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Cost/Benefit Analysis

Any married man will tell you the same. There is no cheap escape. If your wife is spending the national debt of Cuba in Selfridges, you try to diplomatically point out the problem. She reacts by commanding your presence at the Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter/Christmas/Next/ Debenhams’ sales. There, she will spend hundreds and will later try to convince you that was really a saving. Divorce is no cheap option either. She will continue to shop, and will take the house and kids to boot.

GT racing faces a similar predicament; it is expensive, and there is no cheap option.

Mister Logic
This is no fatalistic approach to either marriage, or GT racing. The old adage is that to make a small fortune in racing you must start with a large one. GT administrators are therefore scratching around for cost cutting solutions and frankly, they are looking in the wrong places.

The FIA GT championship sought to cut costs by cutting the length of the races to two hours, from three. Follow that to its logical conclusion and you say that if you cut the length of the race to nil hours, it is even cheaper!

The ACO at Le Mans targeted GT2, and in particular Porsche and electronics to cut costs. This argument fails on many levels. Porsche and Ferrari are selling every single GT2 car that they make, 77 cars in their launch years. Secondly, if you take Euro80,000 out of the cost of a Ferrari, you have the cost of a Porsche, so what did Porsche do to deserve such infamy? Third, more money is spent in the wind tunnel than on electronics. GT2 is not a problem area.

Rise in the East, Set in the West
GT1 is suffering in the US, but not in Europe where grid numbers are healthy and the competition is strong. There is an argument that there are no new cars coming into GT1. This may not be true. Rumour has it that Honda will bring its NSX in 2009, the same year as its American brand Acura goes into LMP1. So why change both classes?

The latest idea, which will be discussed in Paris on August 23, is to look at GT3. The idea is to replace the existing GT1 and GT2 cars with GT3 will be discussed. The proposal is to divide GT3 class cars into two according to engine size, and these would be the new GT1 and GT2 cars. Each class would be characterised by a power-to-weight ratio, similar to that used in GT4. The idea is to reduce the technical costs, and teams can then spend more on travel, racing and invest in marketing.

But no team with spare cash will spend it on hospitality if their car is not competitive. They want better drivers, or to make money. And if anyone thinks that introducing GT3 hardware as top flight cars will be any cheaper, they are in dreamland. Teams will still spend the same budget, just spend less on buying the car. If you consider the cost of the motor homes, the number of team personnel, their travel and subsistance, the number of test days, the number of days in the wind tunnel for manufacturers, you get an idea of where the money really goes. That is what must be tackled, not the hardware.

High Wire Act
GT3 racing works thanks to Peter Wright’s brilliant yet expensive performance balancing system. You could turn up with Big Foot and it would be performance balanced to be competitive against a Ferrari F430 GT. The manufacturers like it because they can build whatever they like, and it will be competitive. But it is not true racing. It is not a test bed for development. It is not exciting to a racing manufacturer, particularly if the cars are equal in performance, but badly driven and they always lose.

The key is to look at the ratio of money that a team must spend, and money that a team needs. Instead of reducing one, IMSA, the ACO, the FIA and Patrick Peter must use their meeting on August 23 to work out how to increase the other. If they stay unified in their approach, promote their racing properly and give the teams, manufacturers and sponsors a reason to invest i.e. a good return, their time will be far better spent.

I’m in with the Right Crowd
More than 250,000 people turn up to Le Mans, where the racing is far worse than your average ALMS race, yet it is still a success. It is a place you want to race. It is a place to entertain sponsors. It is a race that defines sports car racing. It is not alone. The Sebring 12-hours, Spa 24, Petit Le Mans, any of the Le Mans Series 1000kms races. All are iconic races. So are the Italian, French and Belgian Grands Prix.

Simple efforts can have big rewards. The Marlboro Masters Formula Three event at Zandvoort was attended by 80,000 people. At Pembrey for a round of the British series, you were lucky if the spectators outnumbered the sheep. Why? Zandvoort was free, the show was well promoted, gave fans the chance to see a Ferrari Formula One car on the great track in the sand dunes, and was one year additionally sponsored by Playboy, complete with Bunny Girls handing out free magazines, Marlboro cigarettes, and looking glamorous. Zandvoort is a small, beach side circuit which, when it started charging for entry, saw attendance drop to 30,000.

The ALMS provides the most fantastic television figures, and at Sebring and the Petit Le Mans, also have great spectator figures. It has a good relationship with big companies, and teams and sponsors want to be involved. The racing is not great in LMP1 or GT1, where Audi and Corvette reign but, rather than address the situation sensibly, they are considering a proposal to scrap the two categories. This makes no sense. Give Audi and Corvette, two giants of the modern motorsport era, something back. Give them competition, encourage it by increasing return on investment.

The solution is not to trade the wife for a newer, cheaper model. She may look attractive, but her looks will soon go, and will be more expensive in the long run. It is the nature of the beast.

Andrew Cotton
August 2007

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