Lazy Sunday Afternoon
About a million things became clear at the Imola weekend, and many of them
were pointers heading towards sunshine rather than rain clouds. The Le Mans
test date is to be moved to June 5, two weeks before the race itself, and Stephane
Ratel will step down as chairman of the Super Racing Weekend and will instead
concentrate on promoting the FIA GT Championship, the LMES and other national
endurance series under the guidance of the Stephane Ratel Organisation.
Swinging with Stephane
Ratel’s decision, yet to be officially confirmed but the talk of the Imola paddock,
was shock news, but the GT series will still race with the Touring Cars next year in
Europe. Each series is free to organise itself around the rest of the world. What is
the point, one person asked at Imola, of taking Ferraris to Mexico, or SEAT
Toledos to the Sheiks in Dubai? They are separate markets, and the political
makeup is going to reflect that.
Eurosport, we understand, were busy trying to reduce the length of the FIA GT
Championship races. I reckon Stephane will have far more room to manoeuvre if
he is not in charge of the whole chebang but will concentrate just on one element
– the GTs which he has nurtured for ten years.
At Imola, the Touring Car race started as the N-GT podium ceremony was in full
swing. I was talking to Fabrizio Gollin as he stepped off the podium, and was
horrified to hear the ETCC race starting outside. What if Farfus needed to pit with
a puncture at the end of the parade lap, and found a whole load of spectators
staring up at the Porsche and Ferrari drivers in the pit lane?
It was shocking organisation, and unsafe practice. What I would suggest to
Stephane is to go with what works for endurance racing – Saturday night races. If
the SRW is dictated by the touring car organisation and not all the races can be
squeezed in, why not get off the Sunday list and run on Saturday night? No sweat
to the touring car teams, no sweat Eurosport who can edit the three hour race into
one good hour, no sweat to the SRW who can promote one of the finest
spectacles in endurance racing. Would you like to see a Maserati, its brake discs
glowing and lighting the circuit into the final chicane at Imola, while you sit in the
grandstand cradling a vat of wine?
We could sit here and wonder if Maserati was sandbagging on Sunday, but to be
honest, it would be a pointless exercise. There was a certain belief before anyone
showed up at Imola that the MC12 would sandbag and nothing Maserati did
would quell that. It qualified eighth and 12th, “an embarrassment given they spent
25million Euros,” said one. They raced to second and third “Well, they couldn’t win
their first one, could they?” said another.
The fact is that they raced cleanly, quickly, efficiently and reliably on their debut.
That in itself should put the marker down to the opposition – the MC12 is quick
and it will get quicker, especially with Maserati’s money behind it. The question of
whether it can go quicker already is pointless. At some point Maserati will be
faster than the rest, whether it can at Oschersleben, or next year when the 60kg
ballast, levied on every new car to the series, comes off.
I Certainly was in the Right..........
The others may be chasing something that can never be caught, but that is down
to the FIA at its next World Council meeting in October, and to Maserati’s level of
care of the GT series. Max Mosley promised at Donington last year that such cars
can be regulated, and he must now stand by his word.
Steve Saleen was in the Konrad pit, and promised updates to the S7R for next
year. Ferrari is constantly working on the 575 to get it up to the speed of the 550,
and then make it a bit quicker, and I am sure Prodrive’s George Howard-
Chappell, also at Imola, is not dozing off. He is working on the Aston Martin,
scheduled to race at Sebring next year, and must have learned plenty from his
weekend near Bologna.
A cloud on the whole new political arena is that, when the GT racing goes through
a dull patch, as all racing does, the touring cars normally propped them up, and
vice-versa. If this split marks the direction in which these two series are going, in
2006 they may be entirely separate and that would be a shame. Lamborghini’s
Mike Fitzgerald said: "Giving the public and spectators a good show is important
and this year is bigger and better. It is a shame to change a format where
spectators get a lot for their money."
"I think that now the Touring Car championship needs the FIA GT Championship,
and the FIA GT Championship needs the Touring Car Championship," says
Claudio Berro, head of Maserati’s customer division. "If they are together, they are
strong. Outside Europe it is possible to run them independently, but the Super
Racing Weekend is European and it is important to race together."
One Hit Wonder
Scott Atherton made a trip to Le Mans to request that the date of the test weekend
be shifted to give American teams the chance to do Le Mans in one hit, and ALMS
organisers time to have races at both ends of the year, and not just after June.
At Atherton’s request, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest has moved the Le Mans
test day back to June 5, just two weeks before the 24-Hours on June 18-19. An
application has been made to the French Federation and an announcement is
expected at the end of November.
The new date, four or five weeks later than usual, will enable the American teams
to test their cars, carry out any modifications and prepare for the 24-Hours without
interrupting their schedule. IMSA, organisers of the American Le Mans Series, will
be able to prepare a more balanced calendar with better spacing between events.
This year, there was a 14 week gap between the Sebring 12-Hours on March 20
and Mid-Ohio on June 27, but then six events were squeezed into an eight week
period up to Road America on August 22.
Under Stephane Ratel’s guidance, the LMES will receive a boost, as will the FIA
GT Championship. The British and French series will also benefit, and with the
ACO backing such requests by the ALMS, things are starting to look very different.
What a difference a weekend makes.