The Motor Sport Month - International News

Blancpain set for Brands

International sports cars return to familiar terrain, By Gary Watkins

Top-line international sports car racing will return to Brands Hatch for the first time in almost 20 years, with a round of the renamed Blancpain Sprint Series in 2014.

The series started life as the FIA GT1 World Championship and was last season called the FIA GT Series. It will appear on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit on May 17-18, the weekend previously occupied by the Kentish venue’s DTM fixture. The race marks a return of major sports car racing to a circuit with a rich history in the discipline, covering 19 world sports car championship fixtures between 1967 and ’89 and its last such major event, the BPR-run Global Endurance GT Series race in 1996.

Championship promoter Stéphane Ratel explained that he had phoned Jonathan Palmer, boss of Motor Sport Vision, as soon as he saw that Brands was missing from the DTM calendar.

“I jumped on it as soon as I saw that the DTM would not be going to Brands in May and luckily I was able to convince Jonathan to come with us,” he said. “When Jonathan does something, he does it well. This is another step in the right direction for us.”

Palmer believes Ratel’s Sprint championship will flourish after taking the same name as the successful Blancpain Endurance Series.

“We know the BES is very successful and taking that brand over to the Sprint Series can only help it grow,” he said. “It is a great series with fabulous cars, so I am sure it will be a great substitute for the DTM.”

The extension of a sponsorship deal with Swiss watchmaker Blancpain means Ratel has been able to push through his plan to link the two series. Blancpain GT Series titles will be awarded on the basis of points scored across the seven-round Sprint Series and the five-event Endurance Series.

“This is more about having one integrated programme that we can promote together,” Ratel said.

“Blancpain has built a name in the world of GT racing and become a kind of reference. Now we are receiving money from a sponsor rather than paying the FIA [a sanction fee], which means we can help our teams financially.”

Teams commit to Formula E

The French DAMS team, DTM regular Abt (in conjunction with Audi Sport) and Super Aguri from Japan are the latest teams to sign up for next winter’s inaugural FIA Formula E Championship for electric vehicles.

DAMS, winner of a total of six Formula 3000, GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 titles, has linked up with
four-time world champion Alain Prost to create a new team for the series of city events, which is due to kick off nextSeptember. The new squad will race under the e.dams banner.

DAMS boss Jean-Paul Driot said: “Getting involved with Formula E was an obvious choice. Being a race enthusiast, I was immediately convinced
by this new concept of using fully electric single-seater cars and believe it will shape the future of motor sport.”

Prost said he was “very happy to be a part of the Formula E adventure”.

Abt will enter as the Audi Sport Abt Formula E team. Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ullrich said: “We’ve been watching this new project with great
interest and are delighted that Abt Sportsline will be involved right from the beginning.”

The latest additions leave only three team slots vacant for the 2014/15 series.

Cut-price Silverstone

Silverstone circuit is being sold for little more than £10m, according to recently-filed documents.

It follows the sale in September of a 999-year lease on 280 acres of land surrounding the circuit. The buyer was property group MEPC and it paid £32m.

Terms to sell a lease on Silverstone itself were agreed on August 8 and it is understood that its current management, including chairman Neil England, have
been retained to run the circuit. As the deal was done before the BRDC’s 2012 financial statements had been filed, it needed to show the value of the circuit
based on the sale price.

The accounts have now been released and reveal that at December 31 2012 the track, plant and machinery had a value of £10.8m. Reflecting this, a BRDC member said that the club is getting “£10m for the lease and a rental of £2m per year.”

The reason for the low price was explained in a letter sent to BRDC members by outgoing chairman Stuart Rolt, on September 24. He wrote: “The value of an asset that has a locked purpose as a business (in Silverstone’s case to be operated primarily as a motor racing circuit) is largely calculated from the profit that can be derived from it.” Last year Silverstone made a net loss of £3.3m and Rolt’s letter said: “Our circuit assets value reflects this.”

The sale price stands in stark contrast to the construction cost of purpose-built F1 circuits that typically come to about £200m. It is also low compared to the price paid for other tracks. They include the Nürburgring, which according to media reports is being bought by Germany’s national motoring club ADAC for £85m (€100m).

