Friday, 4 April 2014

There has been lots of talk lately regarding over subscribed racing calenders, racing formats and all manner of items related to the running of major race meetings. Since I signed up for this blog I thought I might spend a bit of time writing my own thoughts on some of these matters.

I'll do a summary upfront because I do get a bit rambly at times. Breaking it down into key points-

1) Clubs that want to organise larger events need to start doing more than just supply a date and offer some dodgy trophies.
2) Event results should be cumulative across all the legs (A, B etc). Just because you qualify well or not shouldn't dictate your maximum or minimum finishing position.
3) Qualifying should be a totally different format than the Finals racing.

I've found it increasingly difficult to justify the time and expense required to attend, even relatively local "larger" meetings. There has been no drop in my desire to race at these meetings. If anything the desire has grown, especially now I live in a town with very limited opportunities to race, but every attempt seems to net less and less results. Like many average racers I have a fairly strict budget  but as club days grow shorter and more intense and larger race meetings grow longer; and with more and more events to chose from, for someone like myself, it becomes increasingly difficult to choose which event to attend. It becomes a delicate balance between expenditures and possible results.

Don't kid yourself for a moment - results matter. People try to espouse otherwise but no one wants to spend hours traveling in a car or plane, spend a small fortune on accommodation, parts and entry fees to be the one that comes last.

Now if I was a good comedian or writer I'd have a good segue to link this all together but I'm not so I'll just keep plowing on with a few gripes.

Gripe 1 - Its not enough anymore for a club to simply advertise an event and expect people to turn up.
Far too many clubs are advertising an event and offering some dubiously valued trophies and expecting people to flock to it. This may have been a good strategy 15 or 20 years ago when there were far fewer clubs with the facility to run such events, but in 2014 almost every moderately sized club has timing gear and some form of drivers stand and pit area.

This strategy is also completely out of step with how many other non-profit events organise themselves. This is an important distinction here - for the VAST majority of RC'ers, actual RC racing is a bottomless money pit with no chance of ever recouping even a tiny percentage. This seems to be totally ignored by the majority of clubs when they organise an event. While it's impossible for clubs to do anything about travel costs or personal outlays for spares etc I've yet to see a club seriously try to do anything about arranging accommodation. Sure they might provide a couple of links to nearby motels on the entry form but I've never seen one yet try and organise group or bulk discounts. I don't even see anyone organise billeting amongst their members. Or, IF they do offer this they offer it to the big star names that are attending who, frankly, are the people that need it least. It just becomes a personal ego boost to the person that offers it.

Before you start howling me down this sort of thing is VERY common for a lot of other organised events. My partner attends at least 2 conferences a year to do with groups connected with her work. Both are non-profit and get no funding from anywhere except their members, yet both take the time and effort to arranged moderately priced accommodation, either at the conference venue or at nearby motels. Some even arrange transfers and transport for people traveling from interstate or overseas. Smaller music festivals do the same sort of thing (forget things like the Big Day Out - these are corporate events making squillions of $$ and everyone gets paid). Every year there are dozens of smaller music festivals around the country and the organisers of these again take the time to arrange very moderately priced or free accommodation as many of the acts rarely get paid to perform. Any money they make is from selling CD's of their music or making contacts for paid performances elsewhere.

Now I am sure there are some who are screaming at their monitors that organsing an RC event is difficult and takes lots of work and there is no possible way they could do that. It IS a lot of work, and I know this as I have helped organise events for some of the clubs I've been a member of, BUT it its peanuts compared to a music festival with half a dozen venues spread across an entire town with over a hundred different artists and music genres and their associated needs all being run simultaneously. My partner has been part of small teams organising several of these festivals. The closest RC comparison I could give would be an RC event with on-road, off-road, indoor, crawling and drift all happening at the same time with cross entering allowed between all events so you have to arrange a schedule that allows anyone from any event to race in any other event without clashing.

Gripe 2 - Why are we using a racing format that hasn't changed in over a decade and why is it so rubbish in the first place.
The current racing format used in electric on-racing hasn't changed for some time, and this is despite not just advances in motor and battery technology, but also in timing software which can allow a larger proportion of an event to run autonomously and to a much tighter schedule. Yet most larger events drag on for at least 3 days with a set number of qualifiers and finals and a reward system in both which doesn't reward anyone but the top 10 people.

Firstly I have to ask a question - why are only the top 10 qualifiers permitted to win an event outright? Possibly because our racing format was created in an era when everything was hand timed and counted and no one could keep track of every single result over a long weekend of racing. In the 21st century however, we have computers and printers and databases and super accurate timing gear where everyone can be timed to the thousandths of seconds. The probable reasons for why the racing format we use was created just no longer apply. Why should my qualifying position automatically dictate my maximum finishing position? It certainly wouldn't in 1:1 racing.

