Random Happenings In The World Of Motorsport
The economic tsunami has rolled through virtually all the top motorsport programs in the world. Manufacturers have sliced budgets and staff and cancelled programs that were to be rolled out in 2009. It's impossible to gauge the long-term damage, let alone the short term. Race teams around the world have seen personnel let go, restructuring and cutbacks that seemed impossible even a few months ago. The 800-pound gorillas haven't been immune to the drama; Formula One has priced itself beyond reality and the nightmare has caught up with the NASCAR bloat. Fewer events means loss of revenue at the tracks and this will have a direct effect on local economies. Of course there will be racing--there always has been regardless of economics, and there always will be. However, there will be major changes.
Formula One: Many ponder if Honda had been more successful in F1, would it have found a way to justify the expense to stay instead of pulling out? Explaining why a team with so little to show for the kazillions of yen spent would hang around was not an option. Toyota may very well follow next. It's an odd scenario, people that have done well in every form of racing get to F1 and fail to make an impression despite huge budgets. This proves that it isn't the amount of money but how it's spent.
The other news that wasn't deemed newsworthy was the appointment of Nick Craw as Deputy President of Sport for the FIA. The choice of an American struck almost all FIA watchers as bizarre, considering the FIA means almost nothing to the American racing community. Most expected Ferrari's Jean Todt to be named to the position, but Todt is such a lightning rod that the last thing the FIA needs is more tongue wagging given the problems of Prez Max Mosley. Will Craw's title mean a return of F1 to North America? Doubtful, because few cared on the last go-around of the circus.
Le Mans and all points beyond: The big news is Audi's pullout, with the exception of a shakedown of the new R15 at the Sebring 12 Hours in preparation for Le Mans in June. This leaves the ALMS without a headliner, a role that Audi has filled admirably since 2000, and the success has benefited both the series and Ingolstadt. As of this writing, no decision has been made to let Champion Motorsport carry the Audi flag with an R10 as a private team and not under the Audi Sport North America moniker. The timing is somewhat suspect, as Audi is set to launch a new batch of TDI rides for the American market and the R10 (or R15) has been the perfect ambassador for showing how good, green and reliable the technology is. Some critics point to majority shareholder Porsche as the reason for the cutbacks in Ingolstadt's sport program. Likely it's more along the lines of sending a message as to who is really in control. Seem familiar?
BMW appears to be staying put in the ALMS with its new M Coupe. It's a reasonable decision--the costs are realistic compared to F1 or a sports prototype and it will be popular with the fans.
Club racing: This is the area you'd think would be hardest hit, but for some shops it's business (close to) as usual. This is a serious hobby among many, and careful budgeting shows only a small decline in participation. Many of the owner/drivers have small to medium size businesses, and do their expenses as a business decision. One shop owner in California summed it up neatly: " If the last invoice was paid by a credit card, they don't have the money. If it was by check, it means another few races are in the works."