The Masters tour has arrived — and it’s here to stay, explains Paul Lawrence
Winning isn’t everything. That, at least, is the philosophy behind Grand Prix Masters as the series for 3-litre Formula One cars heads into its second season.
“We don’t want to be a championship,” says GP Masters director Christopher Tate. “We want to offer owners, drivers and preparers of wonderful grand prix cars the chance to have a great weekend.”
Launched a year ago when racer Ron Maydon bought out the former Classic Grand Prix Series from David McLaughlin, GP Masters was initially greeted with a degree of caution. “The first year we had five events and it went reasonably well,” says Tate, a polished front man for the series and a perfect foil for Maydon, who prefers to remain less visible. “It took some time to begin to build up the field, but by the time we got to the Nürburgring we had a fantastic-looking grid. We had 24 cars and that was great.”
With GP Masters successfully established, the package grew over the winter with the acquisition of the old Group 4 series from Jonathan Baker. “Jonathan did an excellent job with Group 4 but was finding it more and more difficult to devote the time that is now needed to run a historic motorsport series,” says Tate.
The result is seven events for 2005, all shared by GP Masters and the newly-titled World Sportscar Masters. “It was a bit of a struggle to get both series at all events,” says Tate of calendar negotiations. “But we’ve ended up with a situation that we’re quite happy with.”
For the first time, at Silverstone in late July, GP Masters and the Thoroughbred Grand Prix series will share the bill. With common ground on 3-litre cars from the late 1970s there is scope for rivalry between the two, but Tate is keen to stress fundamental differences.
“There is clear and very blue water between GP Masters and TGP, even though there is an age overlap. We just feel that if someone wants to be very quick, wants to test, wants to chase title points, there is a clear route to go,” says Tate. “What GP Masters is appealing to is the fact that, behind the top six who are desperate to win, you need to make sure the guy who is 24th on the grid feels as welcome and is not shouted at for being slow. As Ron says, running a 1968 Cooper-Alfa Romeo and not having done a lot of racing gives you a fine perspective from the back of the grid!”
Entertainment for all the family is central to the GP Masters ethos. “We are here to facilitate everybody having a good time. Hence what to some is the over-the-top hospitality unit for GP Masters,” admits Tate. “More people will race if their wives and families are looked after. The more people do that, the more often nice cars will come out. We have to recognise that for a number of people the options are ocean racing, polo or some other form of expensive weekend hobby.”
There has been a flurry of activity in the sportscar market after the Group 4 series’ introduction into the Masters family. “Our overseas F1 visitors have either bought or dug out of the back of the garage their Group 4-type cars,” reckons Tate. “If they are coming all the way from the States for a weekend they may as well get in as much track time as they can.”
Initially there are no major plans to change the sportscar package: “We just want to expand the sportscar side. For our first year we’re not planning to change the regulations much at all. We’re very hot on driving standards, courtesy and using mirrors. We hope that everyone who is joining the sportscar series will enjoy themselves.”
Some may wonder if the Masters movement will stop at two series, but Tate is not about to spill the beans just yet: “We’ll take this year to digest and learn and then we’ll have another conversation this time next year.”
Even so, there seems every reason to expect further expansion into 2006 and beyond. Should we look out for a smaller single-seater category, perhaps, or a saloon-based series? It makes sense.
What is certain is that the Masters concept is winning support and seems sure to grow. “Two series is enough — for this year,” is the only clue that Tate is giving right now.