Of The FIA Sportscar Championship

25 September 2001

A professional motor racing friend, well respected in his field, has been voicing to me criticisms and dissatisfaction with the current FIA Sportscar Championship, and he has challenged me to spring to its defence. So here I leap at him point by point.

There are too often small fields, he complained: Mondello Park had only thirteen starters! Not important I say. Sports car races are held primarily for the cars and drivers, each of which is there to try and prove that it is the fastest and most reliable over a given distance or period of time. These cars do not come to the starting grid to be a source of entertainment – it is not a circus act and those who want instant gratification for their consumer mentality can find it by watching the baboons in London Zoo! When Georges Durand and Charles Faroux devised the Le Mans 24 Hour Race in 1923, it was intended as a severe test of the cars’ reliability through night and day, not as entertainment for the crowds. That some of us do derive pleasure from such events is incidental. For my part, I love to see history unfurling as each race adds a new chapter to the wonderful chronicles of sports car / endurance racing.

Ah, I hear you say, small grids won’t attract television and therefore sponsors. Well, there was much long distance racing with superb sports cars before the advent of television or major sponsorship as we now know it. I did not notice television cameras and heavily labelled cars when I attended the 1955 Goodwood Nine Hours race, an event containing ‘works’ cars and professional drivers. So who paid for that lot? And if these two elements were withdrawn, after a lapse, those involved would find wealthy enthusiasts prepared to create and run cars, as would manufacturers.

Gentlemen drivers, not enough professionals, moaned my friend. Well, sports cars racing has always depended heavily on gentlemen drivers, a truth starkly learnt by the Ecclestone / Mosley camp in the early nineties when they tried to hijack the sports cars and create another television package in their greed. Sports cars don’t make good television for non-enthusiasts. The uninitiated lack patience and concentration and so, thankfully, the races attract, as Brooklands was wont to claim, the right crowd and no crowding. See how quickly the huge crowd disperses an hour or so after the start of Le Mans each year. They become quickly bored and resort to fun-fairs or taverns, only to return for the finale! Try six o’clock on Sunday morning – only the real enthusiasts are around then; wonderful!

And of course, so much of the deep, rich history of sports car racing would never have come about without the keen amateutrs backing up the professionals who have always graced the category. And what an attraction; different cars and drivers appearing at Mr Mangoletsi’s events, creating a rich variety of interest. None of that nonsense found in the artificial world of Formula 1, whereby everyone has to run in every race as a closed, cliquey package in obeisance to the perverted demands of television – how absurd and unnatural that formula has become!

And, is it not true that even if the SCC lacks quantity, it certainly compensates with quality. There have been some wonderful machines in the series, many of them with a Le Mans pedigree, and how pleasing it has been recently to witness the likes of Dome, Pescarolo Courage and Ascari scoring their first ever wins – real history being written, and where else would they have the opportunity to develop their cars and taste success as a forerunner to further success on the international stage?

Vive Mr Mangoletsi, I say, and vive his series! And if, as has been alleged to me, journalists are losing interest, then they are the wrong sort anyway. There are plenty of real enthusiasts (this scribe?) ready to record sports car history in their place!

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