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Opinion

The sorry saga overshadowing national racing that could've been avoided

OPINION: Whether or not you agree with the new track-limits rule, there’s no escaping the poor management of its controversial implementation

Andrew Watson, CarStore Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing. And there are certainly some decisions and actions Motorsport UK has taken in recent months surrounding the thorny issue of track limits that, with the benefit of hindsight, it admits could have been handled differently. It is reassuring to hear such honesty from the organisation’s CEO Hugh Chambers, even if it does not alter what has gone before.

But now there has finally been confirmation that stricter new rules that redefine a track-limits breach as being when any part of the tyre goes beyond the white line or outer edge of a kerb will be implemented across UK circuit racing from the start of next month, some fundamental questions must be raised.

Autosport has vociferously argued against the changes and, despite attending a meeting with Motorsport UK and other key motorsport figures alongside senior media players last week, remains unconvinced. Not least because of the inescapable difficulty of enforcing the new rule in a way that is fair, accurate and consistent for all.

However, regardless of whether you fervently support or are vehemently opposed to the plans, changing the rules in the middle of the season does not make sense. It would be like the England and Wales Cricket Board deciding to redefine what constitutes a no-ball in cricket in the thick of the County Championship campaign. And when one of the key reasons for implementing the change is to make things more simple, tweaking the playing field in the middle of the year just creates confusion – especially when the community is only being officially informed two weeks before the rewritten rule takes effect.

As it is, the absence of any communication from the governing body since the consultation on the proposed changes was launched in January to the present day has left everyone from competitors to clubs in the dark. Some organisers have reported being inundated with queries at the start of each event from drivers uncertain whether the new limits are being applied.

Another problem with changing the rules mid-year is the majority of the training for officials is carried out during the winter break. Instead, a session for clerks and stewards has hurriedly been arranged to inform them about the updated regulations, while it is far less clear what official guidance is being given to judges of fact – the people ultimately at the heart of the issue as the ones determining who has offended. Again, this is another problem that could have been avoided had the change not been pushed through in the middle of the year.

Introducing regulations in the middle of the season merely brings confusion for officials responsible for implementing them

Introducing regulations in the middle of the season merely brings confusion for officials responsible for implementing them

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

And, if Motorsport UK was so determined to introduce the amended rule immediately, why was the consultation – an important stage in the process that must not be circumnavigated – scheduled to conclude in the middle of February, on the eve of the season? Given track limits is one element of a wider driving standards review that began in late 2021, the timing of the consultation’s launch was poor.

Key figures in the British Touring Car Championship decided it made no sense to change mid-season and opted to implement the new rule early from its first event at Donington Park at the end of April. But, taking the recent Snetterton round as an example, things did not always go swimmingly well.

Rescinding a track-limits penalty for Porsche Sprint Challenge GB frontrunner Joe Warhurst because the incorrect number was displayed alongside a black-and-white warning flag was not great, while the British Formula 4 grid was amended after the incorrect lap time for Deagen Fairclough was deleted for going beyond the line. We even heard of one leading driver at the event who had a time erased during qualifying, only for it to become apparent that it was a case of mistaken identity owing to the similarity of the liveries of his team’s cars.

It is a complicated matter and one that has created a lot of anger and confusion already this year – all of which could have been avoided

Errors can happen any time, but they are more likely when new rules mean many more offences will be committed, thereby adding extra workload for the volunteers to manage. And that was at the pinnacle of UK circuit racing, so how is a more humble club event supposed to cope?

Now, for all our criticism, Autosport is not suggesting track limits is an issue that can be simply ignored. There are many legitimate reasons for such rules, to ensure drivers are not gaining an unfair advantage by pushing the boundaries and reducing the risk of stones being dragged onto the track that can cause significant damage being two such examples. But it is a complicated matter and one that has created a lot of anger and confusion already this year – all of which could have been avoided.

Instead of riling competitors, clubs and spectators by changing the rules, an education programme could have been rolled out highlighting the importance of track limits and more attention given to the overarching problem of finding the best way to enforce them fairly. And it is equally important to note that Autosport is not just launching a polemic against the governing body, which has introduced some hugely beneficial initiatives in other areas of the sport in recent years, for no reason. We are deeply concerned.

Ultimately, to return to the opening line, Motorsport UK should not be relying on hindsight. Instead, it should have the foresight to spot the potential problems ahead and negate these, rather than adding to them. Lessons must be learned from this sorry saga.

British F4 racer Fairclough had the wrong lap time deleted in qualifying, meaning the grid had to be revised

British F4 racer Fairclough had the wrong lap time deleted in qualifying, meaning the grid had to be revised

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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