OPINION | The wheels are rolling again as SA motorsport sets the bar
• Round 1 of the South African Endurance Series (SAES) welcomed back motorsport in SA.
• New rules for the 'new normal'.
• Live streaming is the way to go.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za
I am convinced that I am not the only one who woke up on Friday morning at 04:40 without an alarm clock. We were undoubtedly waiting to return to the race track for quite some time. It has been four months and 12 days since the last racing event in South Africa.
Sunday, 15 March saw the national state of disaster declared due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It brought the entire industry to an immediate halt, and with strict limitations regarding gatherings, it did not look like we would see the proverbial green light any time soon. But let us all quickly thank Motorsport South Africa (MSA) for the efforts that went into their proposal to get the sport up and running again.
24 and 25 July saw us back at Zwartkops Raceway for Round 1 of the South African Endurance Series (SAES).
Cars on track again at Zwartkops Raceway. Image: Wheels24/Reynard Gelderblom
Strict rules to set an example in these new times
The return to racing did not come without a set of rules. No spectators were allowed for the first event last week, while members of the media were also limited based on their motivations regarding work to be published. Masks were worn at all times, and the morning started with a full screening of those entering the premises. Entrants also had to reduce their number of staff members to four people. This is as per the regulations agreed with the Department of Sport and Recreation. MSA must be praised for their quick implementation of these rules; merely eight days after they have been granted permission to resume activities. Still, the weekend was in many ways a trial-run for the road ahead to ensure full compliance.
This trial was also personally overseen by the big three within the organisation: Adrian Scholtz (CEO), Vic Maharaj (Sporting Manager) and Anton Roux (COB).
Anton Roux, COB of MSA. Image: Wheels24/Reynard Gelderblom
We caught up with Roux on Friday afternoon (24 July) who provided some further input: "We have come up with a proposal which allows us to continue with racing, but while doing our best to prevent the spread of the virus. We are confident that our licence holders will play their part in this. From what I have seen thus far, they cannot be faulted on their compliance."
Motorsport is one of the first sporting codes to resume activity since March. When asked about sharing MSA's proposal to other sporting bodies, Roux replied: "There will, of course, be an assessment following this weekend's race as we want to ensure the continuation of the sport, but while preventing the spread of the virus.
"All other sporting bodies are welcome to get into contact with us regarding our proposal and plans. In more ways than one, it is even more important than ever for all of us to work together now."
Keagan Masters in the VW Supa Polo. Image: Wheels24/Reynard Gelderblom
Back to the track
The weekend's activities were headed up by the opening SAES round. The category generally caters for all closed-wheel vehicles eligible to compete in other championships. Still, Zwartkops Raceway saw a host of newcomers for the series given that this was the first major race to be held in months. Notable amongst these were reigning GTC Champion Keagan Masters and GTC2 Champion Brad Liebenberg who teamed up with Daniel Rowe and Johnathan Mogotsi respectively. Both entrants competed in the brand new Volkswagen Supa Polos; the first competitive outing for these cars.
Support categories included the regional Bridgestone BMW Club Racing Series who fielded the biggest grid on the day, Motul Clubmans, Lotus Challenge and Formula Monoposto.
The coming weeks should see further announcements regarding 2020 calendars for various tours and championships.
Livestreaming crew. Image: Wheels24/Reynard Gelderblom
It's time to go live
Throughout the weekend, one of the most significant talking points on social media was live broadcasting of events. For a couple of years, SAES has already been providing a live stream for fans to keep up with the action.
The weekend also saw the Bridgestone BMW Club Racing Series joining them online; in fact, they were the first local series to have a race broadcasted following the resumption.
While online streaming has become the norm for many championships globally, there does seem to be resistance towards this locally. The broadcasting model to date was centred around a television packaged aired approximately three weeks following the event. In many instances, this coincided with the next round of the particular series being aired.
Many championships, however, have a substantial presence on social media with direct reporting. In these new times, a mere Facebook or Instagram post will not feed the hunger from the fans. With live television not being a cost-effective method, now is certainly the time for event promoters to embrace the benefits that come from online streaming.
Dayne Angel smiling behind his mask. Image: Wheels24/Reynard Gelderblom
The return of motorsport certainly brought smiles to many masked-faces this past weekend. Although the endurance race was cut short following an incident in which a car caught alight, the SAES certainly lived up to the expectations of their long-anticipated return.
Roger Pearce and his team at the helm of the series certainly delivered and we are looking forward to seeing more from them for the remainder of 2020.
Given the threat that the Covid-19 pandemic poses to us with South Africa now ranked fifth in the world with cases, we are certainly looking forward to seeing the example set by SAES and MSA being followed by all.
Motorsport competitors love nothing more than being in the lead, and this past weekend they indeed showed they are leading the way for all sporting codes in the 'new-normal' times.
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