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Opinion

The revived initiative imported from Japan brings fans closer to motorsport

OPINION: British GT’s Circuit Safari initiative once again proved a hit at Donington Park last weekend. While it may not become a tradition just yet, the championship should be lauded for providing spectators with a unique view

Jack Brown / Charles Clarke - Optimum Motorsport McLaren Artura GT4

“And, if you look to your right, you’ll see a GT3 car in its natural environment”. OK, so no one actually said that to this writer’s knowledge, but it certainly wouldn’t have been an out of place statement at Donington Park last weekend.

The reason being that the British GT Championship had put on a Circuit Safari, whereby a Routemaster double-decker bus took some lucky passengers, including myself, around the circuit while GT3 and GT4 cars circulated at a reduced pace. It’s a popular concept in Japan, allowing fans to get a different perspective and a greater sensation of speed than from the side of the track, and which has actually taken place once before in the UK – also on the British GT bill at Silverstone back in 2017.

Fans were given the chance to win a place on the bus in a raffle held before the fourth round of the championship and, shortly after British GT’s warm-up session, the Routemaster headed out for two laps of the Donington circuit along with the grid. From a personal point of view, it was quite a surreal experience.

More importantly, though, it was well-received by the fans on the bus and indeed by many around the circuit who had stayed trackside on Sunday morning to take pictures and videos of the unusual sight. Anything that can be done to bring the cars and drivers closer to the fans can only be a positive, and ideas such as this should be embraced across all platforms of motorsport.

“More fan engagement is a good thing,” said British GT driver and team owner Martin Plowman. “I think the more we can do to get fan participation, it’s only going to increase the number of fans. In America, for example, it’s all about the fans.”

Plowman knows more than most about the appeal of US racing and what it has to offer fans, having competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Aptly, this year’s edition of the fabled race took place on the same weekend, showcasing other concepts that UK motorsport could explore in the future. This ranged from the usual driver autograph sessions, already a staple of many UK motorsport events, to the perhaps over-the-top driver introductions ahead of the big race that F1 was criticised for in Miami.

The pitstop challenge in the buildup to the Indy 500 shows how fan-friendly initiatives don't have to be difficult

The pitstop challenge in the buildup to the Indy 500 shows how fan-friendly initiatives don't have to be difficult

Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images

But there are other aspects that are more exclusive to Indy, such as the Pitstop Challenge. Incredibly, it has been held almost every year since 1977, and allows pitcrews to compete with each other in a knockout-style tournament to change their car’s tyres as quickly as possible. Fans can get almost within touching distance of the machines as they line the pitwall, and it’s a great example of something that in principle may be a simple idea, yet is an incredibly successful and immersive one. Two-wheeled events such as the Isle of Man TT and World Superbikes also allow fans to form a guard of honour after the races, applauding their favourite riders as they head to the podium.

While I’m not suggesting that British GT or other UK championships immediately take up these ideas, it shows there are initiatives out there that can further boost fan engagement. British GT, for example, already has a free grid walk, allowing people to step onto the track ahead of the main spectacle of the weekend, get close to the cars and take in the atmosphere.

As the drive for increased safety rightly continues, it does mean that spectators are pushed further away from the edge of track or have their views obscured by higher and more dense catch fencing, meaning chances like these are even more treasured

Opportunities like this are savoured the most by young fans and can spark a lifelong passion for the sport. As the drive for increased safety rightly continues, it does mean that spectators are pushed further away from the edge of track or have their views obscured by higher and more dense catch fencing, meaning chances like these are even more treasured.

Understandably, safety is why it took British GT organiser SRO a long time to get the Circuit Safari approved and signed off by the sport’s governing body, Motorsport UK, so it certainly wasn’t the work of a moment. As with anything, it’s all about time and money, meaning it might not become a tradition just yet.

There’s also the slight inconvenience for teams and drivers. Yes, it’s only 15 minutes of track ‘action’, but it still requires the teams to have the cars ready to run and, although highly unlikely, potentially putting them at risk of damage just hours before the main priority of the weekend.

Whichever way you look at it, though, the more motorsport can give back to the fans the better. Greater opportunities for them to get closer to the cars and their heroes cannot be a bad thing.

Opportunities to get fans involved should always be welcomed, and British GT deserves to be lauded for its efforts to bring back the circuit safari

Opportunities to get fans involved should always be welcomed, and British GT deserves to be lauded for its efforts to bring back the circuit safari

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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