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Opinion

The unnecessary calendar congestion that's impacting national racing

OPINION: There were 10 separate car circuit racing events held across the UK last weekend, dividing competitors and volunteers, while the previous week there were far fewer. Such calendar congestion is not helpful at a time when large grids are more important than ever

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Unsustainable, unnecessary and unhelpful. They may sound like strong terms, but – to this writer, at least – they perfectly describe the three-week spell of the national calendar we are currently in the middle of. And especially this past weekend of club motorsport.

Let me explain. Over 18-19 May, there were 10 separate car racing events across the UK. From Thruxton to Bishopscourt and Snetterton to Oulton Park, almost every one of our race tracks was playing host to a car fixture. On the surface, that sounds great. After all, surely it’s proof that these venues are doing what they were built for.

However, such a menagerie of meetings puts strain on a limited number of officials, marshals and other vital volunteers – and not to mention divides a finite pool of competitors. If each of those 10 events (and we are not even talking about the scores of other grassroots contests held) was overflowing with entries and inundated with volunteers, then happy days. But that simply is not the reality.

We’ve already discussed the wide-ranging fortunes of different club categories in the early stages of this year, but the fact that six series in action last weekend did not even reach double figures, while a further 19 grids attracted a measly 10-15 cars, is proof of the potential problem. Although it’s also worth highlighting there were some fantastic entries achieved, particularly at the Silverstone 750 Motor Club gathering.

INSIGHT: How national entries in the first month of the season stack up

Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that grid numbers would universally increase had there been fewer events last weekend to create less dilution. Some races were held at circuits such as Pembrey and Cadwell Park that are never likely to draw in the crowds, regardless of how many alternative offerings there are for drivers.

However, there are some examples of apparently poor planning – such as both the Classic Sports Car Club and Historic Sports Car Club Special Saloons and Modsports categories being in action on the same weekend, potentially hampering the numbers in each. Or three of the four main ‘modern’ one-make MG series heavily based around the ZR having clashing rounds. For classes where there is a limited number of cars available, such scheduling is unhelpful.

Three 'modern' one-make MG series were all in action on the same weekend at different UK venues

Three 'modern' one-make MG series were all in action on the same weekend at different UK venues

Photo by: Steve Jones

But what makes the sheer number of events this past weekend even more baffling is a glance at the calendar the week before. Just four car circuit racing events were held over 11-12 May – and two of those were very small fixtures.

It seems an obvious answer, but couldn’t some of the events have been held a weekend earlier, thereby avoiding this unnecessary congestion? Yes, there are plenty of other demands on the tracks’ time, but having such an overflowing weekend ultimately helps nobody.

And it is the same with this weekend’s clashing British Touring Car Championship and British GT events, at Snetterton and Donington Park respectively. It seems madness that the UK’s two premier car racing categories are competing on the same weekend, dividing spectators and creating challenges for teams fielding cars in both championships and their supports.

At a time when race events are being cancelled or shortened due to a lack of entries, it is unsustainable to keep churning out calendars that feature 10-event weekends

Yet it is not as bad as the even more ridiculous clash between the two last month when just 66 miles separated the BTCC at Donington and British GT at Silverstone. Considering the BTCC has already released its calendar for next year – and was similarly early in unveiling its 2024 schedule – there is no excuse for clashing events. One of the many reasons for the roster being published so early is to help other categories with their planning.

So, what is the solution to this calendar conundrum? “Do we really want to go down the route of saying get AI to work out what’s the best way of spreading the events out and so everyone gets their fair share?” suggests one observer, jokingly. “It would be very difficult for one person to try to coordinate.”

Ultimately, it needs championship organisers, clubs and circuits to work together and see the bigger picture rather than getting lost in their own individual worlds. Some argue that Motorsport UK should get more involved and have a direct role in organising who races where and when (such a suggestion has been debated). Some are also in favour of the governing body taking a firmer hand on those launching new series, too.

But that takes us back to the old argument of whether it should be direct intervention or market forces that determines the picture. Having Motorsport UK heavily involved also risks adding further complications to what is already a challenging process. And how would it be decided who gets priority without causing tantrums?

This clearly is not an easy situation to resolve, but that does not mean it’s a problem that should be ignored. At a time when race events are being cancelled or shortened due to a lack of entries (see the axed C1 24 Hours at Anglesey as one example), it is unsustainable to keep churning out calendars that feature 10-event weekends. Instead, the sport needs to explore every avenue to ensure its long-term future, and how the calendar is constituted is just one element of that. Ultimately, as with so many areas of life, communication and collaboration are key.

Calendar clashes also impact spectators, such as British Touring Car and British GT meetings being held close together on the same weekends

Calendar clashes also impact spectators, such as British Touring Car and British GT meetings being held close together on the same weekends

Photo by: JEP

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