Despite Formula 1’s plummeting popularity and the rapid decrease in television viewing figures over recent years, admitting to preferring other forms of motorsport still remains something of a prohibited act in the social realm. You’re not likely to get much of a riposte unless you’re the type to have a vast number of motorsport fans following you like a hawk on Twitter, but it’s still seen as – somehow – strange. OK, for decades it’s been the behemoth of not just single seater racing, but 4 wheel racing in general, and I suppose people don’t like change. However, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that other people are slowly starting to seek thrills from elsewhere.
Formula E’s introductory season resulted in many a curious glance and even a great deal of praise. However, realistically, the fact it was new was what roped people in to giving it a go. As we’ve seen from this season, TV viewing figures in the UK are already on the decline and this has a lot to do with the fact that it’s not really being marketed effectively enough. A bloke doing a backflip over an FE car isn’t going to market the sport for you, I’m afraid. You’ve got to do better.
It’s hard to nail down what people really want from their experience of watching motor racing. The most important factor ought to be the quality of the racing. You want a competitive grid of cars. In an ideal world, every race would be exciting, with wheel to wheel (or door to door) action from start to finish, all over the place. Realistically, this is never going to be the case unless every single car is of the same spec. In its first season, this is what we got from Formula E; every car running the same spec power unit and no difference in the chassis or indeed anything else between the teams. This meant that, essentially, a result was manufactured from a driver’s ability alone, along with the usual reliability issues which naturally rear their ugly head in motorsport. This season, there’s a very apparent gap between certain teams and despite the fact that I absolutely love Sébastien Buemi, I’ll have to hold my hands up and admit that I’ve not been following the series whatsoever this time around. Why? Quite honestly, I’ve often forgetten that it’s even on. I’m not saying everyone is like me, but that’s quite telling. People need to be aware something is on, especially when it’s a series just finding its feet. It should also be pointed out that TV coverage, generally, is quite poor.
Moving back to Formula 1, let’s discuss noise. Much has been made of the reduction of noise that the cars make in the series. On the face of it – and to people not in love with motorsport – this seems a trivial piece of the jigsaw but if you’re going to a race, you want the full experience. To be fair, even if you’re listening on the radio, you want to be able to hear something. F1 for many years had that very distinctive sound which was of course brought on by more powerful V10/V8 engines. The V6 turbos used today simply aren’t conducive to that ear-splitting scream that many motorsport fans fell in love with.
Now, of course, Formula E has no sound and everyone who has even the most remote interest in motor racing will be aware of the fact that this is down to the fact that the cars are all electrically powered.
This is kind of where the crux of this article is introduced. I’ve found myself more and more absorbed by the Blancpain GT Series this season; a series which – for me – has a very, very healthy balance of both brilliant racing and a bloody gorgeous sound. Since this little switch, my interest in motorsport as a whole has grown exponentially and I actually enjoy it more than I ever have previously. If you want an example of sound (Audi-style), click here. Of course, it’s not going to sound like an F1 car of old (or new for that matter) but it’s still an extremely satisfying growl. The Bentley Contintental doesn’t sound too shabby either.
RACING AND VARIETY
It’s strange in the sense that there are two cups for teams to compete in that contribute to the overall championship: The Sprint Cup and the Endurance Cup. You could argue ’til the cows come home about whether or not this is a good thing, but one thing’s for sure, it’s a test for the drivers. Now, granted, not every driver you see in the championship will necessarily appear in both cups as not every team is professional and thus cannot afford to make an appearance in everything. However, for those such as the WRT Audi team, they have drivers such as Laurens/Dries Vanthoor and Frédéric Vervisch who will appear in both Sprint and Endurance Cups.
The racing is also fantastic, helped to a certain extent by the fact that all the cars are on a relatively even keel.
In the qualifying race at Misano (that’s right, two races over the weekend) the M-Sport pairing of Andy Soucek and Maxime Soulet took the often desperately unlucky #8 Bentley from 9th on the grid to what eventually became a somewhat unexpected 1st place. Further back, Alex Sims and Philipp Eng rose from 30th to 2nd in the ROWE Racing BMW, applying serious pressure to the #8 Bentley throughout. The conditions admittedly paved the way for change all over the place. The track was wet to begin with, so immediately tyre choice became a key player in the tactical stakes. There were 38 cars on track at the time, so a gambler would perhaps suggest that a dry line may well manifest itself on the asphalt relatively swiftly and opt for slicks. It’s also worth noting that this was in fact a night race too.
