January is an exciting month for motorsport fans. With the festive period over and gone, the countdown to the season ahead has well and truly begun.
Next week the Autosport International Show will serve as the season-starter for much of the motorsport community. It’s the place where so many facets of the industry come together to talk racing, rallying and everything in-between.
Big announcements are made, new teams and drivers firm up their plans. Deals are done and signed right there on the stands, and there’s a roaring trade market too. But there’s always one thing I feel that’s missing from the surprise and intrigue that the show brings – variation of championship calendars.
Each year the schedule for the big series seems to stay the same. Come August, you can usually guess where the British Touring Car Championship, British GT and the like will be headed the following year. And quite often it’s the same ordering too.
Am I the only one who thinks the leading lights of the British motorsport scene should mix it up a bit?
Let’s look at the BTCC as an example. This year it’ll visit – in order – Brands, Donington, Thruxton, Oulton, Croft, Snetterton, Rockingham, Knockhill, Silverstone and then Brands again.
Compare that to 2017, and the only change you’ll find is Rockingham and Knockhill switching places. In fact, barring that reversal between the Scotland and Corby races, the calendar is identical all the way back to 2010. And even then the circuits remained the same – the biggest change being that Thruxton opened the action.
You have to go back as far as 2006 to find any real change, when Mondello Park in Ireland held a round. Sure, there was the introduction of Brands Hatch’s Grand Prix layout for 2009 onwards to spice up the finale, but that’s hardly taking the series to a new audience.
That’s 12 years of the same circuits, in largely the same order. Isn’t it time to push the boat out a bit?
Now, I know there are varying factors that shape the calendar like it is. The BTCC is the UK’s most popular series, so its calendar often has wide-reaching effects on other classes. All of its support series are largely dictated by it, and so are other classes that want to avoid a fixture clash, which is something British GT organisers in particular work hard to avoid whenever possible.
Then there’s the marketing. Circuits – such as the MSV-owned Brands, Oulton, Snetterton and now Donington – handle their own marketing and promotion of the event, so holding a specific calendar slot helps form the product of selling ‘the BTCC finale/opener’ or the ‘first round back after the summer break’.
There’s also the logistics to think about too. Is the pit lane large enough to accommodate the full grid? Can the track start the correct number of cars? Where can the supports pitch up? Are the facilities up to scratch? And, lastly, is there enough space for the corporate hospitality units? I know that last one will wrangle with many, but it’s a key part of the sport in the modern era.
However, the downside of this set-in-stone scheduling is a very predictable format each year. And that also brings a predictability to results, with rear-wheel-drive cars always doing well at the tracks in the middle of the calendar and certain drivers performing better at their favourite tracks during certain months, and so on.
Yes, having a set calendar helps form routine and keeps everybody in the know about what they’re doing and when. But it’s not the best for entertainment value, or spreading the series to new audiences.
Outside of the current calendar Mondello Park, Pembrey, Anglesey, Castle Combe, Kirkistown and Goodwood could all theoretically host a championship like the BTCC.
OK, at Combe you’d have noise issues to overcome for a weekend and a tight paddock, but the track is licenced accordingly for safety and the required number of starters.
Two other circuits could also potentially host races. Cadwell Park could do the job, even though it can only start 28, rather than the capacity 32 cars. Mallory Park also, however it can start 30. Some entries can drop off towards the end of the campaign, but it would be an issue to overcome. But who wouldn’t love to see a BTCC race at Cadwell?!
And I’m not just picking on the BTCC either. British GT is just as bad – Oulton, Rockingham, Snetterton, Silverstone, Brands and Donington. It’s been that variety of tracks since 2010 when Knockhill was last on the schedule. Granted there’s been variation in the European rounds – Zandvoort, Nurburgring and Spa – but for British-based fans that’s a bit irrelevant as those races are largely scheduled to entice and challenge British GT’s main customers… the drivers.
Why not take British GT to somewhere like Anglesey for once? It has shiny new pit buildings, decent facilities and a good paddock space.
Personally, I’d love to see Thruxton back on the agenda. The drivers love it, but the teams largely don’t due to the tight pitlane and skill it takes to cram a modern GT3 car into the rather tight garages.
In my view, varying the schedules for Britain’s biggest race series would add extra spice to those conversations that will take place hundreds of times in Birmingham’s NEC next week, as well as freshening up the campaigns for the fans too.