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Why an encouraging national racing trend could be misleading

How can it already be May? Time seems to be flying by at the moment and almost two months of the national motorsport season have been completed. And it’s great to be able to say that after two years of coronavirus-induced delays (at this point in 2020, the season commencing was still months away, while last year it was in its infancy). With the overwhelming majority of club categories having held at least one event, it makes now a good moment to reflect on the early trends seen so far in 2022.

While the pandemic may not be having such an impact on motorsport at the present time (although cases remain high in the UK), there have been other challenges for organisers to negotiate. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the continuing uncertainty in Eastern Europe have done nothing to help what was already a dramatically worsening cost of living crisis. Therefore, given the difficult economic climate, you would perhaps expect entries to be down a little from 2021’s generally high levels, as people up and down the country rein in non-essential spending. But the opposite seems true from the early data.

A very impressive 65% of English categories with comparable figures have enjoyed a grid size so far this year either the same or higher than the series’ 2021 average. In other words, just 40 have shrunk in the early rounds compared to last year. Considering the aforementioned uncertainty, that is an encouraging statistic.

However, it’s important that we do not read too much into it. The venues for the early season 2022 rounds has a huge bearing on these figures – with some series benefiting from a popular circuit to kickstart their campaign, while others have begun at traditionally less well-subscribed tracks. A good example of this is the Historic Sports Car Club. Its two fixtures this year to date have been held on the Brands Hatch Indy and Snetterton 300 circuits, which do not usually attract its largest grids, and it is therefore unsurprising that a chunk of its classes are among the 40 showing a decrease.

But, even with those caveats, there are some impressive success stories. Leading the way in terms of grid size for an individual race are the British Racing and Sports Car Club’s C1 Race Series on 57 cars for its April Snetterton opener and the 750 Motor Club’s Club Enduro contest, which secured 56 at Donington Park on Easter Monday – once again demonstrating the popularity of low-cost endurance races.

Perhaps just as impressive is the 25 cars on the grid for the first Porsche Carrera Cup GB event last month. Considering the new Type 992 911 GT3 Cup machine introduced this year is far from cheap (it went on sale at £163,500+VAT), numbers have still increased by 20% compared to 2021’s average, demonstrating what rude health the championship is in – especially when looking at the quality among that sizeable entry.

Caterham Seven 310R grids have improved massively this season

Caterham Seven 310R grids have improved massively this season

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

Elsewhere, one of the most notable improvers has to be the Caterham Seven 310R category. Last year, this averaged a modest 17 cars and was often sharing with another of the Caterham divisions but, for its 2022 Brands Hatch curtain-raiser, entries had surged to a total of 39, split over two grids of its own.

It is important to note that it’s not looking quite as rosy everywhere. For instance, just four cars took part in the GT race at Castle Combe on Monday (although, thankfully, the lead pair was separated by less than a second at the flag!). While this series was undoubtedly hampered by the unfortunate impact of a late Easter, meaning just two weeks separated the traditional Easter Monday opener and the Mayday second round, it is a reminder of how some are struggling to fill grids.

It would also be unwise to suggest that national motorsport will somehow escape unscathed from the cutbacks being made elsewhere, even if the picture looks encouraging at the moment. Instead, many organisers believe the cost of living crisis will really start to bite in 2023

Similarly, the Amon Cup contest for Ford GT40s slated for last weekend’s Donington Historic Festival had to be scrapped amid a lack of interest, blamed in part on clashing European events.

It would also be unwise to suggest that national motorsport will somehow escape unscathed from the cutbacks being made elsewhere, even if the picture looks encouraging at the moment. Instead, many organisers believe the cost of living crisis will really start to bite in 2023. And there are some logical reasons why that might be the case.

While gas and electricity prices have jumped by eyewatering levels, those increases only took effect on bills from April, when the arrival of spring naturally reduces the impact as energy consumption goes down. Also, some households are still benefiting from the lingering effects of the pandemic. Traditional spending habits went out the window during lockdowns and the subsequent uncertainty, with eating out and holidaying abroad off the agenda. This means some households still have some money to spend, despite the general squeeze – but this scenario will continually become less significant.

With a further sizeable increase in energy bills expected in October, along with the full effect of the existing rises being felt, the concern over next year is understandable. In the meantime, it is therefore vital that organisers make the most of the strong entries currently being seen and continue to develop ways of enabling competitors to race at the lowest achievable cost. That way they can be as prepared as possible for the worrying storm clouds seemingly lurking on the horizon.

Castle Combe's GT race attracted a poor grid, even if the racing was entertaining

Castle Combe’s GT race attracted a poor grid, even if the racing was entertaining

Photo by: Ollie Read

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