14 September 2012

Of Historic/Club motor sport, preparation, Spa Francorchamps and whingers

Historic motor racing encompasses many things in my opinion.  Everything from the edwardian era to 1990 would fall comfortably under that banner.  Historic motorsport is by and large run by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts.  It is therefore also club motorsport and thus the entrants are by definition, amateur racers.  There are exceptions such as Simon hadfield, Roger Wills etc. who may have substantial teams behind them either because they are preparers or because they are owners of preparation companies.  But by-and-large it is people like me who use their hard earned sponds to feed their habit.

As with any club, or organization, there are certain rules and regulations.  Cars are built and prepared to suit those rules and regulations, or at least that is the intention.  Regulations are made for a number of reasons, not least the aspect of "policing" in order to make sure all the racers are playing by the same rules.  But crucially, stability of regulations ensures that competitors are not constantly being asked to fund rebuilds in order to compete with those who invent the latest weight saving or performance enhancement.  Without stability, grids dwindle.  However, there are some clubs, who in the current climate, see dwindling grids and decide that if they change the regs, or invent a whole new category, it will somehow magically return them to their previous success.

In my opinion this is a self defeating position.  What I think actually happens is that as a result of the regulations changes grids dwindle and the individual cost of circuit hire increases, thus the grids dwindle even more because people can't (or in some cases won't) pay the entry fee.  Thus the anouncement of a new category or revision to the regs, simply tells the entrants that the club is trying to increase its revenue without actually doing anything to further the fortunes of the club in particular or motorsport in general.  Furthermore, no matter how it is dressed up, the chances are that any "new" club category is likely to be just a copy of one that exists already elswhere.  So this along with the instability of regs, then leads to dissatisfaction within the club and the downward spiral continues.

Clubs should have a broader view.  New is not necessarily better, it is usually just different.  The phrase "new and improved" is one of those oxymorons that really should never have been coined.  Over the years, the FIA has, to it's chagrin, learned this lesson; one example being the FIA European Touring Car Championship.  It changed Group 2 in 1976 by restricting modifications and overnight the manufacturers departed, leaving a handful of cars to challenge for the ETCC.  Of course things did improve but only when the championship removed the Group 5 monsters and returned to a semblance of reality with Group A (see http://touringcarracing.net/).

However, as far as historic motorsport is concerned, there are already sets of regulations all set down by the FIA in the applicable Appendix J; and therefore the clubs don't have to think too hard about what they want to do.  Of course there are variations and in cases such as the Classic Sports Car Club, the series they run are for cars built to a loose set of regs that generally bear no relationship to the history of the cars.  They are successful so it works.  But, importantly, they don't start cherry picking categories for new series, they don't insist that your car is built to their set of regs, (you can run all steel panels even if the regs say you can use plastic) so you can run what you brung, provided the car fits into the years or marque of that particular series.

Another successful club is the Historic Sports Car Club.  It runs a host of different championships and whilst it has recently opened up a series for 2litre prototypes, these must be homologated to the FIA regs for the relevant years.  So they aren't trying to steal cars from another series/club they are offering owners of those cars the chance to race.  I believe these cars once raced in the RJB Championship, but being outgunned they disappeared.  I've been fortunate to race at two HSCC events this year, in March at Donington and August at Oulton Park.  Both events were well run and enjoyed full grids.  So taking my point about dwindling grids and refusal to constantly change regs, perhaps they prove me right?

One major disappointment is the reaction to the 360MRC initiative.  I well remember the complaints from certain quarters/individuals that to run in either the 45mins sprint race, or the 6hrs itself, fuel tanks would have to be changed/increased in size, brakes would need changing etc.  It seemed to me then (and now) that if you don't want to do a race because it is too difficult, then butt out.  Criticising things when we have no interest in them is not only rude, it is the epitomy of ignorance.

But the cost of racing is not simply about entry fees and traveling to/from the circuits.  There is the need to prepare the car for the season and then for each race and the costs associated therewith.  Racing is not an exact science, it needs care, thus the preparation of the car is all important.  There is, of course, no guarantee that the car will reach the end of the race but we all should try to make sure we cover all the bases.  Sometimes known as "making one's own luck".  I was therefore somewhat peeved by a discussion I had recently, when I was firstly accused of not having the necessary credentials to comment on club motorsport, and furthermore that because I don't do my own preparation (this was the implication) I was not an amateur or club racer!

Well, for my part I am not paid to race and gone are the days when I enjoyed sponsorship, so I guess I am an amateur club racer.  I don't enter championships generally, because as someone who may not be able to attend every race, it would be unfair on those who are trying to win if I were to steal points from them.  I have prepared the Capri with long distance racing in mind.  This means I can carry the right amount of fuel for the particular race enterted.  A 1 hour race at Spa will require around 60litres, whilst a 45mins race at Oulton (in the dry) would probably use around 50litres.  I am of course pleased to report that my car has, to date, enjoyed a good reliability record so not only have I been privileged to race at some interesting events against good competition, I've managed to finish and sometimes even win!

And so to Spa Franchorchamps.  We will have the MG in the 6hrs and the Capri in the Masters all series 1hr race next weekend.  With the change of tyres on the Capri, I am concerned that the gearing is not right but we will enjoy ourselves anyway.  Obviously we are hoping to finish well in both races.  So to that end, in keeping with good practice, I have invested in new half shafts for the MG and a new set of wheels and tyres (for rain).

Whilst we obviously can't guarantee reliability (the MG rocker shaft broke at Silverstone), we've prepared the car after its outing at Oulton Park; we've got new and bigger spotlights; we've got two sets of new tyres; we've got a new seat and finally we've got an idea of the fuel usage.  So, we've done all we can to succeed.  If however we don't succeed due to a failure on track, then I shan't be moaning about how unfair life is and that these events are detracting from club motorsport, because clearly they aren't.

To those who do constantly whinge I say, either get yourselves sorted out by taking time to prepare the car and start enjoying the racing that you do, or get out of the sport altogether because it is clearly making you and those around you miserable!