Despite leading for quite some time following Laurens Vanthoor’s stint, Vervisch – thanks to a full course yellow prior to the closing of the pit window – lost close to 40 seconds despite Vanthoor racking up a 7 second lead prior to his pit-stop. All very exciting.
The main race was great too – not just for me from an Audi fan’s perspective – with Vervisch and Vanthoor taking the win ahead of Maxi Buhk and Dominik Baumann by little over 1.5 seconds. Philipp Eng wrestled the lead away from Soulet after the first couple of corners. An early spin saw Soulet and latterly Soucek lose any chance they may have had at getting on the podium, paving the way for Vervisch to tussle with Eng for the lead of the race. Eventually, the #99 ROWE BMW finished a distant third behind the #84 Mercedes and the #1 Audi, some 26 seconds off in fact!
Former DTM driver and all-round veteran Bernd Schneider – along with team-mate Jules Szymkowiak worked a miracle by taking their car from 36th on the grid to an excellent 7th place.
Admittedly, the Blancpain GT series is hardly littered with household names, but if you’re looking for relatively big names, you’ve still got the aforementioned Bernd Schneider, Laurens Vanthoor, Maxi Buhk, Filipe Albuquerque, Will Stevens and Giancarlo Fisichella. I personally find the perhaps lesser known drivers an appealing factor to this form of racing though. I like learning about these drivers, their past and all that type of thing.
Neither the Blancpain series nor any other form of GT racing gets any great deal of promotion in the grand scheme of things and there’s no big deal made of it on TV, but the race coverage itself is second to none, with every race shown live on Dailymotion and YouTube, meaning it’s completely FREE. David Addison (provides the English DTM commentary) tends to muck in for GT racing and quite honestly, I rank him right up at the top when it comes to motorsport commentators. His knowledge is vast and – as I’m someone who likes to critique things I have no right to – I genuinely think his voice is spot on. Very listenable! As petty as it sounds, voice is hugely important. If you disagree with me, try and listen to Test Match Special when Charles Dagnall is on the mic. You’ll want to do something very sinister to an otter by the time you’re done. It’s also worth pointing out that he (Addison) has a sense of humour.
Compare this free-to-view approach for the entire Blancpain Series with F1, which will soon have a measly ONE race per season which will be free for everyone to watch and it’s not hard to see why I’m shifting over, really. If you really find yourself getting sucked into GT racing, you’ve also got the ADAC GT Masters which has free live streaming on the website. It’s also equally as exciting to watch as the Blancpain Series.
VERY GOOD LOOKING CARS
Let’s not kid ourselves, we all love a bit of car porn. We wouldn’t all watch racing if the cars looked bad, would we? There’s also the benefit of these cars being ones you may even see on the road from time to time. Albeit highly tuned versions, but still!
Ah, that old chestnut…
Ever wanted to visit that circuit but have never been able to afford it? Time to look again! Not all race days cost £185. Wanna know how much general admission is for the 24 Hours of Spa? €32.50 (equating to £25.49). That’s for a bloody 24 hour race. Not JUST the race either. That’s £25.49 for the 28th-31st July. Great value in the extreme! OK, so it’s usually cheaper abroad anyway, right? Well, for the endurance race at Silverstone it’s £20 for the whole weekend or £16 for race day. You can’t whinge! Even if we look at the ADAC GT Masters ticket prices, a weekend ticket is €30. Even cheaper than the Blancpain.
Meanwhile, in F1 you’re expected to pay £185 for Sunday tickets at the British Grand Prix. Scarcely any accessibility to the drivers, low parity between the cars, a championship overseen by an old man’s club and you’d have to put up with Lewis Hamilton. No ta!
GIVE IT A GO
What have you got to lose? You might even enjoy it: http://www.blancpain-gt-series.com/tickets