Feature image credit: @tlphotographic.
There is no denying it, motor racing is a business. The teams, the promoters, the organisations that run the series’ all exist to make money; they have to, they have staff to pay, insurance, advertising, R&D, design etc. etc. all to pay for – nothing is free. Some drivers are paid, many still pay for their seat, so their business is to be the best, to ensure that their sponsors get the very best deal in terms of results and coverage and overall exposure – the best ‘bang for their buck’ so that these sponsors and their businesses continue to fund their driver’s ambitions.
Occasionally, we the fans will be treated to some free days such as when Renault organised the Renault Sport days at Silverstone or Donnington Park, putting on a full day’s racing and sending out free tickets on application – it was still business, Renault were investing both in their brand and their one make series’.
It is little wonder then, that when we move into top-flight motor racing the costs rise exponentially and as part of that we, the public, the fans, the lovers of the sport are required to pay more to watch the race. For the business to survive everyone involved has to generate money, the competitors, the tracks, the promoters and the series but without the fans, will it still be viable?, is it as simple as that?
We think that ultimately for any race series to survive it clearly has to be viable and a major part of that viability rests with the fans, so what do we get for our money when we purchase a race ticket? Well, we certainly get entry to the track, but that is the same with any level race series so let’s take a slightly deeper look into the FIA’s global sports car series, the World Endurance Championship (oh, and we don’t intend this to be a ‘one series is better than the other’ type article, so we shall make no comparisons between series).
It’s clear to us that Gérard Neveu and his team have taken a long hard look at the good and bad points of running a top-tier racing series, have learned from other’s successes and failures and indeed, we are sure that the partnership with the ACO and their unrivalled experience of sports car racing and regulations built around engineering solutions rather than prescriptive technologies have been a major contributor.
The Championship is benefiting from major manufacturer involvement as well with Audi, Porsche, Toyota and Nissan all entering top level prototype challengers built around leading edge hybrid technology. Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche and Corvette all support the GTE classes with factory-backed teams. And why is this? It’s a very simple formula, the series is cost effective and relevant to those manufacturers; put simply, it sells cars!
What the series brings to us, the racing fans though is something more than racing, it brings us the spectacle, the excitement and what any race fan around the world wants, the feeling of being involved, being part of the weekend.
Being involved, the understanding that the fans are considered when planning calendars and race weekends means a lot to those who spend their time and money following race teams and series’ and year on year the WEC is showing that they are market leaders in this. Learning from the past, from the experience the ACO have in organising what is possibly the world’s biggest weekend event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and bringing us so much more than just a race.
Before the fans even arrive at the track the interaction begins by embracing new technology, the series’ social media managers tweeting and engaging the fans, ramping up excitement and using well produced video-bytes and stunning photography. Then there is the WEC app, arguably offering some of the best value in motor racing giving live timing, insights, and live streaming video for an entire season for 21€. For those who cannot make it to the track there are live TV deals in Europe (Motors TV – Eurosport for Le Mans) and the Americas (Fox Networks).
But back to the track and the onsite organisation. When we arrived at Silverstone for the 2015 season opener at 7am on Friday morning the ‘Fan Village’ was already setup, there were WEC promotion tents preparing to give away the funkiest green ‘sunglasses’ and Tequila Patron were preparing to invite the fans in and mix them some south of the border cheer to warm up the day. Aston Martin had brought a beautifully restored DB2/4 and Porsche’s red liveried Le Mans 919 sat welcoming us towards the Paddock. The music was ready and the food and drinks concessions were preparing for what would be a busy day.
After an hour or so the paddock was open for business, with mechanics hurrying through with tyres etc. preparing for practice, the fans were already beginning to wander through with posters and autograph books hoping to meet one or more of their heroes of the track. Then at 10am, the gladiators arrived, the drivers who will contest the 2015 World Endurance Championship walked through the waiting crowds, stopping for photos, to sign programs and hats, preparing to take their place for the ‘Class of 2015’ photo on the steps of Silverstone’s Wing.
Busses are laid on by the organisation to move the visitors around the sprawling Silverstone circuit; you need to get to Becketts from the Paddock? No problem, just jump on the free double-decker bus leaving from the stop outside.
Fast forward to Sunday and a packed pitlane opened up to the public. Music by the WEC’s ‘Music Ambassador’ The Avener playing from an open-top London bus emphasised the party atmosphere and the drivers, including global stars such as actor Patrick Dempsey, Porsche’s Mark Webber, World Champions Anthony Davidson and Sebastian Buemi, all lined up signing autographs and posing for pictures.
Nissan, whose entrance into the WEC this year is sadly delayed until Le Mans, brought two show cars to the event, opened up their garage and welcomed in the fans even giving people the chance to climb over, around and into the mock-ups of their new LMP1 challenger. Ever the favorite with the fans, Aston Martin even roped off an area of their garage for the fans to watch the team’s pit stops during the race!
Now let’s take a look at the race program, a packed field of FIA European F3, the opening round of the European Le Mans Series and of course, the World Endurance Championship – 10 hours of world class endurance racing, 1:45 of Euro F3 plus all the practice and qualifying track time.
There are undoubtedly many more things that made this a great weekend for all of the 45,000 people that attended, we have only scratched the surface here but how much was the cost to the fan for three days of racing and the associated spectacle? Well, if you booked early you could have enjoyed all three days, purchased a lunchtime snack on site on raceday and still have had change from £50!
It’s the race that brings the fans in, but it is organisation, fan-friendliness, the spectacle and the value for money that keeps us coming back time and again. The WEC will never be Le Mans despite it being the blue ribbon round of the series; Le Mans is an event in its own right, the embodiment of ‘it’s so much more than just the race’, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the backdrop, the history and so much more but, we feel the WEC and the teams that support the series are getting it right – 2015 is shaping up to be the best yet and things are only getting better.
Finally, don’t take our word for it, why not sample it yourself and get up close and personal with the teams and the drivers? The next round is at the iconic Belgian Spa-Francorchamps track on 2nd May and a three day General Entry ticket including Paddock and Pitwalk access is only 31€. You can book your ticket here.