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Opinion

The role themed events have to play in hooking new racing fans

OPINION: There’s lots to look forward to in national motorsport in 2023, and some of the most popular events are set to be those with a strong focus

Brands Hatch, England. 31st August 1998. Rd 22.Rickard Rydell (Volvo S40), 1st position, leads Anthony Reid (Nissan Primera GT), 2nd position, action.World Copyright: LAT Photographic.Ref:  Colour Transparency.

In this week's Autosport magazine, our team of writers have picked out the UK events and championships they are most looking forward to attending or following over the coming year. Despite some of the depressing headlines in the news, this feature makes clear that there is still plenty to eagerly anticipate in the world of national motorsport for 2023.

Last week we highlighted the volume of new categories being launched this year, despite the difficult financial climate, and the one that really seems to have got people excited is the British Racing & Sports Car Club’s Audi TT Cup Racing series. Over 40 cars are already in build – a staggering achievement for a brand-new initiative. It may not be as cheap as some divisions, but it seems that the ability to get one of the Mk2 cars ready to race for under £12,000 has really struck a chord and it will be fascinating to see what the final entry number is for the first round at Brands Hatch in April.

There are also plenty of anniversaries being celebrated with special events in 2023 – be it Silverstone and Goodwood commemorating 75 years since their first race meetings, the centenaries of MG and Triumph, or Caterham turning 50, and so the list goes on.

One of the events we picked out is the new Super Touring Power festival at Brands. As the name suggests, there will be a focus on the halcyon 1990s days of the British Touring Car Championship, an era that remains incredibly popular three decades on. But it will also feature tin-tops from throughout the 65 years of the BTCC (another anniversary!) and promises to be an event that draws in the crowds.

It follows a recent trend, most commonly seen from leading circuit operator MotorSport Vision, for an increasing number of race meetings to have a central theme attached to them to help pull in the punters.

And this is a trend that is yielding results. You only have to head to the Mini Festival or Festival Italia at the Kent venue to see how successfully they entice people to attend. Sometimes the racing can take a back seat at such fixtures as the infield and paddock are filled with static displays, car clubs and marque enthusiasts, but these additional features play an important role in piquing the interest of even more people.

A Formula 1 demonstration at Festival Italia last year attracted oddities including James Belton's ex-Shinji Nakano Minardi from 1998

A Formula 1 demonstration at Festival Italia last year attracted oddities including James Belton's ex-Shinji Nakano Minardi from 1998

Photo by: Gary Hawkins

It’s not just MSV meetings and venues that have tapped into this trend either. The British Automobile Racing Club organises its popular Thruxton Historic Festival, while some of its Convoy shows that feature truck racing also bring in the hordes – sometimes creating unexpected problems, such as when people descended upon Pembrey last year.

“We had the biggest crowd there since the 1990s for the first truck meeting in May,” says BARC group CEO Ben Taylor, who admits: “We probably weren’t 100% prepared for that level of interest!”

It was a similar story when thousands arrived at Mallory Park for the annual Plum Pudding meeting on Boxing Day, prompting long queues at both the beginning and end of the day. Both of these examples serve as a reminder that specially promoted events can really capture the imagination of the public, and a venue’s infrastructure must be prepared for that!

Many of those attending these themed events would not be stalwart club racing visitors, instead they have been hooked in by a passion for a particular marque or type of car

The Oulton Park Gold Cup was also tweaked last year with spectators very much in mind. A variety of different historic racing organisers had grids at the event, with such as the Classic Sports Car Club’s Special Saloons and Modsports chosen because of their fan appeal. But, sometimes, there can be a slight discord between a themed event’s on and off-track action.

Take the Vaux Valves event trialled at Brands last year. While a range of Vauxhalls were assembled, the lack of a one-make series for the Griffin-badged machines meant a host of Vauxhall Tigras in the Intermarque Silhouettes contests was their best racing representation. This in turn raises an interesting point.

Many of those attending these themed events would not be stalwart club racing visitors, instead they have been hooked in by a passion for a particular marque or type of car. If these people are presented with some compelling on-track action, it could spark an interest in this branch of the automotive world too.

Yet there is no point in attracting scores of people if the racing proves a disappointment, with small grids instead proving to be a missed opportunity. Given all the uncertainty surrounding the global economy, unsurprisingly it’s far from clear how many people will continue to go racing this year.

Mallory Park's Plum Pudding meeting on Boxing Day drew in crowds

Mallory Park's Plum Pudding meeting on Boxing Day drew in crowds

Photo by: Steve Jones

But there have been some encouraging signs. The BRSCC was the only club to grow its average grid size during 2022, and it is encouraged by the early signals for this season.

“Registrations across the board are ahead of where they were this time last year,” says chairman Peter Daly. “But we’re not complacent by any means – registrations don’t always turn into race entries. We’re apprehensively excited.”

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There is certainly plenty to be excited about. Sometimes spectators are not considered when planning club meetings, but it seems that themed events could have an important part to play in creating even more to look forward to.

The BARC's truck racing meeting at Pembrey last year was incredibly well-attended and underlined the benefit of themed events

The BARC's truck racing meeting at Pembrey last year was incredibly well-attended and underlined the benefit of themed events

Photo by: Steve Jones

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