#Focus – Historic Racing, it has changed, and ?

Historic racing is regarded as a “gentleman” sport since its beginning but as everything, things do change and evolve. If you consider the past, we’ve gone from little club events to gigantic one with TV production and all the surrounding of a proper modern racing event. Historic racing is now a market, it’s gone professional with all the politics and madness that goes with it. We’re here gonna have a look at it and the performance side.

Historic racing has gone professional in every way possible. Look at the organisers, there are the old ones still there and doing their stuff but some big and new organisers, some that saw that there was money to make in it and the ones which were once devoted to modern racing have now gone fully historic because of the economic struggles and also the fact that historic racing means valuable cars with wealthy owners ! But the teams have changed as well, in the mid-90’s you could name the big 10 teams of historic in every country and some didn’t have many, it is the same for drivers, the big regulars were well known but today it has changed with the young boys getting in as well, maybe a way for them to buy the success they can’t buy in modern racing.

Many people say the change has come from the performance of the cars so it’s more expensive and so it becomes dangerous for the sport. This is not a sensible way to look at it and let me explain why.

Silverstone Classic, a modern and entertaining event for historic racing.
Silverstone Classic, a modern and entertaining event with a funfair and music festival arround historic racing.

If you look at historic racing back in the 90s, the big players were already there and the others were already following, some had a truck, others had a motorhome and a lot were just there with their trailers and personnal cars but it was already a big competition. Guys, like Nigel Hulme, Martin Stretton, Carlos Barbot, Yvan Mahé, Simon Hadfield, Philippe Harper, Steve Hitchins were already at the front as well as many others but as an “old man” sport, a lot or some of them have now quitted. International events did exist with the Oldtimer in Germany, the Coys Silverstone event in England, the Grand Prix de l’Age d’Or in France to name a few and almost every country had their own domestic championship with Pre-66 racing being at its peak then. Historic racing was then already big but the actors were more of “insiders”, the cars were already expensive if you were looking at the figures and the market.

Today and since the 2000s, interest has grown, bigger events have come out and were needed as the demand was there. We’ve also been hit by the world economic struggles. What came out of that is the ever increasing value of the cars which has caused many of them quitting the sport or being replaced by the “clones” even if it was an already known fact and practice before that. With the clones, no matter what happened, there is no loss in the value of the car which for many is an investment as well as a toy. The world economic struggle that motorsport suffered mainly hit the modern side of it because it is directly linked to communication budget.

The loss that modern or professional motorsport suffered benefitted to historic racing. Yes, in historic racing the cars are valuable and you don’t need to invest every year for upgrades at stratospheric prices to keep up with the rest of the field. A car is history and stick to its period configuration as well as having its history as a valuable parameter. What come out of all that shit ? Simple, the sport is heading for an even more professional environment, there are big and professional events all arround the world, the people buying the cars at crazy prices who are willing to enjoy them on track will put the budget to get the maximum out of it as well as enjoying their weekends and if you want to be successfull, what is the problem of getting a “pro”, a “youngster” to partner you to succeed as well as having your team running the car as a modern one ?

Crashes, it's always been part of racing, if you're ain't trying, you're not winning !
Crashes, it’s always been part of racing but if you’re ain’t trying, you’re not winning ! And they came back the next year.

Historic racing has grown as a package with every elements in it being pushed to the limit to make it appealing, successfull and of course to make profit. It is the same for the cars. Buying an historic racing car is a dream for many, something part of their childhood or simply a true love for the object itself but it is also an investment, moreover, you can enjoy the investment on track and when you look at the figures, if you pay the price to buy it, you are ready to put the price to enjoy it. By enjoying it, you want it to perform and make the best out of it, yes, it’s competition. Historic racing is a competition, a real one where people put the price to enjoy their goods in a dedicated environment, it has its own specialist, drivers, teams, organisers and it is the way to go today if you want to enjoy many tracks that are today only open to the “very rich” or talented professionals if you look at circuit like Le Mans or Monaco.

Le Mans Classic. The only way to race at Le Mans if you are not a pro. or part of the happy few.
Le Mans Classic. The only way to race at Le Mans if you are not a pro. or part of the happy few that can afford it.

The ever increasing world of historic racing has had many people saying the performance of the car have drastically been changed, that it does not reflect what it was and the books but that is pure nonsense. History is history and today we are playing a modern sport based on historic devices. The technologies we have today have of course benefitted to the racing and the cars but there is no revolution and let’s face 3 examples.

People complain about some period racecars performing well over what we remember of the period. T70s for example, today it is the car to have if you wanna go sportscar racing, and it’s winning everywhere but in period, it did not really perform well they say with a lot of DNFs for example. It’s right if you look at long distance races, Le Mans was never good for the T70s, it’s true but look at the first ever race of the Interserie at the Norisring in 1970, a raw city circuit with all sorts of competition as well as a much shorter distance than the Le Mans race, pole was a T70 Mk3B with Teddy Pilette and the VDS car, in front of the 917s ! During the race, it was another story but Jo Bonnier took 9th place with another car of the same type in the 1st race and 4th place in the second ! The T70 was a good car, capable in the right condition to mix with the best but maybe it did not have the support of a factory like Porsche or Ferrari in the World Endurance Championship of the period. It was simply and as the books say, a customer car and that explain something as well as the fact that we don’t see Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 regularly in historics at the front. In period, these cars were factory supported and the customer service was at its peak in order to provide the parts for all the customers. There were many privateer 917 and 512 but the service was there and the parts as well. The goal for the 2 factories was to win the championship so they were helping the customers because in the case of the factory failling, the customer could still take the championship points. Today is another matter, these cars are extremely valuable and only a few can pay to maintain them for historic racing. The other fact, is that racing one of them is risky, you need skills to handle them and you better have them if you don’t want to destroy your investment arround a track and it’s the same for every car arround but the values and the sourcing of the parts play a role in the performance. Only a few are ready or have the skills to race the proper cars like in period and mainly the historic “pros” achieve laptimes reflecting the history.

