”

And budgets seem to be firmly in place to ensure that the SCV8s do get off to a flying start.

“We’ve already spent a million pounds developing the cars, and there’s £1.5million in the bank to market and develop the series. It will have a quality TV package, with plenty of in-car cameras.

“I still want to work on developing F3-GT, but with the resources we have in place for the TV coverage, it will make filming of F3s and GTs a lot cheaper.

“With a championship that can attract bigger crowds and top-line TV coverage, everyone will gain. As things stand, we can’t improve the TV package for the current series. But we can with SCV8s involved.”

So what is the situation regarding manufacturers and the use of their bodyshells?

“The only thing we’re asking for is a written acceptance that we can use a manufacturer’s bodyshells. Teams can talk to manufacturers and to dealers to find the best way to get hold of a bodyshell.

“The lack of changes that can be made to the cars means that there’s an opportunity for teams currently involved in F3-GT to set up a satellite team to run SCV8s at the same meetings. As we know, existing teams often have drivers associated with them who have the talent and experience to drive these sorts of cars – but can’t find the budgets to move into other, more expensive series.

“We’ve identified 17 bodyshells that could be used in SCV8s. In year one, we only need five different shells to make it work.”

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One recent area of controversy was the fact that the new series was announced by means of press releases ‘headed up’ by F3-GT logos. It also appeared on the F3-GT website. Roger Etcell was happy to concede that both those means of spreading the news were ”the wrong way to go. It’s nothing to do with the F3-GT categories.” Our Deputy Editor also pitched in with his own thoughts on heavy-handed management of the F3-GT website forum, which saw a thread critical of the SCV8s being summarily removed – and then a thread critical of the removal of that thread also removed.

dailysportscar.comBut back to the concept. With 550 bhp engines, limited to 9,500 rpm, and cars built to last the season with durability firmly at the top of the list of requirements, there is the potential here for some classic British motorsport, beginning in 2004. Current series could all benefit from the higher level of exposure – on TV, and with larger audiences – so essentially it’s now up to Roger Etcell, Andy Rouse and Peter Hall to make the project work.

We’d love to see it flourish, with the proviso that F3 and GT benefit too. In seven or eight months, we’ll know whether it is going to work. It’s a brave project, with considerable commitment behind it. We’re not yet convinced that it will work, but the prospect of 20, 550 bhp monsters on the track, driven hard but responsibly (that is without appreciable contact) is a very appealing one. As others would agree, Roger Etcell is very persuasive – and convincing. "Noise, big grids, close racing and heroes" is his definition of a successful series. It’s going to be an interesting next few months.

A presentation introducing the SCV8 Championship to prospective teams and drivers will be held on 29 July and the recently announced SCV8 Jaguar X-type will be unveiled at this event.

We’ll seek out GT team owners’ views at Rockingham next month.

 

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