July 13, 2024
The early signs of optimism for national racing amid cost of living pinch

Where has the time gone?! It’s already over a month since the 2023 club circuit-racing campaign began when the Classic Sports Car Club shook off the winter blues with its successful season-opening event at Silverstone at the end of February.

Since then, a further six events have taken place in England and, although the season is truly beginning in earnest during this Easter Bank Holiday weekend, those initial fixtures still provide an intriguing snapshot into the overall health of national motorsport.

Now, yes, it’s a very small sample size. And, yes, opening event figures are not always truly representative, particularly when the venue in question is an ever-increasing factor in any given grid’s popularity. But there are still some very encouraging early signs. Out of the 38 English categories that have begun, and where there is equivalent data from 2022, 21 of them (55%) have featured increases over last season’s average.

Pick of the bunch has to be the stunning British Racing & Sports Car Club opener at Silverstone, where the smallest grid was ‘only’ 29 cars and four non-combined categories – C1 Endurance (61), Clubsport Trophy (59), Mazda MX-5 Supercup (49) and Modified Fords (47) – all impressively topped 45 cars.

The Classic Sports Car Club has also enjoyed two Tin Tops rounds where entries were nudging 40, while its Snetterton Swinging Sixties Group 1 contest also attracted 39. Others to impress include 32 cars for the Oulton Park Caterham Roadsport races and 57 entries across the shared Mini Miglia and Se7en grid at their first round at Silverstone.

Despite the tricky economic climate and stubbornly high inflation, there is clearly still an appetite to go racing even when finances are squeezed.

“Most people say, ‘I can’t spend so much money, but the last thing I would stop is the racing,’” notes John Pearson of Equipe Classic Racing, which began its season at Brands Hatch earlier this month with Equipe GTS leading the way on 32 drivers.

Equipe GTS grids at Brands Hatch surpassed expectations

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

That trend of racers protecting their motorsport budget as much as possible was seen last year when some categories were able to thrive despite the overall fall in UK living standards, and is seemingly continuing this season as well. It also ties in with the argument that many competitors are still racing while they can, either amid advancing years or concern about the future of the sport as pressure to better protect the planet grows every week.

But, returning to those stats listed earlier, it does still mean that 17 categories were down on their 2022 average at their opening events this year. Many of these were by tiny margins – in fact, over a third were smaller by just one or two cars – but this all adds up when clubs require every entry they can lay their hands on.

Yet it’s worth bearing in mind that early season meetings do not always give an accurate picture. On the one hand, enthusiasm to get going can boost numbers, while others are put off by the cold and unpredictable weather.

“The first race of the year you’ve always got the same thing – people saying, ‘I thought my car would be ready and it isn’t,’” Pearson adds.

“These are real people with real lives and may be affected by what’s going on around them” Ben Taylor

Perhaps more worrying is that some of the new categories launched for this year have not got off to overflowing starts. Take the Bell Sport Challenge Series that began at Donington Park and had 11 paddleshift Ferraris, ranging from 360s to newer 488s, on its inaugural grid. Organisers are optimistic of more joining the fray as the season progresses and the initial batch of drivers were positive about its prospects.

But the smallest grid so far this year goes to the Britcar Prototype Cup, which is supposed to pit Praga R1s against a range of other prototypes, but attracted a feeble six cars for its first Silverstone round last month.

“I think it’s a great concept and it’s great the Britcar family have put their weight behind it,” says British Automobile Racing Club group chief executive Ben Taylor. “I know they’re expecting more people to come out in due course, whose cars may not be ready at the moment.”

Praga grid at Silverstone was a disappointing six cars

Praga grid at Silverstone was a disappointing six cars

Photo by: Steve Jones

And, while Taylor has been encouraged by the interest in some of the club’s other categories – including busy grids for the first event since the manufacturer-backed Caterham series joined the BARC portfolio – he is not getting carried away, arguing that the true impact on the clubman racer without endless resources is still yet to be determined.

“These are real people with real lives and may be affected by what’s going on around them,” he says.

In the meantime, there are more packed grids in action with each coming weekend. British GT has reached its capacity – no mean feat at a time of economic uncertainty – and the always-popular 750 Motor Club gets its campaign under way at Donington today too. Almost 40 cars are expected in Hot Hatch and Locost, while the highest-ever entry for the Campaign Against Living Miserably Porsche contest is also possible.

Insight: Can Marciello translate European success to British GT?

Before we know it, dozens more events should be in the books and we will have a better idea of exactly how things are shaping up. For now, let’s savour and celebrate some of these large grids that are still being assembled.

British GT has a full grid and gets under way with its first races today

British GT has a full grid and gets under way with its first races today

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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