2016 Britcar Dunlop Endurance Championship – Silverstone GP.
Dunlop Prototypes are next weekend with Production joining at Snetterton.
With more set for Snetterton.
Client: TCF Sportscars
Location: Silverstone GP, Towcester.
Winner: Tockwith Motorsport Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
The birth of a championship is a tricky thing to get right, just look at the Endurance Racing Series which arrived with fanfare in 2015 only to have the plug pulled after its maiden season. The rebirth of a championship is even harder to achieve, where new owners have to overcome bad management and entrenched opinion and bring fresh blood to a failing series.
Claire Hedley and her team at Hedley Cowell Events Ltd did just that when they took on the failing Britcar Championships from James Tucker’s Britcar Ltd. They gave the championships a new image, added a prototypes category and worked hard to interest the teams that appeared to have given up on the old Britcar.
The new Dunlop Endurance Championship met for its first round on the Easter weekend with the Dunlop Prototype Championship heading to Silverstone a week after the GT cars to support the Hankook 24H Silverstone. The Dunlop Production Championship won’t meet until Snetterton because several entries are also in the 24 Hours and a close encounter of the tyre wall kind would have hampered their chances in the big race.
All the talk in the run up to the championship has been about progress and excitement about the new championship but I have to say when I arrived it looked more like new name, same disappointment. The logistics at the circuit were very poor indeed. Britcar blame Silverstone for this little list of events:
- Media parking was between Copse and Maggots, the National media centre is at Woodcote corner.
- Traffic marshal on the infield roundabout by the medical centre was rude, condescending and very unhelpful.
- The parking marshals didn’t know anything, I’m sure if I asked their names they would have struggled.
- Despite atrocious weather forecasts, (which eventually came true) we had to carry all our gear, cameras, laptops etc, all the way through the paddock.
- There was no information at all that the media centre, while unlocked, was not in use.
- Sign on in race control finally told me that there were no facilities at all for media. So guess what, all that sensitive electronic equipment got lumped back through the paddock to the car in high winds and light rain.
- All Britcar could say was sorry, we’ll complain.
- Despite the meeting being a two day event, there were no programmes available at 10:00 on the Saturday.
For those of you who don’t know, your average race meeting will have at least three entities involved. The championship organisers, in this case Hedley Cowell Events Ltd trading as Britcar are the ones who write the rules, get the cars entered, co-ordinate with fuel and tyre suppliers and set the calendar. The organising club are the ones who arrange the venue, the marshals, the medical cover and things like that. In this case the British Automobile Racing Club or BARC were the organising club. The circuit are the people who own the tarmac, for Silverstone that is the British Racing Drivers Club or BRDC and Silverstone Circuits Ltd. They are responsible for opening the gates, toilets and cafe and keeping the electricity working, thats about it.
For the first round of the new and improved Britcar, Silverstone opened the bare minimum they could get away with. BARC meanwhile appear to have asked for the minimum of things they had to pay for. So no media centre, very few open grandstands, little in the way of circuit staff for information. Even the link road between the National infield and the International infield was closed, despite running on the grand prix circuit.
When you are running on the National or International layouts the link road has to be closed because the race track cuts across it.
As I have said, Britcar’s position on this was that there was little they could do, Silverstone and BARC were the ones who arranged the facilities, they would make a complaint. Also, to be fair, once Steve Wood, the Britcar media man of old who returned from the lands of the ERS as a prodigal to handle media for the Dunlop Prototype Championship, arrived things took a turn for the better. He basically told BARC that media would be using an empty office in race control, set up shop and dared them to argue from what I understand.
This is a regular occurrence with Britcar at Silverstone. Every year the first round of the championship sees the media huddled in a corner or a corridor with nowhere to store expensive equipment, no access to real information and little in the way of refreshment. The 24 Hours is always something different where James Tucker used to do his level best to suck up to the media, a nice press room, free coffee and sweets to fuel the 36+ hour slog from Saturday morning to chequered flag, bacon rolls in the morning.
Claire Hedley, as James Tucker’s second in command and overworked, under appreciated General Manager, would have been familiar with these regular problems and should have anticipated them. To make things even worse, our clients TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk received an email from Claire in early March asking if we were covering the championship and lamenting the lack of content on TCF since September. I had at this point already received my accreditation on behalf of TCF.
This strikes me as dangerously similar to old Britcar. Asking favours of the media, ‘encouraging’ media co-operation while doing absolutely nothing to make our job do-able, let alone easier. It’s a syndrome that appears to affect most race series, we as working journalists and photographers are treated as something to be tollerated at the race track, not helped.
