One of the most iconic American sports events, the Indianapolis 500, is currently on summer vacation mode, as it was postponed to August due to the pandemic. However, fans of the red, white, and blue can still get their fix by tuning into the IndyCar Series, as it runs regularly during the season, featuring many top-notch celebrities and world-class drivers. On the other side of the pond, the legendary Battersea Power Station, the third-tallest building in Europe, is currently hosting the Battersea Arts Festival 2020, a platform for local and international artists to display their work. A few miles away, the Olympic Stadium, the third-largest structure in Europe after the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, is currently hosting the Summer Olympic Games. Across Europe, fans of the home nations can witness their favourite players take the pitch, while others track the action from the comfort of their living rooms.
But what does all this have to do with motorsport? Well, it’s all about size. And no, we’re not referring to the Grand Prix world championships or the Daytona 500. We’re talking about the size of the tracks – in particular, the size of the venues. With the exception of Formula One, which tends to be more of a championship than anything else, all other types of motorsport are played out on larger tracks. It’s the nature of the beast. Going from a road course to a permanent track, you go from handling adversity to being fully prepared for it. If the latter is proving difficult, then maybe it’s time for a change of careers.
The Evolution Of Tracks
When a driver steps onto the grid to commence their stint, there is usually a roar from the spectators. The sheer intensity of the noise can be startling, even causing some people to lose their hearing. For those who are blessed with a perfect pitch, the noise can be deafening. If your hearing isn’t so great, then it’s probably time to find a new career. At least, that’s what Bucky Lasek would tell you.
Since its inception in the 1920s, motorsport has developed from being a rather informal sport to becoming one of the most popular spectator sports worldwide. Along with the rise of television, it became apparent that tracks needed to grow in order to accommodate the increasing number of cars and spectators. In time, the size of the tracks grew to such an extent that it became unfeasible to fit all the cars and fans inside. For those who want to drive on a track, they now need to choose which one to attend. Depending on the capacity of your car, you can usually determine the size of the venue you will be able to access. It’s an issue that nags at the sport’s very core. In most cases, you will only be able to see one-third of the track, due to the stadium’s or the circuit’s seating configuration. Even in cases where there is no visible seating, like motorcycling or oval racing for example, the track surface itself reflects the size of the venue. The closer to the track, the louder the noise will be. It’s simply a byproduct of physics.
Roads And Gravel Aren’t Always Enough
If you’re looking for an even surface to drive on, then you won’t have much luck at scenic drives, parking lots, and rest stops. There is always the option of going off-road, but that usually means more work for the driver and their crew. More often than not, road courses are a mix of tarmac and gravel. The rougher the surface, the more grip it will offer the driver. In most cases, the closer you are to the start of the lap, the faster you will go. When that moment of truth comes, you will find out just how much grip the tyres have left and how badly you were relying on them.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. For example, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a race that takes place on a road course but includes segments on both tarmac and gravel. The same can be said for the Rallye ouverte de France, which is a mix of both forest roads and tarmacs. In both of those cases, you will find that the cars perform better on the varied surfaces. It’s all about which one is more suitable for the car you’re driving and the style you want to employ.
It All Comes Down To Money
While all this may be true to an extent, it’s not the whole story. Going from a road course to a permanent track isn’t as easy as it might seem. You have to take into account a number of other variables, including money. In most cases, it isn’t just the cost of the track surface that is prohibitive, but the lack of funding. In many cases, it is the towns and cities that host the tracks that struggle to find the funds to update the infrastructure. In some instances, it can even mean a lack of facilities, like hotels or restaurants, as well as an unsafe stadium environment.
The Economics Of It All
Even today, the cost of a track can range from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars. It can even be said that the investment is never really repaid, as the infrastructure and economic spin-offs associated with the track mean that it is still considered a worthwhile investment. One of the most iconic sports arenas in the world, the Rose Bowl, cost around $60 million to build in the first place. It wasn’t simply the construction of the stadium that made it expensive to run – it was the land that it stood on, which had to be purchased.
In time, as mentioned above, the size of the tracks increased, resulting in bigger economies. In most cases, tracks that are this size have a permanent population of around 100,000, while the venues that are larger tend to attract larger audiences and generate more spin-off revenue. Even in cases where the track doesn’t generate an excess of revenue, it is usually the case that host towns and cities benefit from the presence of a high-profile sports team or tournament. Hosting the English Premier League has resulted in a £76 million economic boost for Salford, England, for example.
The Impact On Health
It isn’t just a matter of money. The health impacts of going from a road course to a track have been cited many times. It will certainly be louder, due to the increased capacity for noise pollution. The stadium will be a better sound reflector, resulting in even more noise. Since it is a closed circuit, there is also the possibility of contracting COVID-19, as well as other infections that are more prevalent at motor sport events. The same goes for the thousands of cars that will be travelling at high speeds on the track. It is a definite health risk. For example, during the recent Chinese Grand Prix, six people tested positive for COVID-19, while there were seven cases of the H1N1 virus and five cases of the MERS virus.
How Is It Allowed?
While we’re on the subject of allowing things, let’s talk about the differences between Hockenheim and the Indycar Series. Hockenheim is a race track in Germany that was originally built for motorsport events, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is recognised as one of the most beautiful sport venues in the world. After a few years of inactivity, racing became legal again in 2009, with the Grand Prix d’Europe the first event to be held there that year. One of the main differences between the two venues is the approach to safety. At Hockenheim, all cars are required to wear protective headwear and gloves and to drink alcohol before and during the race. They are also banned from having flares or lasers installed on their cars. The safety measures are there to protect the drivers as well as the audience, as they want nothing more than for everyone to have a good time. As a result, there have been no fatalities at Hockenheim since its reopening in 2009. The health and safety measures are minimal compared to what you might find at an Indianapolis Raceway, but then again, you would never know what kind of accident might happen at an Indycar race.
So, there you have it. Going from a road course to a track isn’t as easy as it might seem. Of course, you could always go it alone, should you feel especially brave. Just make sure that you’re ready for the consequences. If you do decide to take this route, then make sure that you’re accompanied by legal, safe, and sane drivers. In the meantime, the roads will have to do. At least, until the next pandemic.