CEO’s August Message – Hugh Chambers
This month I have had plenty of opportunities to give greater consideration to grassroots motorsport – and the diversity of the offering available to enjoy four wheeled thrills. Amongst my various responsibilities, I am a member of the FIA ASN Task Force. (By the way, for those unfamiliar with it, the term ASN stands for Association Sportive Nationale, or the country governing bodies of which there are 243 around the world; and which form the members of the FIA.)
This Task Force was set up by the Deputy President for Sport of the FIA, our UK representative on the World Motor Sport Council, Graham Stoker. It was created a few years ago with the mission to help ASNs to develop grassroots motorsport and encourage more people to take up the sport. It is times like this, listening to the state of development for most countries around the world, that make one appreciate just how advanced and established motorsport is in the UK. Many countries have less than 20 clubs and only a few hundred competitors. They lack the critical mass to be present across all of the disciplines, and certainly cannot boast the same engineering industry to provide any significant economic weight.
By contrast, our 720 clubs and 45,000 competitors put us in the top three in the world. And yet despite these vast disparities we share many of the same problems when it comes to grassroots motorsport. The fact is that there has been too little regard for the majority of our competitors, most of whom will compete 4-5 times (in a normal year) and spend a few thousand pounds on their hobby.
Although that seems like a pittance to the professional community, it has to be viewed in the context of regular people, with average means, and compared to most other sports that may only cost a few hundred pounds each year. Much has been made of trying to contain costs, and we will continue to pursue this goal, but with most categories the economics are difficult to erode (transportation, circuit fees, tyres, fuel).
But also, there is the sheer hassle of looking after a competition car, storing it and fettling it after every outing. Naturally for many, that last element is one of the main reasons why they love motorsport. But it is a clear barrier for a new generation of young city dwellers. At Shelsey Walsh last weekend I was treated to a wonderful time wandering around what must be one of the most picturesque paddocks anywhere, chatting to a wide variety of competitors.
Of course, there are the bespoke specials (the fastest run in the morning was achieved by a highly technical single seater weighing some 420 kgs and boasting an ex-Indy Car Cosworth engine running on methanol and producing 700+ bhp, but I digress), but the majority were running simple low cost machinery. There is a class for cars that must be driven to the venue and have very little scope for modification.
And to cap it all, it is welcome practice for drivers to share their cars, even at the highest echelon. This is a practice used in autosolos to great effect, with parents and children sharing the experience, and friends splitting the prep and the costs. I think that there is a real opportunity to further expand the whole range of options for competing in the car that you drive to the venue.
Caterhams have been the vehicle of choice in this arena, but Suzuki Swifts are popular around the cones, and there was what looked like a very standard MG F heading up the hill on Sunday. The point is that you really don’t need to have a huge amount of technology, logistical complexity or cost to have fun in a car. Motorsport UK is currently advancing specific new ideas in this area that will allow more people to access the sport, with less cost and less time commitment. But still lots of fun.
At the other end of the spectrum, in the field of Rallycross, I am delighted to welcome Pat Doran and his team as the promoter of the revitalised Motorsport UK British Rallycross Championship 5 Nations Trophy Presented by Cooper Tires (to use its full title). Rallycross is a sector that previously enjoyed a high profile and has significant potential for the future. After all, it originated from a madefor-TV format, and grew to prominence after the cancellation of the RAC Rally in 1967, and through that drew a field of the top rally stars at Lydden Hill.
I take a personal pride in that particular event, as I fondly recall the late Andrew Cowan, driving one of my father’s works Hillman Imps at Lydden, so to be there for the launch last week was special. And just as it was recognised in 1967 that we need exposure with wider audiences, so Pat has led the way in repackaging the championship, with backing from Cooper Tires, as the 5 Nations Trophy. It is this type of smart thinking that is needed to draw together the core strengths of the sport and seek to present them in a fresh light.
Thanks to the added draw of Sir Chris Hoy and TT star John McGuinness, this is a championship and a sector of the sport that is really going places. So, while we all continue to endure a difficult time under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic, the sport we love is thriving and innovating in exactly the way that our community does tend to adapt and excel. I hope that you and your families are well, keeping safe, and continuing to enjoy our sport together.
Hugh Chambers CEO, Motorsport UK