Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Evolution of a Series

TAMMY: I read with interest this week that the ACO (the sanctioning body that governs the 24 Hours of Le Mans and inspires the ALMS) was scrapping the last two rounds of the European Le Mans Series (ELMS) because of a lack of entrants. Effectively, canceling the ELMS this year. The few extant ELMS teams will have a home at Petit Le Mans this year, which is great news for the ALMS and viewers.

The release from the ACO talks about the ELMS returning next year ... but I had to wonder, because those two canceled races were two of only four rounds the series was to have had. Was two endurance series too many for Europe? (I'm stretching things by considering the WEC or World Endurance Championship, started by the FIA this year, to be European when it's really worldwide.) Here in the U.S. we have two sportscar racing series (ALMS and Grand-Am), but we couldn't support two open-wheel racing series (CART/IRL = IndyCar). 

My first thought: It's pretty lucky (for me) the ALMS has survived into its second decade!
My second thought: I wonder what series that's around now will fade away?

The latter question is on my mind because of the article in Jalopnik about the Ten Greatest Failed Racing Series of All Time. Certainly it seems like the ELMS won't be around, even into next year. But what about the WEC? What about the lower-level "feeder" series that get less attention and less money but serve the vital role of grooming our future top-level champions?

I suppose I shouldn't fret about the loss of what I know now, because all things change, right, Simon?

SIMON: I think for a lot of series to survive, I think they need to join together. I think the UK got it right in the late 80's/early 90's. Formula 3, touring cars, Formula Vauxhall Lotus, Formula Renault, Ford Fiesta, etc. would race as part of a super line-up.  It helped with crowds and introduced people to a lot of different types of racing and built fan bases. Then touring cars and F3 (the two most popular series in the UK) went their separate ways and ran on different line-ups (taking some of these support series with them) and F3 suffered because of it and is still suffering (with small grids). I sort of see the same thing here with ELMS and the like. 

Sports car racing isn't the most popular type of motorsport in the UK and Europe (not as a series, but as a one off super race, yes). Could be something with the length of the races or something.  So I don't think they can "headline" and survive for too long. Throw in a competing series and someone will lose. The IRL killed CART. I think these smaller series work better playing second fiddle to a more popular form of racing. I think for ELMS, ALMS and any series that doesn't have a good billing with the public, should be a support race for something else. It makes economical sense and that equals sustained racing.

TAMMY: While I think it would be hard for ALMS or Grand-Am to give up top billing, I think all series do better when they combine forces for joint weekend, such as the ALMS with IndyCar at Long Beach, or Grand-Am with NASCAR at the Brickyard this weekend. It's an interesting idea. What do the rest of you think? What series out there today do you see going away? Or what do they need to do to survive?

1 comment:

  1. One sure way for a series to die is rules-creep, which nearly always happens at the behest of the manufacturers involved in production-car-based series. Two recent examples are SCCA's Trans-Am and World Challenge. Both series still exist (at least I *think* they do, which sort of proves my point), but are unloved and unwatched.


    Because they initially featured racing between reasonably stock cars from a wide variety of marques - but let the manufacturers kibitz on adding a little performance here and a little performance there (all in the name of competition, of course) until the cars became hideously expensive monsters that consumers couldn't relate to. I knew SCCA World Challenge was in deep trouble in 2004 when they allowed Cadillac, which had invested heavily in the series, shift their cars' engines back a few inches for better weight distribution. Next came sequential transmissions, and ... heck, when's the last time you heard an enthusiast talking about that series?

    Grand-Am, on the other hand, has done a far better job. The series actively prevents any one marque from dominating (with weight additions, etc.), but the cars in the GS and ST classes remain genuine production-based autos. No surprise, then, that Grand-Am flourishes as World Challenge fades.