The Scope of Silverstone
It is with a feeling of keen anticipation and a sense of new-found freedom that motoring sportsmen in this country receive the news that part of the R.A.C.’s Silverstone circuit is available to the Clubs for race meetings and to individuals for the testing of competition cars.
The fees for the use of Silverstone were given in Motor Sport last month. The general feeling amongst the smaller clubs seems to be that these are on the steep side, but certain of the larger clubs have wasted no time in declaring their intention of holding race-meetings at the new course. The Bugatti Owners’ Club was the first to make a firm booking, for a meeting to be held on June 18th. The Vintage Sports Car Club will have the honour of organising the first Silverstone club meeting, when it holds kilometre speed trials there on April 23rd, running the cars two at a time along the main runway; moreover, this club will also stage a race-meeting at Silverstone on July 2nd, which will probably include a one-hour high-speed trial for vintage sports-cars. Also the Bentley Drivers’ Club hopes to have a Silverstone meeting on July 28th, and the M.M.E.C. to hold speed trials there on July 30th.
As the course is still unfenced, the R.A.C. has decided that the public cannot be admitted to these club meetings, although it is prepared to consider applications for the use of the circuit for full-scale races organised by responsible bodies. The basic fees to clubs, of £21 for a closed meeting, £26 5s. for a closed invitation meeting, and £52 10s. for an open meeting seem reasonably moderate, but, possibly with the idea of restricting what otherwise might be an overwhelming number of bookings, the R.A.C. has added, in each case, “or £1 1s. per entrant, whichever is the greater amount.”
Obviously it is not worth while organising even a closed meeting for less than 21 competitors, yet, if a greater number enter, the fee for hiring the course goes up in direct proportion to the length of the list. The smaller clubs will find the resultant fee a heavy burden, on top of general organising expenses and the cost of prizes, etc., especially as over 100 entries might be deemed desirable at a meeting comprising eight or more short races. As they cannot obtain revenue by charging the public to see the racing, their only solution would seem to be to appreciably increase the entry fee for the meeting. This will make racing at Silverstone expensive for the clubman, but as he has for so long had to be content with sprint events, it is doubtful if many entries will be lost in consequence of heavy entry fees, at all events this year.
Another line open to the smaller clubs would be to combine in the organisation of a closed invitation or even an open meeting, so that the fee for hiring the course would not reduce the coffers of any one club to the full extent of the sum otherwise entailed.
Clubs may try to regain some of their outlay by charging non-competing members for vouchers necessary to gain admission to the course, but such an arrangement calls for careful consideration, both from the aspect of offending the less fortunate members who are obliged to refrain from active participation in club events and from the insurance angle. It will be interesting to see whether the R.A.C. erects safety fencing and safety banks in time for its own big race at Silverstone on May 14th. If it does, the objection to admitting the public to subsequent club meetings immediately disappears and with it the ban on clubs obtaining reimbursement from the public for the outlay involved in race-organisation.
That the new 2.4-mile circuit will be available for the running of cars on non-race days is very good news, in view of the great handicap which British racing has suffered since the war on account of inadequate facilities for testing and practice. Whether the fees for such facilities are moderate or excessive can only be determined when it has been ascertained how much running is possible during the course of a normal day at Silverstone – bearing in mind that only on a banked track such as Brooklands can a considerable number of diverse vehicles be safely accommodated at one and the same time. At present we are not aware of how cars will be marshalled on the circuit for test purposes, while it is only possible to conjecture whether delays will be liable to occur due to “incidents”at the corners. We must confess to being rather taken aback by the fee of £5 5s. per car per four hours for testing by the Press and by manufacturers and by the fact that the latter are only to be encouraged if the cars they wish to test are entered for races or competition events.
However, these few observations apart, the R.A.C. is deserving of the very warmest praise for giving us a circuit where racing to pre-war standards is again possible. Indeed, their gesture makes the coming season of intense interest and it is, as yet, too early even to attempt to foresee the full implication of what Silverstone will mean to the Sport. Certainly the clubs have an enormous opportunity to offer events of the most diverse and satisfactory sort to their members. The spirit at present is perhaps justifiably, that if some of them get into financial straits in so doing, the sorting out of such affairs can well be left until later. After all, we in this country have been starved of real motor-racing, amateur and professional alike, for the past ten years. Consequently, we are not surprised that the R.A.C. is able to announce brisk bookings from the Clubs for the use of Silverstone circuit.
A Vexed Question
With a very full season of racing ahead of us, the vexed question arises as to whether entry fees should be returned to competitors who start in those events which bring in considerable revenue from a large “gate.” It is true that such events are often expensive to organise and that courses and circuits cost big sums to maintain, so that the takings are not necessarily sheer profit. But it is also a fact that, without the drivers, particularly those whom the public hero-worships, there would be no “gate” and consequently no meeting. To charge such drivers a fee before allowing them to compete seems, to say the least, ambiguous. Indeed, they would even seem deserving of starting-money in many instances.
It is possible that the British Motor Sports Fund could assist towards the provision of starting-money or at all events the return of entry fees. This Fund, contributed before the war by an enthusiastic section of the public, has been intact for many years and, we believe, totals some £3,000. The Trustees of this Fund might be advised to consider how it is to be used, and when. It may be felt that it should go to something more concrete than relieving rich racing-car owners of comparatively insignificant entry fees. Remember, however, that good entries are essential to good racing and that with Continental organisers offering starting money to British drivers, entry lists for our own races are likely to suffer, in the long run, if entrants have to choose between paying to race here or being paid to race abroad. To spend the British Motor Sports Fund on improvements to our circuits, on better prizes for the winner, and on amenities in general will be pointless if our leading drivers jib at promoters’ entry fees and fail to come to their races. The main consideration, however, is that the Fund shall be used to the best possible advantage and no doubt its Trustees have already decided how best this can be done and whether or not the time to make use of it is ripe.