The COVID-19 pandemic has presented major challenges to everybody, and, of course, our sport, and the industries which, to varying degrees, supply it, operate it and, in some cases, fund it, have not escaped the significant ripples of economic uncertainty and reality that have followed on.
Almost across the board entry lists have taken a hit, with many, indeed most, suggesting that the impact in 2021 could be significantly worse with still, very certainly, significant hits and changes set to further impact 2020 calendars as signs of the predicted ‘second wave’ of the pandemic start to flare up.
Race organisers across the planet are struggling to stay ahead of the challenges, and are under pressure to cut cost, to increase flexibility, to respond urgently to challenges that are not yet clear in their scope or their longevity.
There is certainly pressure from some quarters to significantly reduce the number of events in major Championships, to reduce the cost for the wealthy individuals, or businesses, that fund much of the core of the grids for just about every event that DSC covers worldwide.
There’s little doubt that despite the challenges there are opportunities created, amongst other things by the constructive alliances that were already in place, in particular between IMSA and the ACO/ LMEM.
In Europe at least there is also no little warmth in the relationship between SRO and the ACO.
So the questions arise:
With at least two years, it seems, to push on before LMDH is likely to arrive, what can be done to help the industry to survive and thrive?
GT racing stands at a crossroads with GTE/ GTLM on the wane – isn’t a rapid decision-making process is required to clarify that emerging picture, to ensure that all concerned are able to plan with confidence?
LMP2 is healthy in Europe, less so currently in North America, but with LMDH looming there are a number of currently prominent LMP2 teams that look very interested indeed in taking the step up. What does the future, therefore, look like for the next generation of LMP2?
LMP3 in its second-generation form looks credible and sustainable, might it have a role in sustaining numbers, competitiveness and commercial sustainability beyond its current reach?
Creative thinking is required and Championship organisers, and in some instances the FIA too, might do well to put aside some of their current self-imposed constraints in finding short-term solutions.
There is real pressure for reduced calendars from teams who are predicting real struggles to attract the budgets that have become the norm in recent years.
One major player in LMP2 told the DSC Editor recently that a WEC calendar of more than 6 races in 2021 would be unsustainable in the class with real pressures being exerted to
For GTE/ GTLM at a Pro level, it is down to a numbers-led endgame – but there are ways to extend the value of the platform before the seeming inevitability of a shift to a GT3-type platform
If there was a reduced number of races in the core WEC Calendar, could or should consideration be given to adding a WEC points-scoring round for GTE Pro at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for instance?
That would assist the WEC in adding an effective additional round for much of their factory cohort, at an event that the factory teams could activate marketing activity.
It would also assist IMSA hugely in a class that they value, but which is getting down to critical levels for 2021. If (and it’s a big if!) The current numbers stay stable in WEC and IMSA it would elevate a potential maximum 5 car GTLM entry at Daytona into double figures. More if any of the GTE Am teams decide that a Daytona adventure was to their liking (at least one have said they’d like to do it!
Throw into the mix that the following WEC race would be some seven weeks later at Sebring and there would, therefore, be fewer time-critical logistical challenges for the teams, plus opportunities for testing in the interim period.
On the LMP2 front, it would be interesting to know what market assessment has been undertaken on the sustainability of LMP2 in the wake of a successful launch of LMDH.
On the one hand, there is a perfectly logical conclusion that interest could be at a good level as the driver market amongst young talented drivers with a budget, looking to catch the eye of LMDH factory-affiliated teams, could use the class as an effective shop window.
On the other hand, in major Championship terms, the budgets between the two classes (LMDH and LMP2) may prove to be not hugely different, in particular, if a customer LMDH marketplace takes off.
Could the current LMP3 cars prove to be an answer?
In terms of pace, the new cars are significantly less pacey than the current Gibson-powered LMP2s, but they are already, even after a first-ever race weekend, very close to the pre-2017 LMP2 pace, cars that were still in contemporary competition earlier this year in Asia!
And the LMP3s are very significantly cheaper both to buy and maintain.
Might the introduction of a class for the new LMP3 cars go some way to assisting IMSA in particular with a looming numbers issue?
At present there are no two major Championships in mixed class sportscar racing that employ the same class structure – The opportunity is available for that to change, not to further homogenise the international scene, but rather to actively encourage mobility between platforms for the teams with the will and the budgets to do so, to stretch those assets for the good of more than one Championship.
You’ll read the thoughts later today of a major player who firmly believes that the time is ripe to make changes now to shape a more sustainable future for the sport – but that requires tough decisions, from and between major Championships.
It may be that from the most difficult ‘moment’ most of us have ever experienced, opportunities have emerged that could secure a better long-term picture than anyone thought imaginable even before COVID-19?