FISA abandons the Sportscar Championship

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Two lines in the FISA Bulletin published on October 7 sufficed to terminate a World Championship: “Due to the extremely small number of manufacturers interested in entering, the 1993 Sports Car World Championship has been cancelled.”

Thank you, ma’am… next? A series with a bumpy 40-year history has been despatched with the minimum of ceremony, while FISA president Max Mosley re-elected unopposed for the next four years speaks of generating an ad hoc series of events in 1993 for Grand Touring cars. “No, I can’t give you a calendar just yet,” he says. “It may not be ready until December.”

The first two rounds will be at Daytona and Sebring, thanks to an accommodation by the IMSA organisation, but the main body of the series should be in Europe.

Mosley speaks of regenerating the classic events and brings to mind the Nurburgring, Monza, Spa and Silverstone. And Le Mans too, but for the current dispute due to be heard in a Paris court on October 28, involving a claim by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest for damages amounting to six million francs.

Top ACO officials are not merely sore, they’re angry at being tied to the mast of the sinking ship. This year’s 24-hour race was at the low-tide mark with just 24 Group C entries and a crowd so thin that it didn’t need an official count to pass judgement. FISA bound the ACO hand and foot, and the club was determined not to be in such a situation again.

Withdrawing from the Sportscar World Championship was a symbolic act. It didn’t cause the death of the series and is now of no consequence. At the time, though, Mr Mosley believed that he’d been stabbed in the back. just after he had been to Le Mans, expounded elegantly at the annual press conference, and departed again in a flurry of handshakes and warm smiles.

Clever man that he is, it’s a surprise that he never noticed the dagger up Monsieur Cosson’s sleeve, revealed momentarily when he declared: “We can never let this situation happen again.”

Trust has broken down on both sides, and the ACO’s lawsuit is no trifling matter. It will be followed, a week later, by another lodged by Elf and Renault against FISA’s mid-season decision to ban exotic fuels in Grand Prix racing.

An interesting, and well-founded rumour doing the rounds in Paris is that Jean-Marie Balestre withdrew his candidature for the presidency of FISA in order to maintain his authority as president of the FIA. Should either of these judgements go against the sporting authority, M Balestre might simply wind FISA up and establish a new sporting body over which he would preside personally!

Enough has been said about the decline of the Sportscar World Championship. It was, as Motor Sport has maintained since January 1989, a ghastly mistake to impose the 3.5-litre formula, and the last three years have been like watching a man decay with cancer, a condition that accelerated in the last 12 months.

The ending of the SWC is no surprise, and is hardly even a matter for sadness except to the hundreds of people actually employed by the teams and their suppliers.

The future is in Grand Touring racing, as we have said all along, but we would have wished for a smoother transition. On the subject of the new series, which will not be a championship in 1993, Mosley has the fervency of a Jehovah’s Witness: yet he lacks the two things that any prospective team owner would demand: a firm calendar, and a guaranteed trip to Le Mans.

All may not be lost, however. At the Paris Motor Show in the two days prior to the the FISA announcement, some ACO officials seemed to be almost conciliatory. “Certainly we could make a class for the FIA GT cars,” said one luminary, “but they would have to make the request, and we have not heard from FISA.”

The big stick treatment meted out by FISA in the past four seasons wouldn’t work again. The use of force has sometimes been crude and ill-mannered, a denial of the basic tenets of sport.

Le Mans was dragged down by controversy in 1989 (outside the World Championship), in 1990 (when the chicanes were imposed), in 1991 (when it returned to the World Championship with the Nissans excluded) and in 1992 when FISA retained absolute control over the paltry entry.

It should not surprise Mr Mosley that the ACO simply won’t put up with this treatment any longer. They have the famous race, they call the shots, and there isn’t even a World Championship any longer for FISA to invoke.

It would behove Mosley to approach the ACO once again and ask for the FIA series for GT cars to be added to the Le Mans regulations, as a complete category. The ACO would agree, I believe, and this single act would persuade a number of other race organisers and circuit owners in Europe to commit themselves to the FIA series.

Who knows, a rapprochement might even persuade the ACO to abandon their awkward lawsuit. That might present a significant advantage to Mr Mosley in the coming months.

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