I will use a personal experience with a little extrapolation to underline what I mean. At a recent event I only managed to qualify 12th. I won't bore you with excuses as to why this was the case but in the first final I manged to win the First B final leg. When I compared the race time and laps with the A main result I noted that my B result would've been good enough to finish about 7th in the A. Let us ignore the reality and imagine that this was the only final race for each of the A,B etc and those were the finishing results for the meeting - the best I could expect to finish for the event was 11th, yet my actual on track performance was good enough for 7th when compared to all the runners in those finals.

So why should I only finish 11th and others finish ahead of me despite not actually delivering that result on the track? The current system actually creates a situation where someone could qualify for the A main, not race any of the A finals and STILL be rewarded with 10th place trophy. IMO that's just utter BS. It already creates situations where a driver can win 2 rounds and then sit out the 3rd, assured of their 1st place regardless of what the result in the 3rd round is.

There has been talk about changing the race formats to incorporate longer finals, using fewer qualifiers or removing aspects such as being able to drop a worst round. In my opinion those are completely irrelevant while continuing to use a system that only rewards the top 10 qualifiers. We still need a separate qualifying and racing format but qualifying should be about going fast and the racing should be about consistency. There still needs to be a reward for TQ'ing and there will always be an advantage to qualifying well because if you DO qualify well you'll be racing with a group of people who are probably very similar speed to you and it will help your overall result, but just the same why can't someone who doesn't have the best qualifying be resigned to preset position when their RACING performance is equal to or better than others?

We all know that someone winning an event while running in a B or C final isn't likely but I don't believe it should be pre-ordained just because you didn't qualify as well as someone else. To use a real world example - At Symmons Plains for the recent V8SC round, Craig Lowndes had his qualifying result disallowed for an infringement. This meant he was put to the back of the grid. It was a 25 car field so using our current RC system he would've been relegated to the C final. In the real race he worked his way up to 5th place which gave him a 5th overall for the race. Under our current RC system however, and depending on how the numbers were grouped for the B and C finals his position would've reverted to 20th or maybe 18th, regardless of the fact his actual "race time" was good enough to be placed 5th.

So to draw this all together, regardless of what finals format is used it should be cumulative across the whole field and not just elevate the top 10. 

The other major issue I have with current racing format is - Why do I have to be there for a whole 3 days to race ONE class? If I forgo practice on Friday I could bring it down to 2 days but a lot of events are using Friday for scruitneering and tyre impounds. I know there are certain arguments for this and I can understand that, but events like the SEQ Interclub demonstrate that a class can be run entirely on one day using a slightly shorter format. I'm also led to believe that off-road doesn't operate in this fashion and that a class scrutineers, qualifies and finals in one day.

Unfortunately, I tried to outline how I would organise a meeting and it turned this into a rather more weighty bit of reading than it already is and could drag me into discussions about control tyres etc etc. To keep it short I think larger meetings need to be made shorter with a focus on getting a class finished in one day. Qualifying should be made a different format from the finals racing, possibly focusing on shorter actual qualifying runs to achieve extra bench time for setup changes. Finals should be cumulative with a persons actual track performance generating their overall finishing position, rather than being mandated by their qualifying position.

Gripe 3 - Bench time is just as important as track time.
I've encountered this one more at club meets but it can be applied to larger meets as well. It seems to have been forgotten by some club's race directors that people need spanner time on their cars as well as race time.  Not everyone can get there for a couple of hours (or a couple of days when talking big meets) worth of practice before racing begins.

Setup changes and repairs take time but quite often this is ignored in favour of trying to run the meeting as fast as possible. My experience at my home club has been that once the track is setup (its not a permanent track), the lights cost X amount for Y amount of time so they try to push the meeting though to finish before Y amount of time is up. This gives time to pull the track down before the lights go off. The result of this is if you have a major setup change to make or have to do a major repair, it becomes much less stressful to miss a round rather than try and rush to finish. This problem is both improved and exacerbated by it being a small club with, usually, only 2 classes running on a race night. 

Another club I've visited to race F1 has only 2 qualifiers before a long 15 minute final. This is great for locals or regular visitors but, as an very occasional visitor, I found it extremely difficult to get a read on setup direction as well as reacquainting myself with the track layout with so few runs.

Now, I may have it wrong here, but I go racing to relax and have a bit of fun. I don't go to get stressed and rushed trying to make the start of races. At the same time I want some return for my investment and this comes in the form of racing time ON THE TRACK and the social atmosphere of club racing.

I believe the current race day format can be improved on. I've never understood why we use such a regimented system as it is. In 1:1 racing, qualifying is NEVER the same format as the racing so why do we do it in RC? Certainly with the modern timing systems it should be easier to setup and run different formats. We already run staggered start qualifying so why not take that a step further? Do we really need a 6 minute qualifying as well as 6 minute races (for touring classes... 1/12 are 8mins). It could easily be halved to 3 or 4 minutes and have extra rounds. Track time is the same but there would be more time to make those little tweaks and set up changes. Combine that with a single longer final or even stay with multiple shorter finals. There could be a better balance between bench time for those that need it and track time for those that want it.

This can just as easily be applied to larger meets as well.

I'll think I'll leave it there for now. Its already long enough and I have other things I should be doing...

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