A different league

28th July 2009

Fusing sports together to increase their fan base is always a complex task. The objective of creating an insight into a different sport can seem innocent enough, but can it work? The Superleague Formula is the most recent example of this, aiming to fuse the passion of football in the arena of motor sport. Now Superleague is in its second year and comes to Donington Park for round three of the 2009 season on August 1/2.

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In 2001 the idea of bringing these two sports together led to the creation of Premier 1, a division of motor racing set to begin the following year. All the cars would bear the colours of various football clubs and the aim was to have drivers and equipment of the calibre of Formula 1. The series collapsed by 2003 before a single race had even been staged, but the idea was reborn in 2005, rebranded as the Superleague Formula.

The cars in Superleague are supplied by EMT (Elán Motorsport Technologies), an American constructor born out of the Panoz empire. By running a spec car, Superleague ensures that not only do the drivers have a “level playing pitch” (their words, not mine) but also that the football teams represented are equal in their quest to becoming champions. The single-seaters have a 4.2-litre V12 engine generating around 750bhp, producing a lap averaging around 12 seconds slower than a standard F1 car.

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Yet as Superleague operations director Robin Webb agreed, the series has a different purpose compared to others of the same standard. The Superleague Formula is designed to provide a family weekend out, the highlights including access to the paddock and meeting drivers.

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Significantly, Superleague is primarily for football fans, not motor sport purists. For example, the commentators teach the prospective fans about the sport as they explain what is happening. They don’t just announce that the yellow flag is being waved, they explain what the yellow flag means. For motor sport fans the main interest comes when ex-F1 drivers Giorgio Pantano, Antonio Pizzonia and Enrique Bernoldi are seen lining up on the grid.

The question of whether the concept has a future hangs in the balance. A1GP has partially succeeded in making the country each car represents the main focus, rather than the driver, but only time will tell if football fans will embrace their clubs’ cars in Superleague.

As usual, the drivers are mainly interested in winning. Craig Dolby, who won last time out at Zolder for Tottenham Hotspur, admitted he wasn’t a fan of the team but “will be this year, but maybe not next year depending on who I’m driving for”. Then again, Premier League footballers are hardly renowned for loyalty to their clubs…

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Adrian Valles

It’s an intriguing concept. If you’re curious to find out whether it works for you, head to Donington this weekend and let us know what you think.

By Claire Lorenc

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