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Opinion

Why points don't always mean prizes in national racing

OPINION: With a growing number of drivers dipping in and out of categories during a season, could fewer point-scoring competitions be held and series increasingly favoured?

MG Trophy track action

MG Trophy track action

Gary Hawkins

One of the many decisions those organising a national racing category need to take is whether to run it as a series or a championship. Some clubs traditionally prefer to administer championships, while others enjoy the greater freedom that operating series brings – but there is not necessarily a right or wrong answer in terms of which is best.

Yet it is a question that’s in the spotlight for those in charge of MG Car Club categories that are in the process of finalising new homes for 2024 following the club’s decision to end its long history of organising race events. For instance, earlier this month, the MG Trophy was confirmed as joining the Classic Sports Car Club fold, in a move that enables it to retain championship status – the first of several championships joining the CSCC, which has previously avoided point-scoring competitions.

An argument in favour of championships is that they give something for drivers to aim and fight for across the course of a season. Competitors could be more likely to have a greater engagement with the category if there is something meaningful at stake. Those chasing a championship are more likely to commit to every round – the holy grail for organisers – and that is especially helped if there are multiple classes, so plenty for drivers up and down the grid to fight for.

But that very same positive can also easily become a negative. Should a driver quickly fall out of championship contention over the opening few events, then they may still head elsewhere over the rest of the season. And, while being crowned a champion brings prestige, the average club racing title winner is not going to receive a career-changing prize. The Pre-’83 Touring Cars champion is very unlikely to suddenly find themselves on the British Touring Car grid, for example.

The other problem – which is, depressingly, seen time and time again even at a humble club level – is that, when there is a championship at stake, it can lead to rows in the paddock. Whether it’s over an aggressive move or the perennial accusations of cheating, a championship can very easily turn sour. That, obviously, can still happen in a series but, with a generally more relaxed atmosphere and no season-long prize on the line, it is less likely.

The most significant advantage for organisers opting for a series is the increased flexibility that it allows. The individual coordinator or club has more freedom and control to run the category how they want rather than being governed by more rigid regulations required to receive championship status from Motorsport UK.

Championships like the BARC's Kumho BMW series keep drivers committed to a full season

Championships like the BARC's Kumho BMW series keep drivers committed to a full season

Photo by: Richard Styles

One example of this concerns the calendar. Should some extra track time at an event become available, it would be far easier for a series to put on an additional contest or run a longer race than a championship – which would have to consult competitors and gain governing body approval.

Then it is also important to consider the ever-growing trend of drivers being far less loyal to one particular category or organiser. Exacerbated by the pandemic, many clubs are reporting far greater numbers of competitors dipping in and out of a class rather than sticking with it throughout a campaign.

This could be for a variety of reasons, including the cost-of-living crisis forcing some drivers to cherrypick a few favourite events, or busy club drivers not having the time to commit to a full season or even individuals preferring to stick to their local or favourite circuits rather than follow a category as it heads around the country. All of these factors play into preferring a series – which perfectly suits those unable or unwilling to stay the course.

If the trend for drivers handpicking a few events to contest continues, then it could well be that more and more come to the conclusion that a championship is no longer the best option

Despite this anecdotal shift, it is interesting to look at the most popular categories in terms of average entries across 2022. Of the 10 largest fields, remarkably, it is an even split of five each between series and championships.

Low-cost endurance series like C1 Race Series, EnduroKa and Roadsports are all in that group of categories attracting 36 cars or more last season, but established championships like the British Racing & Sports Car Club’s Mazda MX-5 Championship and Supercup and 750 Motor Club’s Club Enduro are among the point-scoring divisions in that top 10. It will be interesting to see if things are so evenly split in 2023’s figures, especially now the financial squeeze in the UK has really started to bite in some quarters.

Ultimately, those 2022 statistics show there is no easy answer to the question of whether going down the championship or series route is best. Instead, it very much depends on the unique circumstances for each class, with the nature of its races, the cars and demographic of the drivers all playing their part.

Some organisers, like the 750MC, prefer to start new ideas as a series to see if there is sufficient interest and potential to then commit to a full-blown championship. And, if the trend for drivers handpicking a few events to contest continues, then it could well be that more and more come to the conclusion that a championship is no longer the best option. But, right now, it remains a tough decision for long-standing MGCC categories as they ponder their future.

EnduroKa is one of the series that reaped the virtues of a non-points approach in 2022

EnduroKa is one of the series that reaped the virtues of a non-points approach in 2022

Photo by: Oliver Read

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