The 289 Shelby Cobra, everybody say it’s nothing like period. I don’t care about the car chassis number or anything linked to that, only the performance, 1964 Goodwood Tourist Trophy and the qualifying times. Dan Gurney was the first Cobra with the derived Daytona Coupe and achieved a time of 1.27.200 arround the track, the first roadster were Jack Sears and Roy Salvadori both achieving the same time of 1.28.00. The best time achieved this year at the Goodwood Revival RAC TT race was done by Olly Briant and his partner Andrew Smith with the famous GPG4C Cobra and they did a 1.25.247, putting the car on pole, in the race, they would unfortunately retire but David Hart and Giedo Van Der Garde would achieve a 1.25.452 and win the race as well. That is only half a second faster than Dan Gurney in period and two and half faster than Roy Salvadori and Jack Sears. So where is the problem when you consider, Giedo Van Der Garde was in the car and he is an F1 test driver or was I should say, he achieved a better time than his fellow GT competitors like Dan Gurney in period. David Hart did compete at Le Mans with podium finishes as well as Andrew Smith and Olly Bryant being regulars in various modern GT championship, proper drivers in proper and well prepared cars. They had the car, the package, the skills and a track that was resurfaced some years ago to play on with everything (or not) to achieve their goals. Simple isn’t it ? And I don’t see a massive revolution except that here, we have the race that everyone wants to win in historics and that the drivers were very good as the whole field is. You want to argue about the dominance of the Cobra ? Look at the books, by 1964 nothing else than the Cobra did win in international GT racing. That was a revolution and not even Ferrari or Jaguar could have turned that arround.

Monaco is Monaco and having the Historic Grand Prix does have appeal, I would love to do it if I had the skills but I wouldn’t try anything to do it as I prefer to let the good ones have their fun there. Laptimes again and qualifying session, Michael Lyons won the race and that’s great, Michael is a good guy but on the performance side, he put his hesketh 308E on pole with a 1.32.055, that would have placed him 12th on the 1977 grid. Yes, Lyons isn’t Watson and during the race, even worse, 1.33.904 was his best and overall fastest time but he won the race and we won’t take that away is a talented guy full of promises racing in modern GT, he got his victory there, it’s in the books and the watch of course but in period that wasn’t a good time, the best was a 1.31.700 during the race by Sheckter and pole by Watson was a 1.29.860. Okay the circuit has changed but the common’ thinking would say that development would have made the car faster, but even if better now, it does not work. Tyres have benefitted of a better understanding, engine are smoother with torque and hp being optimized even if rev-limited as well as the gearbox being smoother but all of that hasn’t made it all different.

These examples are what they are, concerning some particular cars but whatever we do, historic racing is a competition and it will remain like this with its heroic move and drama. The cars are reflecting the period results but the races are much shorter today which sometimes make a period unreliable car a winner. Of course, development is a factor in historic racing. Some cars behave much better today than in period but if you were playing it, wouldn’t you be maximizing your chance of being competitive ? Every person is diferent and will do it his way but it is a part of it and the laptimes haven’t gone stratospheric if we have a good look at it.

Another factor are the tracks which have improved in terms of surface and run-off area. You can today risk the car to a level we probably wouldn’t if we had the period tracks. The young or old experienced guys will always be at the front as well, this is talent or practice, call it what you want. A lot of people do forget that in every sport, the more you practice, the more you understand the car and perform so you can’t blame a pro for winning the races or achieving what you cannot do. Also there are the one playing it hard and putting everything together to succeed, because it is a package, if you have the driver, you need the car and the team as well as the budget. Simply compare that to any other form of motorsport and more generally sport and I’m sure you’ll understand.

Finally, why have the cost gone up ? Because 20 years ago there were 6 or 7 big events and same number for the international series, everything was more domestic. It’s gone mad with almost an event every weekend now, domestic or international with some very big events arround the world like Monaco, Le Mans Classic and of course the best of all, Goodwood but organising the events has a cost, the circuit having witnessed the historic racing growth do tend to ask for more money today than before and that reflects in the entry fee, justified yes ! So if you want to play it, the logistics, the preparation of the car and the track time you need to perform is a cost as well as the entry fee.  But this is a much reasonable cost compared to doing the real Le Mans 24 Hours or even modern GT racing and keep in mind that the car is and will remain valuable. So performance is not the only thing to talk about. We say globalism today and it does work for historic racing, it’s gone globaly more expensive but we do love and enjoy it so keep it as it is and remember, we’re here for the beers !

The Dude.

Historic Lap Time Analysis

One thought on “#Focus – Historic Racing, it has changed, and ?

  1. Like everything – the market will decide. I have participated and enjoyed many European Classic Car events over the years (not so many in the US) but today the sheer volume of fabulous events have strangely diluted the uniqueness – it is not just the commercialisation but the erosion of that rarified moment, at Le Mans or Monaco and more recently at Goodwood, that is melting in the global warming of the plethora of new events. I still visit 5 or 6 major events every year but maybe they will be a different 5 or 6 in the future but thinking about it, probably not. Very interesting article – thank you. Peter Nash

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