So I ask you a question; do you think that teams will get the hundreds of thousands of pounds budget needed to run a top flight GT3 car together, bringing sponsors and Am drivers cheque books together in a finely co-ordinated budget in order to race in a series that has little or no media presence? There was a brand new Lamborghini Hurrican GT3 on track at Silverstone, a car eligable for Britcar, British GT, GT Cup, Blancpain Sprint and Blancpain Endurance, the VLN, Dutch Supercar Challenge and the European Le Mans Series. Why race in the media unfriendly environment of Britcar when you can go to the ELMS and have a flock of photographers all pointing their cameras at your car, proper live TV coverage and the expert commentary of Radio Le Mans?
A good championship relies on great coverage and the series, the organising clubs and the circuits need to realise that the media are a vital link in the chain that supports success. Look after us, just a little. Give us a secure place to work, a cup of coffee and a little information and we will do our best to provide great exposure for your teams, drivers, sponsors and series. Treat us like mushrooms and we will give up and go to a championship that values our contribution.
That being said:
At the risk of undoing my little rant, once Dunlops hit macadam new Britcar showed what it can do. A 26 car entry for the first round, with a further 4 cars confirmed for round 2 is not only a far cry from the paltry grids under Tucker but not far off the UK’s premiere GT series, the British GT Championship. They have 33 full season entries. The diversity was great too; we had Lamborghini, BMW and Ferrari in GT3 along with the old favorite, a Mosler. Ferrari Challenge and Aston GT4 were there too. We had the very rare and frankly stunning Renault RS01, we had a Lotus Europa and Synchro Motorsport’s Honda Civic Type-R. We had the worlds supply of BMW 3 series.
The racing was good too. There were battles up and down the field and while classes 1, 2 and 3 had spread out by the time the heavens opened and the race was red flagged, class 4 was claimed by only 0.31 seconds.
Really the conditions told the overall story though, including being the cause of an accident for the defending champions, Calum Lockie and David Mason. Lockie started the car, given the ruling that henceforth the fastest driver must start the race, but didn’t even make it to Copse before hitting problems. The Audi R8 his Ferrari was battling turned into the corner, Lockie didnt.
The back end stepped out, the pro struggled for control and the brand new, first race ever Ferrari 458 GT3 slammed sideways into the unforgiving concrete. Calum was ok, very annoyed with himself but ok. The car though was in a very sorry state indeed. Lots of body work damage, rear suspension problems, rear wing and diffuser missing in action. It was enough to make a grown man cry; but don’t worry, I didn’t.
The back end stepped out, the pro struggled for control and the brand new, first race ever Ferrari 458 GT3 slammed sideways into the unforgiving concrete.
Which is impressive for a one day meeting where I only shot one series.
Thats a round trip and doesn't include driving around the circuit.
Cups of Coffee
Need. More. Caffine.
All things considered my jury is still out on new Britcar. All the right things are being said and the racing certainly justifies continued coverage but I shudder when I think of covering another round with such below par facilities. Silverstone is widely known for only really caring about the blue riband events, the two Grand Prix, both cars and bikes, the Walter Hayes Trophy, British GT and Blancpain, not forgetting the World Endurance Championship.
But the fact that Silverstone is widely known for this and that BARC are known for an attitude of, ‘its only media’ should have inspired the Britcar team to make efforts on our behalf. It should also have made it imperative for Britcar to ensure good spectator access but that too was lacking from what I saw.
The fact that the team were relaunching a major series which had been so badly managed by Tucker should have prompted a song and dance from Chris Valentine, the series press officer. It didn’t.
The fact that so little has been said in the motorsport press about the rebirth of Britcar should have prompted a barrage of press releases to drum up interest. It didn’t.
The fact that the series opted for Valentine over a detailed 13 page proposal from The Image Team to provide all of this and more, then allowed Valentine to so contemptuously ignore his responsibilities is a kick between the legs. I am trying hard not to judge the dismal display of media interaction. One because Steve Wood jumped in at the last minute to support the team in a championship he isn’t covering at all this year officially. Two because I know that my disappointment in not getting the Britcar media gig may be colouring my judgement. Three because while it is cruel to kick a person while they are down, it’s even crueler to kick them while they are dragging themselves back up again.
I’m stuck though, stuck on the thought that I know that my team and I could have done a drastically better job. We could have had column inches ahead of the race. we could have had content up during the race and we could beat the column inches that will come from the event. We could have kept the media far happier. At the bare minium, we would have ensured that there was a place for media to dry off before the rain started falling.
We would also have not left the circuit until a race report was available on the Britcar website. At the time of writing, some 16 hours after the race was due to finish, there is still no report available.
As I say, this is no criticism of Steve Wood who did a great job under difficult conditions. It is a criticism of Britcar though who put on a great race, did a fantastic job of bringing together and balancing such a disparate group of cars and shrugged off the old impression that Britcar was all about letting FF Corse win. And while achieving all this, they made it nearly impossible for me and my media colleagues to tell anyone about it.
Just like the tree in the woods, if a race happens and no-one reports it, did anyone really win?
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