”Does Tamenund dream? What voice is at his ear? Have the winters gone
backward? Will summer come again to the children of the Lenape?”
Representatives of the world's leading manufacturers met in Paris last week to
discuss their part in the future of endurance racing. The meeting, held in the
presence of Max Mosley, was called by Ferrari's Jean Todt and it addressed the
idea of an equivalency formula that would restrict costs, accommodate private
teams, and realistically become a fully-fledged FIA GT World Championship.
General Motors, Ford, BMW, Mercedes, Fiat, Porsche and others were all
represented at the meeting, invited to specifically discuss the idea. That the likes
of Ulrich Bez (Aston Martin), Franz-Josef Paefgen (VW) and Dr Wolfgang Ullrich
(AudiSport) were attracted to such a meeting speaks volumes for the level of
seriousness being awarded to what has previously been regarded as a problem
area for the FIA.
Show me the Money
Endurance racing has always appealed to manufacturers - you only have to look
at the involvement of Porsche, Mercedes, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, Audi, Chevrolet,
Chrysler, Ferrari and so on. There was an FIA World Sportscar or Endurance
Championship from 1953 to 1992. In recent times there has been an array of
problems, both self-inflicted and imposed, that stopped the discipline from
growing into something spectacular. Perhaps those issues have been, or are to
be, addressed. The first issue, and as ever the most important, is money.
Porsche, essentially, withdrew from endurance racing at the end of the 1998
season following a marketing decision. They did not want to get into a pissing
contest with Mercedes, or with Audi who produced the R8 in 1999 and had it
perfected by 2000. Who could spend more money? Mercedes or Audi? It didn't
matter to Porsche, they weren't interested.
My Budgets are Bigger than Yours………
What if Maserati had promised the board that it could win with a budget of X, the
board would be delighted. What a plan! On that budget, you can win at
international level? Crikey, where do I sign the cheque?
Meanwhile, the same conversation is going on at BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and
General Motors and they come up with budget Y, Z, W, and V. Any of the factories
could win; probably the one that spends the most cash and the others had better
match it. HOW much did you say, Maserati man? asks the board. But you
promised us results on X budget. No way, mate, we are not spending to catch up.
So in comes rules manipulation, instability and eventually, mass withdrawal.
The idea that endurance racing could once again become a World Championship
is an intriguing one. If that is to be the case, we must compare it to the likes of
Formula One, around for 54 years now, and the World Rally Championship.
Formula One is one of the most expensive sports in the world, and private teams,
such as Lotus, Prost, Jordan and Minardi, have either gone under with the
financial strain or are fighting for every penny.
The manufacturers have a breathtaking budget for each season, and here lies
another problem. BMW won Le Mans in 1999 before embarking on their Formula
One project. "I got more coverage from Ralf Schumacher finishing third in
Australia than I did from winning Le Mans," said BMW Motorsport director Gerhard
Berger in 2000 at Sebring.
And there are only so many manufacturers. What would happen if, for example,
BMW decided that it was spending too much money with Williams and that a
properly organised and popular sports car series would gain excellent exposure
for a fraction of the cost? Would Bernie lie down and accept this? No way.
The WRC has another problem in that the manufacturers involved are treading
carefully with their budgets. Skoda can only afford a bit-part championship this
year; Hyundai has withdrawn until 2006 as it works on a new car. Ford got its
funding in place for this year very late in the day and when it did arrive, it was 25
per cent down on 2003! Privateers are an integral part of the WRC and there is a
Junior Championship but television coverage is biased towards the
Stephane Ratel has built the FIA GT Championship on the promise that private
teams can win races overall. Will the likes of Toine Hezemans and Frederic Dor
continue to plough in vast sums of their own money to compete against factory
Privateers in the FIA GT Championship are blossoming in a well-structured
environment. Stephane Ratel has begun to stretch them and turn the FIA GT
Championship into a global one with races in Dubai and Zhuhai in 2004 and
more fly-away events in 2005.
The foreign races must be no more expensive than a European round. Ratel
needs a sponsor but can he find one who will pay such travel costs? Can the
likes of Manfred Freisinger, BMS Scuderia Italia and Carsport Holland otherwise
afford to compete in a global championship?
League of Gentlemen
The representatives who attended the meeting in Paris will have thought about
this and a lot more; we eagerly await their conclusions. They discussed the idea
of an equivalency formula, one that will cover manufacturers and privateers in
terms of costs and performance. "Everyone was sceptical," said one source,
"about why Ferrari and Maserati wanted to push this, because they had a product
that was likely to be dominant. But when you look at what the FIA is proposing, you
realise that actually it doesn't favour them, everyone will be on a par."
Peter Wright (Technical Advisor to the FIA) is looking at creating a level playing
field with the regulations. Why would manufacturers spend any money at all on
racing, if a winning car was to be pegged back?
The Grand-Am rules were designed with the idea that anyone with a sensible
budget could go racing with a prospect of success. OK, at this year’s Daytona 24
Hours there were some seriously good drivers, some encouraged by the France
family, others by the lure of a new Rolex watch. Some turned up because the cars
are superb fun to drive, but there were, as always, a blend of the wealthy
amateurs and professionals.
In Europe those who can afford it want to drive cars such the Ferrari 550
Maranello, the 575, and the Murcielago but are being financially stretched. For
example, Prodrive's 550 Maranello costs around Euro800,000, as will the
Maserati MCC. Teams are already worried about the escalating costs to buy and
run these supercars.
Measures to reduce the cost of racing in this new initiative were discussed in
Paris by the men in suits. Will the manufacturers create a fund to help privateers
This writer is in not opposition to the idea of a World Endurance Championship, if
done with the long term of interests in mind over any short term objectives. The
WEC would be sufficiently different to either the sprint format of Formula One or
the three-day event WRC. Endurance racing has had a huge fan base in the past
and the supercars are once again available. The idea appears to have initially the
support of the FIA, and the support of the marketing-led teams, though
"engineering-led teams were opposed to it!" according to a source at the meeting.
What makes a championship successful? A strong hand at the helm is often a
good start. BMW and Alfa Romeo spent a long time arguing over H-pattern
gearboxes and rear-wheel-drive penalties for their ETCC cars and it could have
destroyed the series, with one or other throwing their toys out of the pram. Those
issues got sorted out and there is healthy rivalry between the two. A unified set of
regulations being introduced across Europe is helping to nurture the feeder
championships, and Stephane Ratel is doing the same for the GT series
Ratel has two sportscar series to take care of, one for the FIA, the other for the
ACO. The two bodies are friends again, but will that stretch to them working in
harmony? Is this what the unified regulations were all about in the first place?
It’s a Drag Man………
The plan is to slow prototypes this year, and further restrict them next year. With
the rise in manufacturer interest in the GTS class, there is an argument that GTS
is to become the new top class. Could Ferrari bear to be beaten by a Lola or a
DBA? GTS racing, or GT racing in FIA terms, is almost certainly where the
manufacturers are all looking, to run cars that resemble the exotic machines they
produce for the road. Ever thought about owning a Ferrari?
Six Hour Special
The three hour format of the FIA GT Championship is too close in sprit to Grand
Prix racing while races of 1000 Kilometres retain the necessary endurance
element. The FIA GT Championship should be left to private teams while the
LMES has the potential to grow into a new flagship for the FIA, ACO and sportscar