It’s that time of the year again. The time when the golfing, sailing, and football-loving worlds collide as summer turns into autumn and the last few remaining shirtless swimmers reluctantly give way to the ever-encroaching cloud of cold air and dark mornings.
This is the time of the year when the International Speedway Cup, otherwise known as the World Cup, takes place. You might be familiar with the concept – nine teams of drivers attempt to make it to the top step of the podium, or at least wrap up the majority of the points accrued during the season. It’s the ultimate test of who’s got the horsepower and what kind of working relationships drivers can build up over the course of a season. And just like that, the summer is gone and the World Cup has begun. For many, this is a time to sit back and enjoy a season of motor racing – but is it really?
Nine Teams, One Location
The first thing that might spring to mind when you hear of the World Cup is the obvious – the size of the field. This year there are only nine teams involved, each comprising of three cars. Before you dismiss this as an opportunity to rest and recharge during an otherwise busy season, know that this is the smallest World Cup in history. The previous record-holder for the smallest field was also contested by just nine teams, and in that year there were 14 cars per team. Even worse, this year’s Cup has fewer events, meaning that if you miss even one race you’ll be a bit bereft of opportunities to qualify for the podium. It’s like the old adage – you get what you pay for. The smaller the field, the more you’ll have to fight for. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
Before we answer that question, let’s take a trip back to what is perhaps the greatest World Cup of all time. The 1955 World Cup was a mammoth 16-team competition that spanned four months and featured 48 races. The trophy that was presented to the winning team, or group of teams, was the equivalent of around 100 kilograms in weight. That’s a lot of weight to bear around a racetrack – and not one that has a short straights like today’s sport cars. It’s amazing that such a trophy still exists, and not only that but that it was originally designed to be carried by ten people. In those days it meant that you were seriously physically exhausted by the end of the day. It was the epitome of a World Cup that lasted forever.
The Appeal Of A Smaller Field
There’s a reason why the 1955 World Cup is the best-known and most-remembered example of a World Cup field this size. The attraction – and I use that word advisedly – is in the quantity and the quality of the racing. With only nine teams, there’s a good chance that several of the races will end up being battles for position. And the fact that each event is worth only three points lessens the inclination to take a more casual approach. In addition, the smaller the field, the more individual glory that can be accrued by the participants. One team’s heroics can be another’s heartbreak – and a game that spans 60 minutes, or even an hour, is not something that you’d want to skip. There’s a lot of intensity and a lot of heartache in these races, and that’s what makes them so appealing. It might not seem obvious, but the less there is to win, the more there is to play for.
Another interesting side-effect of the smaller field is that it makes overtaking much more plausible and even probable. Not only is it easier for the cars to pass one another, but with only a few cars on the track at any given time there are fewer opportunities for accidents. This is particularly beneficial for rookie drivers who might not have the experience to deal with the unexpected. In addition, the racing is likely to be much more entertaining for the spectators, as there’s more action packed into a smaller space. It’s all about trade-offs. You get what you pay for, but in terms of entertainment value this year’s version of the World Cup might just be the best yet.
Size And Weight Don’t Always Matter
Now let’s switch to a different topic. Not every good idea needs to be big and showy, and often the smaller, the better. Take the Le Mans 24-hour race, for example. In the early days it wasn’t uncommon for there to be over 100 participants, all racing for the prestigious Green Jacket. That’s a lot of cars and drivers, and not one that you’d want to mess with. Over the years the race has dwindled in size, and the number of entries has dropped considerably, to the point where there are now only a few dozen cars and bikes that take part. But that doesn’t mean that the competition has gotten any less fierce or the experience any less rewarding. In fact, it’s more intense than ever before thanks to the variety of tactics available to the drivers, and the technology that’s been developed to make communication easier – allowing drivers to work together even when they’re on different teams. It also helps that there’s less at stake this year. Only three points are on the line for each race, rather than the usual six or seven. Not only does that make the drivers more focused, but it also encourages them to come to the aid of a fellow driver if he or she is struggling to keep the car on the race track – which can lead to some spectacular overtaking maneuvers. Communication and cooperation are vital in these types of situations – if you’re not playing by the rules you’re likely to lose the game. In some places it’s still very much a man’s game, and for the most part the participants are still very much driven by the glory of beating the other guy.
One Big Difference
One major difference between today’s version of the World Cup and the 1955 original is the location. While the latter was held across Europe, with the majority of the races being held in France, Italy, and Germany, this year’s version will be taking place in the United States. The only previous time that this happened was in 2007, when all the races were held in the country as a result of the economic downturn. Since then, the United States have hosted only the Indy 500, while Canada, Mexico, and the rest of North America have taken a back seat. This is because of the sheer volume of traffic that the races attract. While there’s still the same desire to see the best drivers in the world compete in this type of event, the limited number of hotels and motels available in the area make it less attractive to the non-North American participants. That, and the fact that there aren’t any conveniently-located international airports nearby. It would be great to see all the world’s greatest racers come to the United States, but the logistics of getting them all here are far from easy.
But while the location might matter, the size of the field doesn’t. In a perfect world all the world’s greatest racers would be in a room, discussing strategy and what needs to be done when, with one team dominating the competition and the rest battling for position. In reality, with the size of the room limited there’s still plenty of room for everyone to have a say. It can be a bit chaotic at times, but that’s what makes it so much fun. You never know what’s going to happen next, and that’s what makes a World Cup such an exciting spectacle. Despite the limited field size, or perhaps because of it, the overall atmosphere of the tournament is anything but subdued. The smaller the field, the more intense the rivalry between the drivers, and that’s what makes this year’s World Cup such a compelling event.