Venues are coming under more and more pressure the longer this racing blackout continues. The lean months of the winter are offset by the busy summer period, yet so far tracks are being starved of income during what would usually be a boom period.
Take a venue like Thruxton. It can only hold 12 days of racing per year and can only run test days in school holiday periods (which, incidentally, is why the TOCA test is never on the same week as the actual race meeting). To remain financially viable, Thruxton needs spectators, so it needs the events that draw crowds – like the BTCC, BSB, Trucks and so on.
The BARC operates Thruxton, Pembrey, Croft and the Gurston Down and Harewood hillclimb courses. Watson says: “The financial impact for the venues has been fairly catastrophic already. If you’re somewhere like Thruxton, with limited days of racing activity anyway, and you’ve lost half of that already, there’s a lot of pressure to be able to reschedule those missing events. You have to recoup the most of your losses, so you go for the big events that draw in spectators.
“One side is that the BARC venues do have flexibility to get events in, whereas something like a Donington Park or Brands Hatch [which host a huge number of events each year, often staging racing of some form almost every weekend] may not.”
A new look for races?
That opens the door to some interesting possibilities of seeing series visit unusual places, purely to get additional rounds in. Suddenly, a track like Thruxton with three permitted dates available could be a tempting option for some top series, which wouldn’t usually head there.
Could we see a return of the double BTCC round of last year, or even a first visit of British GT since 2010? How about touring cars back to Pembrey for the first time since 1993? Perhaps even big-hitters like the BTCC and British GT sharing the same bill if rescheduled track time did become very difficult to secure – admittedly paddock space and commercial rights would be very tricky barriers to hurdle, but again it’s one of the (admittedly very) extreme possibilities that could arise. Anything is technically possible in the current climate.
BTCC night race in 2000: light restrictions limit winter racing
And what of the possibility of extending the racing season, purely to fit in additional fixtures? Currently, there is no legal or permit-related restriction of when clubs can hold races during 2020. Most events are run to British Summer Time, for obvious reasons, meaning the vast majority of championships are settled by mid-October, but this year we could see racing much later, and even into December. Admittedly, once the clocks go back, organisers would be fighting against tight daylight hours, so meetings would have to feature stripped-back content.
Racing behind closed doors
Of course, all of this could also be negated by any exit strategy restrictions that may be placed on public events after the worst has passed. Should the government lift the outright ban on events, but still enforce a maximum head count of, say 2000 people, that would still make larger race meetings unviable.
Racing behind closed doors is unlikely to be viable for national races
While some F1 grands prix may have the luxury of government funding, allowing them to negate the loss of paying spectators, that plan would surely be ruinous for the British GP, one of the few races to operate entirely without government funding. British racing wouldn’t be immune. BTCC supremo Alan Gow told Motor Sport that his events demand a huge workforce to run efficiently, saying: “Could the BTCC have raced behind closed doors? No. We require hundreds of people to make our championship run. At Donington, for example, we have 280 marshals alone, so by the time we added up all the people, even on a minimum basis without compromising safety, we were over 1000 people. So behind closed doors was a non-starter.”
And an attendance limit would be terrible news for venues, which would be relying on those crowd-drawing events for financial flotation.
For now, clubs and venues are in damage limitation mode. Both the BARC and MotorSport Vision Racing have been forced to place large sections of workforce on the government’s furlough scheme to stem losses until activities can resume. MSV declined to comment when contacted about the situation at its venues – Brands Hatch, Donington Park, Oulton Park, Snetterton and Cadwell Park – and its efforts with the demands of rescheduling,
Racing clubs tick over
At the BARC, senior staff are mucking in with routine maintenance in an effort to keep the club’s venues ready for action.
“All of our main staff have been furloughed, the senior managers are working from home and the managerial staff at Thruxton, Pembrey and Croft are going in to do the maintenance work that’s required to keep the circuits operational for when we can run events again,” says Watson. “It’s the silly little things, like when you arrive at Thruxton we’ve got two great big grass car parks. Well if we leave that grass to grow for three months unattended, then we won’t get anybody in them when we do re-open!”
Clubs are being helped by MSUK. British championships have been subject to a rule that any calendar change would require a majority vote (of around 80 per cent) of competitors to agree before official changes can be made. That has been waived to allow clubs and organisers maximum flexibility when rescheduling. MSUK has also announced a £1m support fund in an effort to ensure there that as many of its current 720 affiliated motor clubs as possible are still around when this is all over.
This is a time shrouded in uncertainty, but one thing is for certain. The sport will return, just as it did after two world wars, but this time the parties should extend far beyond just Goodwood.