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Not a Prototype?


Three and a Half Pillars of Wisdom


  A rare occurrence was noted in the Addison house this month Ė someone
responded to something I had written!

  There was always meant to be a second column from me based on the trip to
the Gulf for the last two FIA GT races of the year, but can we come back to that
later? Itís just that one reader took exception to my description of the latest
prototypes as pug-ugly and unpromotable. Stewart Hart was said reader who
pointed to the Group C era with its prototypes as the most successful era since
the 1950s/60s.

  And I donít argue with him at all, it was the thought of Group C cars as prototypes
that shook me a bit. Yes, I suppose they were, and indeed the WS-PC tag the
championship earned by the FIA rather proved as much, but I always thought of
them as sports cars Ė I have always preferred closed cars. A Porsche 956 or a
Jaguar were things of beauty: big, maybe, but contoured, shapely and different in
their looks. A bit like that Bentley in 2003. Was that really a prototype?

  I just canít feel as excited about Tampollis, Courages or Lucchinis for example.
Open-top prototypes just donít look as nice to me, and I am sure that many of you
wonít agree which is fine. I just think that closed cars, with their discernible
shapes are more attractive, and up to a point the Group C cars were
recognisable. A Porsche shape was different from a Jaguar from a Rondeau from
a Bardon, for example, whereas an Audi R8 and a Pescarolo seem a little similar
at times. And before of you say that a Ferrari 550 and an Aston Martin DBR9 look
similar, I couldnít agree moreÖ.Mind you, I am not trying to pretend that all Group
C cars were attractive. Look at Ian Briggsí wonderful book on the era and you will
some real turkeys.(Endurance Racing 1982-1991)

Prototypes, Dictionaries and Barometers
  So what is a prototype? The dictionary tells one that it is: an original type, form, or
instance serving as a basis or standard for later stages; An original, full-scale,
and usually working model of a new product or new version of an existing product,
or an early, typical example. Personally, methinks neither todayís cars or Group C
cars really fit that description. What Group C did have, of course, was the road car
names, just as FIA GT does today, but whether that is as useful amongst the
prototype cars of today, I donít know. My future brother-in-law is a useful barometer
of things: he likes cars, reads road car magazines and enjoys Le Mans as an
event. Tell him that LMES is at Silverstone and he is excited: tell him that the Audi
is racing and his ears prick up Ė he sees Audis on the road. Tell him it is an R8
and he looks blank: he canít relate to that however great a racing car it is. And he
hasnít seen a Pescarolo dealership in ages, so he isnít excited by thoseÖ

  Perhaps, therefore, it isnít the cars so much as the names that work. If we stuck
a road car brand on a go-kart would it suddenly become a promotable form of
racing? Is it the look of cars or the names of the cars that are appealing? You tell
me.

  What is worth celebrating, though, is that sports car racing remains so strong.
Whether GT cars or open-top prototypes are your things, there is no shortage of
them, and there is plenty of great racing around. Like Mr Hart, I canít wait to see
how LMS/ALMS develops next year

Gee and Tee?

  The last e-mail that pinged onto the screen on Friday confirmed that Gabriele
Gardel was the FIA GT Champion, something that we thought we knew two weeks
earlier. Whether one considers the rule about the requisite three litres of fuel to be
a sensible one is irrelevant: it is a rule and one that affected Gary Paffett rather
publicly in DTM last year, so it was hardly a surprise, particularly to a team like
Larbre Competition. On the eve of the championship decider, a group of us
discussed who we wanted to win the crown and who we thought would. Opinions
varied, and there were pros and cons to everyone who was in with a shout, but
one key element that Gardelís crown proves is that you donít need to be driving a
2005 car to win the title, nor do you have to be an ex-Grand Prix driver. Yes, I know
that Gardel owes Pedro Lamy a big drink, but the fact that Gardel (not perhaps a
GT star) can win the crown and in an elderly car, proves that the ballast system
works. It should serve as a big boost to encourage potential entrants as well. I
wonder whether Gardel gets another trophy for winning the Historic class as well.
Ahem!

