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Omelettes, Eggs; Eggs, Omelettes; Omelettes, Eggs.................

Land of Hope and Glory
  Ah, Spa. The last of the great circuits, featuring corners such as Eau Rouge,
Blanchiment, La Source. La Sauce? Has he lost his struggle to maintain a grip on
reality while clutching that bottle off vino collapso again? I do digress. The hairpin
leading onto the old start/finish straight is as dull as skateboard race up Eau
Rouge…that is until you put Augusto Farfus and Jorg Muller in two-litre hair dryers
there on the last lap of a World Touring Car Championship race. Suddenly it is as
exciting as a skateboard race down Eau Rouge. Augusto steered his Alfa right,
heading for the pitwall with the intention of squashing Jorg’s BMW against it.

  The scenes in the press room were reminiscent of the good ol’ days, when
fierce and politically incorrect patriotism played a major role in the viewing of such
races. Anything driven by a British driver (Mr Priaulx), a British team (BMW GB –
don’t worry about the Belgian link), with a British press officer (Ms Bradshaw), or
indeed anyone who spoke English without a hint of an Italian accent, was
cheered, to the frustration of the Alfa press officer who occupied a quiet corner
with untypically reserved Latino journalists.

  On Saturday, smoke pouring from his tyres, Jorg launched his BMW (supported
by BMW’s press officer Ms Bradshaw) left to stay off the wall and in proper
fashion, kept his boot in, taking third place from his Brazilian rival, who was
subsequently excluded for dangerous driving. Peculiarly, Jorg was also penalised
for causing an avoidable collision on the entry to La Source, though he claimed to
have been hit on the entry to the corner by the following Gabriele Tarquini, Farfus’
team mate. Bingy bongy, dingy dangy.

Irresistable and Immovable
  Sadly, next year, the FIA GT regulars will have to live without the regular
visitations of the WTCC, and will miss the enormous driving talents within. The
WTCC has grown steadily since its inception in 2000, now attracting the likes of
BMW, Alfa Romeo, Seat, Honda, Peugeot, Ford and Chevrolet, and it has achieved
World Championship status this year for the first time. Predictably, that has meant
the inevitable and the WTCC will split from the FIA GT Championshjp next year
following a very public falling out between FIA GT organiser Stephane Ratel, and
his WTCC counterpart Marcello Lotti, who is supported by Eurosport.

  As Neville Chamberlain had stood post Munich, vainly waving his piece of paper
in the air declaring peace in our time while others worked in the other direction the
same was also happening between the two series. “No one has held me to a
wall by my neck,” said Ratel. “They did try though…” Why, we asked Lotti, and
Eurosport’s Jacques Behar, would Ratel host a press conference without telling
the WTCC and Eurosport, and announce that he was prepared to go it alone. “We
don’t know,” was Lotti’s response, before Behar admitted sending a letter telling
Ratel that he should cut his races to two hours, or else. Ratel chose the “or else”

  “They had to split,” said Prodrive’s Dave Richards in the paddock shortly after
being accosted by some rather drunk Belgians armed to the teeth with Red Bull,
beer and a camera. “They could not grow and stay together. It will be long, hard,
and not easy for Stephane, not easy at all, but you cannot change the sport for
television. I support Stephane 100 per cent on that.” Needless to say, Richards,
who owns the commercial rights to the World Rally Championship, has been
invited to help the SRO formulate a new television package for next year.

He won’t haggle............
  The WTCC organisers were rather surprised that Ratel should have chosen
Friday to have made his announcement. Three championships, GT1 to go global,
joined by GT2 at the European races and two fly-away events, and GT3 which will
be solely European and for wealthy amateurs was the proclamation. Without the
WTCC and Eurosport if necessary was the sting in the tail. “The ball is in their
court,” said Ratel on Friday. The WTCC were waiting for Ratel’s response to the
letter, and had a meeting planned on Saturday afternoon to discuss options. As
journalists met with Lotti and Behar on Saturday morning, Ratel’s answer was
clear and the afternoon meeting was probably a short one.

  “The audience could not stay with GT races for three hours,” said Behar. “One
hour 30 is the perfect time, like the Grand Prix. We had not yet discussed whether
or not the two-hour race would be live on Eurosport. We have the opportunity to
cancel the contract, but that depends on Stephane’s answer. His answer, we
understand, is negative! We told him ‘two hours, or nothing for Eurosport’. The
WTCC is increasing, the GT decreasing, not dramatically but steadily.” There was
little, or no room for discussion from their side.

  “We are very happy with the format 500km,” said Ratel. “If I am told that I am out, I
am out. I am perfectly capable of building a championship next year. The two
championships were of equal importance, with equal paddock space, and
working on an equal footing. Suddenly they are unique, they are the big boys. We
have a separate contract with Eurosport. Either we stay with them, or we leave. I
am confident.”

Plat de Jour
The calendar is also fairly well set for Ratel. With Dubai, Bahrain, Zhuhai and a
proposal for a race in Brazil, along with the Spa 24-hours, the Tourist Trophy at
Silverstone, his homeland of France and with Ferrari and Maserati gunning for a
race in Italy, he will not be short of options. The Czech Brno circuit is another to bid
for the GTs to return. The WTCC is supported by Yokohama, and that is looking
likely for a race at Fuji next year, along with Puebla in Mexico, and a European
calendar which is being formulated and will include a separate Spa weekend
solely for Touring Cars.

  The big losers out of the split are those of us who have enjoyed the contrast
between the likes of Ferrari, Maserati, Corvette, Porsche, Lamborghini, Saleen
and Lister racing ‘long distance’, compared with the crash-bang-wallop of the
touring cars. The support package last year was fantastic, with the single seat
Renault V6s, the Renault Clios, the Alfa 147 cup, all under the umbrella of
Eurosport. All good things must come to an end.........

  We hope that this is the dawning of a new age, where manufacturers will have
the opportunity to flex their muscles with the WTCC, and the supercars, the dream
cars, may continue to grace the great circuits of the world. Eddie Izzard, having
navigated his way through the procreation of dogs, cats and giraffes (whatever you
can work out, and sorry about the neck) from the perspective of Mother Nature
concluded: “Salmon, salmon. I have got a surprise for you people…” Ratel, like
the salmon, has swum against the tide since 1999. He knows the pitfalls, he
knows the dead water he can exploit, he knows the journey ahead. The question
is whether or not he will land on someone’s restaurant table at huge expense, or
whether he will reach the breeding ground, and flourish.

Andrew Cotton
August 2005

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