Gordon Kirby

Dixon on the cusp of greatness

Scott Dixon’s road to his third IndyCar title was a classic come-from-behind battle. Dixon and Chip Ganassi’s team struggled through the opening races of the season and seemed to be out of contention after the Indy 500, where Dixon finished a distant 14th and team-mate Dario Franchitti crashed on the last lap. At that stage Dixon and Franchitti were eighth and 17th in the standings and the team’s chances of winning a fifth championship in six years looked remote.

But Dixon, Franchitti and Charlie Kimball stunned everyone by scoring a superb one-two-three at Pocono on the first weekend in July. Dixon went on to win both races in Toronto the following week, won again in Houston in October and stole the championship from the grasp of Helio Castroneves and Team Penske. “It’s pretty unbelievable,” Dixon said. “I think Honda stepped up in the middle of the year. The power was better and fuel mileage improved.”

The team’s big breakthrough came at a Sebring test in June, where they worked on their shock absorbers to promote more mechanical grip.

Franchitti and Kimball were a big help in winning the championship, because they took many points from Castroneves over the course of the season. “Absolutely,” Dixon said. “A lot of what I achieved this year was done by Dario and Charlie.”

Dixon was very unhappy with his pit penalty at Sonoma in July and a crash with Will Power at Baltimore the following weekend. He believes IndyCar must revise its method of officiating races. “I think NASCAR and F1 do a good job in those situations,” he said. “When they’re in an uncertain area and aren’t really sure, they wait until after the race to decide penalties. That stops rash decisions and enables you to listen to both sides of the story and analyse.

“In F1 they listen to three people before they make any public decision, rather than just one. I think that takes out any biases and I think that’s where we need to be. Hopefully, IndyCar will go in that direction.”

Dixon thinks president of competition Derrick Walker will prove to be a positive influence. “I respect Derrick and what he’s done in his career and know he’ll make the right decisions, once everything is laid out. I think he’s the right man for the job.”

Dixon is disappointed to leave Honda behind, but confident that Ganassi made the right decision in switching to Chevrolet for 2014. “We were highly integrated with Honda on a lot of projects and car developments, not just the engine.” he said. “There were also friendships we developed with a lot of people at Honda, which I’m sure will continue because we’re all part of the same travelling circus.

“I haven’t driven a Chevy so it’s difficult to comment right now. I expect to do that for the first time in early December, but you look at the track record and they’ve done well. They won this year’s two 500s and the 2012 titles for drivers and manufacturers, plus this year’s championship for manufacturers. They look strong and reliable. We’ll just have to see how it goes. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have to make this kind of decision.”

Dixon has accumulated 33 wins over 13 years racing Indycars and is seventh on the list of all-time winners, behind AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Al Unser Jr.

Dixon showed his tenacity in spades throughout 2013. He’s a very deserving champion and, with many years of racing ahead of him, is sure to go down in history as one of IndyCar’s greatest drivers.

...and Wall of Fame

Silverstone has launched a a partnership with Motor Sport to include the legends of the magazine’s Hall of Fame within the circuit’s new Wall of Fame initiative.

The wall is to be built on the site of the circuit’s disused Bridge Corner and is designed to become a major attraction for visitors. Fans can purchase stones featuring personalised dedications within the wall, which will include commemorative bricks dedicated to the elite group of Hall of Fame legends such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Stirling Moss, Ayrton Senna and Niki Lauda.

Stewart launched the partnership when he was presented with his commemorative stone. “It is fitting that Silverstone and Motor Sport are collaborating to form a lasting tribute to motor sport of all disciplines,” he said.

Stones for the Wall of Fame are already on sale. Discounts are available to Motor Sport readers (quote code MSM10). To find out more, go to www.silverstonewalloffame.com

Renault returns to F3

Renault is returning to Formula 3 with a new organisation that masterminded its victory in the 1979 European F3 Championship with Alain Prost.

ORECA Motorsport, which as French constructor Martini’s factory team ran Prost to the ’79 title, is developing a two-litre direct-injection powerplant for the new F3 engine formula introduced to Europe in 2014.

The ultra-successful French Signature team will return to F3 after a two-year absence to run the engine.

ORECA boss Hugues de Chaunac said: “ORECA had a fine record in F3 and our return to the discipline, which is reclaiming its historical place [on the sport’s nursery slopes], will be a great moment.”