The future of motorsport?
Lewis Isaacs wonders about the future of motorsports when Audi pulls out of WEC to race electric cars.
For the uninitiated, the WEC has arguably the world’s fastest test lab for manufacturers. The rules are incredibly open, allowing for a diversity in drivetrain and aero packages that all race competitively at near-f1 speeds for hours at a time.
Audi ran a hybrid diesel for a long time and has been the most successful manufacturer over the last two decades.
Now it will close its program, with its Formula E ABT Sportline partnership a more significant focal point for its attention.
With its all electric cars due to hit the roads in the coming years, it makes sense for Audi to look into Formula E – a championship that is also opening its regulations to allow for something similar to an arms race – but the statement of abandoning its biggest and most recognisable program for a young, all-electric series is bold.
Or perhaps it’s a reflection of the loss its parent company the VW group is feeling from dieselgate.
Either way, it’s bad for the WEC.
There’s a school of thinking in sports that has taken hold since the Oakland A’s introduced moneyball to baseball.
Basically, teams without cash would look for specific value in players and build a team of champions for a fraction of the cost of the big boys.
Now, it’s hard to transfer the thinking directly to other sports, but there could be some great value in the V8 Supercars driver market.
Veteran drivers Jason Bright and Garth Tander joined the market that includes a list of promising youngsters and impressive candidates who bring significant backing. The mix of experience, speed, cash and a safe pair of hands is available in a many of different combinations depending on your needs.
There are also few front-running seats available.
Tander answered 2017 queries in a Sandown 500 press conference, saying: “I know what I’m doing. I’ve got a fair idea…I’m not telling you, though.”
He was dropped by his team a week later and had high profile accidents at Bathurst and the Gold Coast.
Clearly, the good will he earned at Sandown has started to wane.
A driver of his skill (he’s still very quick and an outstanding racer) shouldn’t have any problems nabbing a competitive seat. Say he doesn’t secure one, then he goes head-to-head with guys with more cash and less talent.
Jason Bright is in a similar situation.
It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s motorsports. A smart team would snap either up at a decent price. They’re too good not to be full-time and it would be a bad look for the sport to lose them.
So what’s the upside?
Some of the smaller teams can pick up some very good drivers with experience for good value. It’s a punt worth taking in favour of a pay-driver, with these proven performers unlike to bring significant repair bills and can open doors to new sponsors.
Think Dave Reynolds at Erebus. Or Nick Percat at LDM. They’ve offered more than any pay driver could.
It’s time for some teams to be very brave in the market.
It’s nearly the time of the year when rallying comes to Oz.
By mid-November the WRC will head to Coffs Harbour for the season finale. That’s exciting in itself, but teams are already readying for the introduction of the new-spec machinery for 2017.
The new rules will boost power, cut the minimum weight by 25kgs, add a centre differential and a whole bunch of aero.
It promises to be very fast. Very dusty. And lots of fun.