What Will Historic Motorsport Grids Look Like In Ten Years’ Time?
Photography by Will Broadhead
Nestled into the barrier on the inside of Druids Bend at the historic Brands Hatch circuit, in the south east of England, I found myself contemplating the future. Having completed my customary walk of the circuit early that morning well before the racing, I had perhaps seen a glimpse of what the future might hold, with the ten-foot-high, ugly, safety fencing that had been erected along the entire perimeter of this otherwise picturesque place in order to host the DTM championship later in the year. I wasn’t a fan, and whilst I understand its purpose and have no wish to see harm come to anybody, it doesn’t mean I have to like the almost dystopian wall spoiling what had once been a superb view of the action.
But before I became too fixated on metal palisades (I’ll admit, that is an exaggeration), I reminded myself just why I was there; to experience some fabulous motor racing. It wasn’t historic stuff this weekend, instead something much faster was in town in the form of the British GT championship. A plethora of GT3 and 4 Aston Martins, Nissans, McLarens and Lamborghinis et al. would be duking it out at top whack, around the fabulous undulations and bends that guide machines around one of my favorite tracks. Their presence on this rather antique-sized band of tarmac got me thinking about an older generation of GT racers and endurance machines that I had enjoyed at the Silverstone Classic just a few weeks ago, and reminded me of a question I’d asked a mechanic of one of the recently retired LMP-1 cars:
“In 10 or 20 years, what level of performance will we be able to consider ‘classic’ racing?”
Currently we enjoy LMP machines from the 2000s and Grand Prix cars from the early ’80s racing in the excellent Masters championships that accommodate them, but my man’s view was that future championships involving the very top-level prototype racers would be extremely unlikely, due to a few different factors.
The first thing cited as a hindrance was the obvious one: computers and backup systems. He informed me that while there was certainly a large element of computing power required to run the prototypes competing in the Masters Endurance Legends, they were still relatively mechanically simple in the 2000s compared to today, and that with the vast banks of gigabytes needed to run more modern machinery, especially grand prix cars, he couldn’t see a sustainable way to go racing with these machines in the future.
There is also a question of exclusivity, not to mention cost, as the two are more or less one and the same. Many of the thoroughbred racing cars end up in museums or factory facilities, and as such a great deal of the modern classic machines that we enjoy seeing at the minute are the backup cars, reconstructions or never-raced benchwarmers—the champions are tucked up safe out of harm’s way.
The fact is, top level international constructors are highly unlikely to let winning cars go to private owners nowadays, and even if they are, I dread to imagine the sums of money involved in procuring such an item, never mind the cost of competing in it even if you wanted to risk your massive investment. As my friend Steve Griffiths, who owns a fabulous ’89 Lotus Judd, put it, “This is my mortgage and my pension.”
There are of course parades, and events like the Festival of Speed, where one can experience a snatched encounter of recently retired F1 cars. But a bonafide racing series? Without serious involvement and investment from the constructors themselves, I am unsure this will ever be possible. So, what might we see at the top level of future classic racing in a decade or two if the prototypes and F1 machines are out of the picture?
Well as the current crop of GT3 and 4 cars dove down Paddock Hill bend on their first lap of many, I wondered if perhaps these cars—like the domineering catch fencing that obscured them—were a glimpse into the future of classic racing. Unlike the fencing, for me these would be a welcome sight on circuits in 10 or 20 years down the line in a new era of vintage car competition. Experiencing these machines racing in anger in the British GT championship this year has been a wonderful privilege and a visceral experience each time, even with the fences. They look great (and importantly, like cars you might see on the road one day), they sound great, and with the pro-am makeup of the driving pairings, they satisfy another important parameter for potential future historic series; they can be driven by mere mortals, or certainly by pilots who display more human-like levels of skill than the Hamiltons and Vettels of this world.
Indeed, it could be argued that this current crop of GTs, (featuring such luminaries as the Aston Martin GT and Bentley Continental GT, along with relative newcomers like the Huracan and AMG GT), contains the recipe for longevity: a few future road-going classics turned into racing cars that can be driven without the space-fairing levels of computing power and buckets of natural talent needed for F1.
They will not suit everyone’s tastes, I will grant you (especially if you couldn’t care less about anything built post-2000), but some are certain to survive and attain a status beyond “used car.” We may also see single-seaters from the more junior Formulas—F3 and F4 for instance—competing in classic series of the future, but in the same way that vintage F3 today doesn’t draw a crowd like F1, it’s not likely that these will be the ticket-sellers.
Of course, this is all speculation and opinion and in the uncertain world we live in who knows what we and future generations might be enjoying on circuits in years to come—perhaps it will just be the same cars we have now and nothing more, but I doubt it. We are certainly living in a wonderful period for historic racing at the moment, and while I don’t think it needs much changing it’s amusing to pass the time with debates about which current crop of machines will achieve not just historic status in the future, but actual track time at non-parade speeds. What do you think?