Friday, August 7, 2015

A Quadrennial Discussion: Motorsports in the Olympics

Every four years as the Summer Olympic Games approach the same question is brought up: Why aren't motorsports in the Summer Olympics?

To state it plain and simple, motorsports aren't in the Summer Olympics because they just don't belong. They just don't belong aside sports of track and field, rowing, water polo, soccer, archery and basketball. That isn't a bad thing. That doesn't mean motorsports aren't special or those who compete are motorsports aren't athletes. Motorsports just doesn't fit within the framework of the Olympic Games.

Although it appears the FIA is going try and throw a Hail Mary and pitch Formula E to become apart of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and Formula E has already planned a demonstration run through the streets of Tokyo on August 21-23.

For starters, where would the event take place? Formula E runs on street courses in city centers but is it going to be possible to shut down city streets when a city of millions is hosting hundreds of thousands of guests who probably need to get across the city to get to another venue for another sporting event.

A permanent circuit would be ideal in that streets would not have to be closed and grandstands wouldn't need to be constructed. Taking Tokyo as the example, the Tsukuba Circuit is an hour and a half from Tokyo, Fuji Speedway is just under two hours away, Twin Ring Motegi is just over two hours away and Suzuka is over four hours away. The only issue is if Formula E would be the series of choice then the circuit needs to be shorter in length, although by 2020 the technology might be developed enough that an hour race could take place on a larger circuit with elevation changes. Tsukuba is two miles in length. Fuji only has only one configuration and is nearly three miles in length. Motegi has a few configurations including the East Circuit, which is just over two miles, the West Circuit that is under a mile in length and of course there is the 1.5-mile oval. Along with the full Suzuka Circuit is Suzuka's East Circuit, which famously hosted NASCAR's exhibition races nearly two decades ago, and is under a mile and a half in length.

Motorsports are diverse. As much as it might make sense to have Formula E be the series of choice it would only provide a sliver of what motorsports are and who competes. While you would cover single-seaters with Formula E, you would leave out those who compete in sports cars, touring cars, rally cars and so on. The other problem with using one series as the format of choice for the Olympics would be getting enough cars for each country that can field a participant. Formula E had 20 cars compete in each race but if you take the car swap out of it, there would be 40 cars available and while that sounds like enough to have 40 countries compete, Olympic sports rarely have one competitor representing a country in an event. There isn't one American going for gold in the 100-meter dash; there are four.

Then there comes the issue of gender representatives and this is the issue everyone seems to overlook when it comes to motorsports in the Olympics. Every Summer Olympic sports, except equestrian, has a competition for each men and women and while it seems many do not support the idea of a motorsports series strictly for women, could motorsports join equestrian as the only two sports that are co-ed competitions? The difference between equestrian and motorsports is the amount of competitors in equestrian are closer to 50-50 between men and women than in motorsports. It would be very likely that if motorsports were to become an Olympic sport and if each country would be allowed only one competitor than there would zero women competing in motorsports and that wouldn't be a good thing.

I do think including motorsports in the Olympics and running separate men's and women's competitions has the potential of creating more interest from teams, manufactures and sponsors in giving women more opportunities in existing series. If women had their own competition in the Olympic than seat time year-in and year-out would be beneficial as those who are competing yearly would be favorites to take gold in the Olympics. Sponsors would hopefully realize that if you want a woman from your country to take Olympic gold than you have to support them every single year in whatever series they are competing in.

While motorsports won't be in the Olympics in 2020 and probably won't be in the 2024 games either, let's fancy what it could potentially look like. I wouldn't have just one competition. I would have an open-wheel class with Formula E, a sports car class with Porsche Carrera Cup cars and a touring car class with Renault Clio Cup cars with each class having a men's and women's competition.

I would have the first Saturday and Sunday be for the open wheel class and touring car class. Let's say 40 countries compete. I would have a qualifying session, which would split the field into two heats of 20. The top six from each heat would advance to the final. The remaining 28 teams would then be split again into two fields of 14 with the top three from each advancing to round out the final with 18 countries. The preliminary races for each class could be on Saturday with the finals on Sunday.

The following weekend would feature the sports car class with the same format. On the second Sunday though, after the sports car class final, which would occur around brunch time, I would have a 6-hour endurance race using the Porsche Carrera Cup cars to close out the competition with all the countries competing. Each team would feature one male drive and one female driver.

The Olympics don't need motorsports and motorsports don't need the Olympics. While it would be nice, with all the conflicts of interests between sanctioning bodies and manufactures and sponsors, including motorsports into the Summer Olympic Games would be a bigger headache than it is worth. If there is one thing motorsports doesn't need is another headache.