It's logical, captains

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Racing Ahead is a forum dedicated to striking a blow for common sense. The shape of motor racing in this country may never be the same again…

The tannoy crackles into life. “Will all competitors for race three go to the assembly area now please.” Two minutes later, the message is repeated. A short wait, and it is heard yet again. Finally, you think about directing your racing car to where the authorities wish to see it, knowing that you’ll still be faced with hanging around once you get there. With formation laps, parade laps and other bureaucratic rigmarole, it may still be some time before you get anywhere near the pit lane exit, let alone the green light.

It’s a familiar enough ritual, and if it’s laborious for you, the racer, imagine how Joe Public must feel trying to persuade his or her family that this is excitement, as there’s yet another 20-25 minute break between races.

But, no more.

At Brands Hatch on March 19, a minor revolution will give club motorsport in this country a much needed kick in the pants. Imagine, if you’re on road tyres, the procedure will be as follows: assembly area, grid, one-minute board, green light, race. If you’re on slicks, you’ll get a formation lap.

Lights. Action. Camera. Bang!

Brands will stage the first meeting run to the new Racing Ahead regulations, which have seen sections of the RACMSA Blue Book chewed up, spat out and reconstituted in a way that is utterly logical. So much so, that it’s hard to see why it hasn’t been done before. There has never, however, been such concentrated accord between racing promoters in this country. The BARC, BRDC, BRSCC and 750 MC have all agreed to experiment with this new initiative next season. Dwindling audiences have seen self-interest cast aside for the common good.

“It’s a case of motor racing talking to itself for the first time ever,” stresses the BRSCC’s Executive Director John Nicol, who will act as Chairman of Racing Ahead. “There have unprecedented talks between racing clubs and circuit owners. It’s all happened in the last 12 months. Nicola (Foulston, CEO of Brands Hatch Leisure) called us all together to discuss the state of the sport, and it turned into something of a brainstorming session. Bob Armstrong (of the BRSCC) and I then went away, worked on chunks of the Blue Book and presented our ideas to the RACMSA. They gave us the thumbs up straight away. I’m amazed, and delighted, that we’ve been able to push things this far so quickly. Support from everybody has been fantastic.”

Racing Ahead’s proposals, which will be used experimentally in 1995 at a total of 30 meetings (on four wheels and two, as the ACU has also become involved), include: the aforementioned abolition of timewasting startline activities (no personnel other than officials will be allowed on the grid); the reduction of practice sessions to as few as six laps, to allow more time for actual racing; the introduction of two races per formula per raceday, the first of which will line up according to qualifying times, the second of which could have a random grid, decided by ballot, spectators’ poll, championship positions, reverse qualifying order or, indeed, some other selection method; the provision for more clerks of the course per meeting, to accelerate administrative matters; faster deployment of the green light at race starts; the abolition of aggregate results for races red-flagged before half-distance (for the benefit of public understanding, the finishing order on the road will be decisive); in the event of an aborted start, the countdown will recommence from one minute, not three; irrespective of race distance, jumped starts will now carry a 10s penalty across the board.

The combined effect of the above, hopes Racing Ahead, will be speedier, more spectator-friendly motor racing. It has taken the sport a long time to cotton on to the fact that there are an increasing number of alluring alternatives on Sunday afternoons: traditional Saturday pursuits such as shopping and professional soccer are, after all, now accessible all weekend.

My personal recollection of motor racing sticking most rigidly, and absurdly, to the Blue Book goes back to Oulton Park, circa 1980. It was approaching the end of a two-day meeting, and there had been various delays during the second of these. As a result, when the Renault 5 field emerged for the final race, the circuit was approaching an 18.30 curfew. There was time for a formation lap, sit on the grid for three minutes, another warm-up lap and then, on returning to the grid, drivers many of whom had taken the previous day off work to practise were flagged off, as there was no time to stage the race…

Motor racing will always be prone to the occasional delay. One can not legislate against drivers doing time-consuming damage to circuit ancillaries, but at least Racing Ahead should ensure that such occupational hazards leave behind a less painful memory for the paying punters.

“Racing Ahead,” stresses Nicol, “is a forum. It is not a package along the lines of TOCA or BBM. We are simply seeking to promote change for the better. BBM fully backs our ideas, and will dovetail its racing activities with what we are trying to achieve.” The five manufacturers within the BBM package (Rover, VW, TVR, Caterham and Porsche) have already pledged total support. True, there was initial apprehension from the Formula Three Association, FoTA. F3 drivers, after all, need Practice time to learn about car adjustments, how to pace themselves to get the best out of new tyres and so on. In F3’s case, therefore, the aspiring young professionals will still be allocated sufficient track time to assist the learning process, although qualifying sessions will be sliced from 30 minutes to 20. “We want to offer better value for competitors,” says Nicol, “let them have the same track time but give them more racing. It’s better for them, and better for spectators.”

“The profile of our sport below F1 is struggling.” admits Nicola Foulston. “Racing Ahead is all about working together to promote it, and to address its future. We’ll be lucky to see any change this year. It’ll be a gradual process. We want to build it up so that the word spreads that ‘This is a good place to be’. At Brands Hatch, for instance, we want to promote other activities while the racing is going on. The price of admission will include the cost of a couple of laps alongside an instructor at our rally school, perhaps, or maybe an opportunity to sample our off-road driving school. We’ve got to create a more entertaining day out.

“Motor racing has not kept pace with the rest of the leisure industry. While it might have been thrilling 50 years ago, some of what you see now is tame compared to the virtual reality experiences you can have at Disneyland, or wherever.

“Motor racing is always going to cost more than it does to kick a football around a park, or hit a golf ball around a course, and its profile doesn’t fit current environmental trends. These are all issues we are going to have to address. But it’s going to take time before we see the results, maybe four or five seasons.”

“If the measures prove popular,” says Nicol, “then they will be carried over beyond 1995. I’m sure we’ll make a few mistakes, but we’ve got to try these things. It’ll be an educational process for all of us. We won’t know until we try them.”

And not, some would point out, before time. Something along the lines of Racing Ahead may have been a long while coming, but the initial gestation period has been short enough to suggest that the often procrastinatory ways of motorsport are about to be kicked into touch. On paper, Racing Ahead’s proposals are sensible rather than revolutionary, but they are none the less welcome for that.

PS: As a further indication of how the sport is trying to adapt to increase customer appeal, Ladbrokes used the launch of Racing Ahead to announce that it will provide a full on-site bookmaking service at all BTCC rounds and selected other racing events in 1995. The betting facilities don’t affect Racing Ahead meetings as yet, but the concept is likely to be expanded in 1996…