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Opinion

Why size really does matter when it comes to club racing grids

OPINION: There have been plenty of impressive grid numbers in national racing this season, but MG Car Club calling time on its circuit racing is a reminder of how important these figures are

BRSCC C1 Endurance Trophy

Steve Jones

You can read plenty about club racing grid sizes in 2023 in our annual deep dive here. Looking at these numbers is a very blunt method for assessing the health of a series – after all, it doesn’t take into account the unique set of circumstances that surround each particular category’s fortunes, but it does still give a useful point of comparison and a snapshot of how they are performing. And grid sizes really do matter.

Speak to any club boss and the subject of rising prices is very likely to crop up. Whether that’s circuit hire, cost of hotels or the amount paid to medics on duty at race meetings, expenditure has increased in so many areas and that means entry numbers are even more important.

Put simply, clubs cannot afford to have small grids. They need to ensure every single category they run is justifying its place and pulling in the entry fees needed to offset those increasing costs. It is a tricky tightrope to walk and some have even decided they can no longer justify navigating it.

Take the example of the MG Car Club ending its decades of organising circuit racing events. Yes, its entry numbers had been dwindling for a while. And, yes, it’s an unusual example because motorsport was just one element of its activities. But it is very real proof of the difficulties clubs face right now.

“Like several other one-make clubs, the MGCC has been unable to stem the tide of rising circuit and car preparation costs and diminishing entries, all leading to the inescapable reality that circuit racing is no longer viable for the club,” read a statement.

While the MGCC will continue to operate events for grassroots disciplines such as autosolos, there is the very real threat that other clubs could also disappear from the circuit racing scene should they fail to successfully tackle the grid numbers versus costs conundrum.

The MGCC has stepped back from promoting race events

Photo by: Mick Walker

The MGCC has stepped back from promoting race events

There are actions clubs can take to help mitigate such a situation arising. One of those is amalgamating struggling series, particularly at circuits that allow a greater number of starters as this better spreads the costs. It’s certainly no surprise that 39 English and Welsh categories had at least one round this season where they were sharing the track with another series.

Going into the year there was a lot of concern from clubs about being able to secure sufficient entries. The outbreak of war in Ukraine on the eve of last season had a significant impact and many were wary of something similar happening again.

“This year was better than we thought in December 2022,” says Historic Racing Drivers Club boss Julius Thurgood, whose organisation ended up fielding some bumper grids. “We went into 2023 with some apprehension and it was pretty ill-founded. We did an analysis through the year and our occupancy was 84% and, if you were a hotel, you would be popping champagne corks!

"Championships have changed dramatically in five years. I still don’t think we’re over COVID in terms of the effect it had on people being forced not to race" Andy Dee-Crowne

“The battle we have is trying to put the races on at decent prices and keep the business model alive. People don’t understand what it takes to run these organisations.”

It is a sentiment echoed by Ben Taylor of the British Automobile Racing Club.

“It was not as good as the previous two years but much better than we feared it might be,” he says. “At the start of the year, we worried about the whole macro situation – which surprised us all last year with the war and energy prices – and we dreaded what that was going to mean this year. But we shouldn’t be complacent – it’s hit a lot of people very hard.”

The entry numbers have certainly been very encouraging this year given all the factors at play, and it’s not just grid sizes that give reasons for optimism.

The BARC was encouraged by the addition of Caterhams to its portfolio

Photo by: Steve Jones

The BARC was encouraged by the addition of Caterhams to its portfolio

“We had a record BTCC crowd at Thruxton,” continues Taylor. “From a spectator point of view, people are still spending. People are still spending on tickets and watching motorsport and people are still buying driving experiences.”

Such interest in the sport is fantastic to see but there are clearly challenges that lie ahead. Given how unpredictable the past few years have proven in terms of world events, it is vital that organisers continue to evolve. And it is interesting how much things have changed since the pre-coronavirus world of 2019.

“The championships have changed dramatically in five years,” says Historic Sports Car Club CEO Andy Dee-Crowne. “I still don’t think we’re over COVID in terms of the effect it had on people being forced not to race and people found other pastimes and reviewed their plans. The impact on disposable income has made racing difficult and you can’t compare with five years ago.”

That point is illustrated by the fact that just 64 of the 151 categories covered in our round up have the same name and organising club next year as they did in 2019. Many simply did not exist back then and others have undergone mergers or substantial tweaks in the subsequent seasons.

Such evolution is vital as club motorsport is likely to encounter many more threats and challenges over the coming years. But, for now, it is important to celebrate those success stories and the impressive numbers some championships have been able to attract.

The 750MC's Campaign Against Living Miserably All Porsche Trophy thrived in 2023 with average grids of 28 cars

Photo by: Steve Jones

The 750MC's Campaign Against Living Miserably All Porsche Trophy thrived in 2023 with average grids of 28 cars

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