This is my friend Sandy...........
  And finally, back to the Middle East, the editorís original request for this ramble.
Two amazing circuits, two very different countries. Undeniably, the facilities at
Bahrain are breathtaking: ultramodern and very expensive. Dubai is not, perhaps
not as lavish but here you are talking about private money not Royal money as in
Bahrain, where Dubai scores over Bahrain is that it is a better circuit. It flows
unlike the Tilke-designed Bahrain which features fast straights and slow corners
and that rather destroyed the battle between Gardel and Michael Bartels in the
middle hour of the race. On Wednesday for free practice I enjoyed a wander
around the circuit with Autosportís Gary Watkins and whenever we thought we had
found a fast part of the circuit, came a slow corner. The most dramatic sight was
watching how drivers coped with late-braking. In contrast, Dubai and its flowing
corners produced a great race, and Pedro Lamyís drive was certainly a highlight.
Circuit designer Clive Bowen took all the best bits of other circuits and stuck them
together, so, for example, Turn 1 (what a great nameÖ.) is a copy of Paddock Hill
Bend from Brands Hatch. And it works well, for sure.

  What is a bit eerie in both countries is the lack of atmosphere. I love FIA GT
events, not just for the racing but for the cars, the colour, the drama and the
people of a series I see too rarely. At Donington or Silverstone or Spa it is a
delight to wander around the paddock and soak up the atmosphere Ė try that in
the Middle East and youíll feel very alone. There are no trucks, you see, as
everything arrives in a container and so cars and people go into air conditioned
garages, nothing lives in the paddock. And would you work on the car in the
sunshine when you have a nice cool garage as a base instead? No, and neither
do they. And then suddenly, 10 minutes or so before the green flag, garage doors
are flung up and cars pour out onto the pit apron.

  There are other quirks of each country: Dubai a nation of excess with its biggest-
shopping-mall-in-the-world, Bahrain with its eclectic road cars. When the Ed and I
trundled to the circuit in a Toyota Crown taxi, we felt as though we were in a
banger race at Wimbledon Stadium! Then there was the taxi driver who took us for
a 15 minute drive around Bahrain to the Hard Rock Café when we could have
walked there in half the time, and the amazing road car antics of one Bert Longin
on his way back from the Fuddruckers restaurant in Sakhir near the circuit. Never
believe a racing driver if you have a job with a rental car firm!

  What is remarkable is how Bahrain has emerged as a busy track, almost by
accident. Over at Dubai, there is a post created for someone to develop racing
categories, but the FIA GT event was the venueís first race meeting in 13 months,
oddly. Bahrain, with its Government money, can seemingly afford to buy what it
wants: and it has quickly built an attractive calendar. A Grand Prix, FIA GT, GP2
and the BMW World Finals are this yearís fare and the Australian V8 Supercars
are planned for next season. Whether Australian racing needs to go to Bahrain is
a column for another timeÖ

  But against this portfolio of races, desirable to circuits as headline crowd-pullers
if promoted properly, comes the need to build up a crowd base. It must be like the
UK was when Brooklands opened in some ways, there was a facility but no-one
really knew about racing. So it is true in Bahrain and Dubai. The population has
some knowledge of F1 no doubt but GT racing? Formula BMW? HmmÖ

Rope a Dope

  The GT event was being marketed around Manama, the capital of the Kingdom
of Bahrain, as the Battle of the Supercars. Nothing wrong with that: Porsche,
Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin all fit that bill. But is GT/sports car racing really
the right category to take to an emerging fan base, or at least should one ask if
endurance races are the right events? If you work hard to attract crowds to come
to the venue, surely they have to be entertained, and one wonders how
entertained they are once they have lost the thread of a three-hour race, with
lappery and pit-stops. One does oneís best from the commentary box, but I have
the advantage of timing screens, TV pictures and a manual log of peoplesí
pitstops, so I can follow the race closely. But once the field becomes strung out
and it becomes harder for the crowd to hear the PA commentary, can they really
be expected to share our excitement about the race? Indeed, of the 8,000 or so
crowd in Bahrain, many enjoyed themselves on the bungee jump or Caterham
rides behind the grandstand, away from the track. Maybe a shorter 30-minute
format would be better, with just one driver. No, I donít like the concept either, but if
you were a promoter, wouldnít you entertain the idea?

Maybe thatís a column for the New Year. Festive cheer all round.


David Addison
December 2005





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