LMES Tango in Paris
On the Place de la Revolution, or Place de la Concorde for those wishing to forget
Madame le Guillotine's role in the shaping of modern France, organisers of the Le
Mans Endurance Series met at the Automobile Club de France building to present
their new formula. Unofficially, more than 45 cars are expected in this first year,
and popularity is bound to increase as circuits, promoters, television companies
and other media start to get excited about it all.
Or is it……..Confusion?
There was some element of confusion in the presentation, not helped by Brooksie
pitching up to the affair in a blue blazer topped off with an ACO tie. Our flightless
investigator wandered around trying to collect entry fees from bemused
participants who are used to seeing him looking more like aircraft wreckage
during a hot race than a member of the French Le Mans organising body.
Sportscarpros, for a brief while, turned into Sportscarams with more than a
passing reference to Britain's Beagle 2 mission to Mars as he appeared to call an
elderly Parisian man 'darling' while trying to make a phone call from under ground
in the Paris Metro. But I digress.
On a stage once graced by the likes of Max and Bernie, at one point a large, ear-
ringed character took charge of the microphone to declare the German ADAC's
interest in promoting the Le Mans Endurance Series, and also to make clear that
the Nurburgring 24-hours was as popular with the spectators as was Le Mans. It
was different to the chocolate tones of Bruno Vandestick, and entertaining if
Between 15 and 20 prototypes are in the running to participate, Stephane Ratel
looking at the lower figure after the experience of a disintegrating 2003 FIA Sports
Car Championship. Prototype teams habitually promised to support the series,
and then failed to show up.
Ratel, however, was like Blackadder's Baldrick, and had a cunning plan. Like
Baldrick, Ratel has wild hair too. Unlike Baldrick, Ratel's plan was a good one. He
was always looking at the FIA SCC to disappear, as we all knew it would anyway.
"From the first meeting that I had about the FIA Sports Car Championship a year
ago, I said 'let's drop these seven useless races and just do four good ones,'" he
said. "It is true that I did not anticipate the 1000km races, that came later and was
down to Jean-Marc Tesseidre telling me that I should bring back prototypes in
long distance races and keep the identity of the FIA GT Championship."
FIASCC or FIASCO?
Whatever happened, there was never going to be a repeat of the 2003 Lausitzring
fiasco, or the doubts regarding whether or not Nogaro was to happen. The four
classic circuits on the list of the LMES were always on Ratel's list for 2004, it is
just that the ACO have now come into partnership.
The French organisation has long been in favour of a series that supports its Le
Mans cars in Europe. The ACO supported the European Le Mans Series but were
unhappy about the choice of circuits, including Vallelunga and Most. They wanted
the historic circuits, often referred to as 'mythical' tracks in press releases and
advertisements, though I assure you they do exist.
Gang aft a-gley
The plan was hatched a year ago, and at its launch in the French capital, was
officially presented. Four 1000km races at Monza, the Nurburgring, Silverstone
and Spa, the German and British rounds hosting races on Saturday night. The FIA
point-scoring system of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 is to be adopted and a champion
crowned at the end of the season "with a pat on the back" said one potential
entrant. The top two in each class will receive a little more than that, the ACO
promising positions on the 2005 grid and therefore giving the teams nine months
to raise the sponsorship for the 24-hours.
Show me the Money
Money has been put up front for these classic circuits, steeped in history, and not
cheap. Entry fees, of which they so far have none, and sponsorship, ditto, have
gone towards the hiring of the circuits. "The objective of year one is to break even,"
said Ratel. "We don't have a Don Panoz pouring money into the series, we had to
make a choice. Either you invest like we did with the Super Racing Weekend, on
the television, or you have a different approach. Television will be difficult for
1000km races anyway, so let's invest the money in the tracks."
TV Soft Soap
Television has yet to be finalised, with conversations continuing between the
LMES organisers, satellite and terrestrial channels. Favourite host at the moment
is a German company currently taking care of the DTM series. The LMES needs a
broadcaster and here is one, ready made with a team, cameras and experience.
But it is just Germany, and the Brits and others will need far more than that.
Spherical Objects and Intestinal Fortitude
The circuits do provide a draw. They are magnificent, awe-inspiring, non-sterile
circuits on which those with balls will flourish and those without will be exposed.
They are all, bar the Nurburgring which has been sanitised, on the FIA's hit-list to
be withdrawn from the F1 calendar too, which is some coincidence.
Silverstone, Spa and Monza are just in a class of their own, good, quick circuits
and the Italian round has fallen into the gap between Le Mans trials and the Le
Mans race to help teams with their aerodynamic development.
I used to go to the local pub with the plumber and discuss the 'bleeding bloody
obvious'. Our conversations ranged from traffic control to animal husbandry, and
Jean-Marc Tesseidre appears to have been an omnipresent force behind the bar.
The LMES formula is just that, bleeding bloody obvious.