At the end of last year I got the chance to pilot a Bridgestone production car at Zwartkops Raceway — the tremendously quick ADF Motorsport BMW 335i, in which Johan Fourie won the 2014 championship. Quite a thing.
What’s also quite a thing is that I was one of last people to ever drive it around a racetrack in any real anger. Because recently, I was shocked to see — via Facebook of course — that the team in question would not be campaigning in the 2015 season.
With Alcohol Killer — a little- known smart drink that apparently battles the effects of booze — not renewing its sponsorship, and no new sponsors stepping up to the plate, ADF Motorsport has been forced to withdraw from the Bridgestone Production Car Championship.
This means that for the first time in many, many years there will be no BMW on the official class A entry list. It also means the two Castrol Mini Coopers will disappear from Class T. It’s a sad state of affairs, the country’s “premier” racing series deteriorating to an even more threadbare condition. For, as it stands right now, there are only four cars present in Class A — and every last one of them wears a four-ringed Audi badge.
Now I don’t know about you, but the prospect of watching a quartet of Quattros fighting for the win doesn’t fill my heart with excitement. Nor should it the hearts of the paying public. All of which begs the question: What happens next?
Personally, I would like to see the current class format razed to the ground and a new one phoenixed from the resultant ashes. You see, over the years, the Bridgestone Production Car Championship has morphed into a niche playground in which only the well-heeled can secure a seat on the swing. That 335i I drove, for example, would have set you back in the region of R1.6-million. But that’s just the tip of the jagged financial iceberg. Maintenance. Consumables. Damages. Practice. Development. Transportation. Accommodation. Mechanics. Throw all of these into the mix and you’re suddenly looking at a discipline that can, in just one season, rack up a bill worth millions.
Now this is fine in the US and Europe, where motor racing is keenly followed and supported. But in a backwater like South Africa where motorsport is less popular — the last time I checked — than darts, well, it is simply not sustainable. So we need to cut our coats to suit our cloth. We need to stop chasing the glamour of ever increasing speeds and switch back to a slower, but more wallet-friendly series akin to the great Group N racing days of the 1980s. You know, when ‘production cars’ really were production cars — not steroidal touring cars masquerading under the banner.
I’d like to see racecars hit the track in pretty much the same specification they’d roll off the production line. Stock engines. Stock engine control units. Stock brakes and suspension. In fact, the only acceptable modifications should include a proper racing seat/harness, a roll cage and a freer flowing exhaust system. This may seem like a galactic step backwards, and I guess to a certain extent it is.
But this return to mechanical simplicity, to accessibility, is exactly what we need to transform South African motorsport back to greatness. With less money needed to go racing, we will see far more names joining the entry lists. And with more competitors comes a bigger audience. And a bigger audience attracts more sponsors who will ultimately help get even more aspiring racers onto our circuits. Sure the cars will be slower, but when you’ve got 30-odd machines lapping Zwartkops in the region of 1min 17sec it doesn’t matter a damn.
The racing will be a mad, door-shredding scramble to the chequered flag and this is exactly what spectators want to see; what the drivers want to experience. We need to go back to basics and I can’t think of a better time to do so.