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Car racing is for the rich

During the following days the desire to race increased, and, for the umpteenth time, I tried to align the stars in an impossible way to return to sit "one last time" (there is never a last time) in a race car to dispute whatever it was...

But when you try to gather a thousand people for a project, mix interests, sponsorships and ideas, because, simply, your money is not enough to race, is when you fall into the pure and hard reality: You can't race without spending (a lot) of your own pocket.


Stung by the poison of wanting to run, we sometimes intentionally forget that this is very expensive, and only suitable for hardy pockets.

Nowadays we see a lot of projects on every corner where "ordinary people" can race without paying a penny, through hardcore competitions (GT Academy, Make It Your Race, and a few more). But the reality is that racing for free is a pipe dream, almost impossible to achieve. Even the winners of some of these driver selection processes are asked for money to continue racing, no matter how good they are (and I know the case of a kid who is a great driver and... well, he's in the dry dock).

But I'm not going to talk about that today, I'll save it for another day. I wanted to talk about motorsport as a source of personal economic problems. How this is not a sport, but a hobby, very funny, yes, for people with money, and also for people who, not having enough money to afford it, want to get into debt for his hobby, with all that this entails.

Running is never cheap

There are many of you who, either when you are young, or with a few euros in your pocket, are thinking about racing, and you don't even know where to start. Karting? slalom?


The reality is that Spain, despite having created a spectacular infrastructure of professional circuits almost from scratch taking advantage of two simultaneous booms (the construction and the Alonsomania), has hardly any "club" championships for circuits in which to race for little money (some Open I can think of, but they are few).

That's why rallying is still probably the most economical format in which to tackle a sporting foray into the world of motorsport. And you may think that karts are cheaper, and it depends a lot on the personal experience of each one and the championship they face, but my reality tells me that I advise you to pass on them if you are not a kid anymore.

But, when I say that running is expensive, what figures am I referring to?

Running on foot is cheap: You buy a pair of running shoes and go out. You can spend money on heart rate monitors, distance meters and all the "geeks" you can imagine, but with a pair of shoes and desire you can get by.

Football, basketball... add the ball and the search for the team. The problem with cars is that the barrier to entry is already epic in itself.

I, a car nut for as long as I can remember, had first gone through the purgatory of amateur cycling, where the racing bike, the shoes with the automatic cleats, the helmet and other accessories were already expensive in themselves. But nothing prepared me for what I was about to see in the world of four wheels, to which I arrived late (because in my house that racing with karts was never on the agenda of "we can").


Think that to race you need fireproof underwear, boots, gloves, helmet, underhelmet... And you need them to be good. Saving on the helmet is a bad idea, believe me. In addition, the homologation regulations governing races won't let you save on items that expire after a while.

In fact, the introduction of HANS as an obligation in almost every championship has made many of us have to renew helmets and invest in a whiplash device. I could complain, but I can assure you that racing with HANS is always a good idea for your neck.

Whether you're racing in a kart or a car, all that equipment can rob you of between €2,000 and... infinity. Because if you want to spend, believe me, there's plenty of room to spend.

And that's just to equip you.

Cars? karts? rallies? circuits?

The cheapest place to start is definitely the local slaloms. If the organizers aren't too picky, you'll be able to participate with junkyard cars with no papers, a helmet and little else. If they are a bit more demanding, you will have to look for a car with an ITV and papers in order, and equip yourself a bit more with overalls and so on.

Karts

The problem is the next step. Mistakenly, yours truly thought that go-karts had to be a cheap formula for racing and having fun. It's not. Depending on the Autonomous Community you move around and the level of your rivals, karting can be extremely expensive. Beyond the personal equipment I have already mentioned, there is the cost of acquiring a kart, the logistics of transporting it to events, the cost of consumables (wheels, fuel), registration fees, moving a small folder to work...


This is much more expensive than you think at first.

In the end, in contested championships like the Catalan or the Spanish, the costs can skyrocket above what you can spend on racing "with a real car". From spending 1.500€ per event you can spend 6.000€ or more in a single weekend between some things and others, especially if you get into that vicious circle of equipment, in which the brands that sell it will also try to hook you: If your rival uses new wheels every round... aren't you going to do it too? And if he, racing in KF or another open engine category, changes his engine every weekend, won't you do it too?

As many people will tell you, karting is already very expensive, but it can be even more expensive the more expensive you want it to be... Because if you insist on always having the latest equipment, you will have that problem, and to that you have to add personal assistance. If you keep the kart at home, and you don't use an assistant team, you'll have to find transport for it (a big van, a trailer) and find a place in your garage to leave it.

Eventually, there comes a point where it stops being fun and becomes stressful and depressing.

Rallies

I, who like to go backwards, like a crab, started looking into rallying before I started looking into karting. I mistakenly thought that changing rallying for karting would be in favour of my economy. No, it wasn't...

The good thing about regional rallying is that it's a logical step for anyone who came out of slaloms "with good hands". The problems are in... yes, the costs.

And this is even more expensive

The first thing you have to get yourself is a machine to race. If you're a non-starter, the best thing to do is to look for a "savings" package, where they rent you the car (and the co-driver if possible) for a weekend. And is that buying the car is something that is out of almost any cost study. Whatever you buy, you either have a lot of money, or you'll get a car that's too old or too slow to do anything worthwhile.

The main problem with rallying for those of us who don't swim in plenty is keeping the car whole. You can run at your limit, or you can run at 80 or 90% of your potential. If you run at your limit you can bring out your full potential, yes, but you're exposing yourself to the risk of a crash. And in rallying, unlike on the track, every mistake costs money, because you're going to ruin the car. Whether it's a rental or your own, repairs cost money. As a rule, quite a lot of money.

So, as I say, if you don't have the money to spare, you'll have to race fast but with your head on your shoulders. It's better to stay on the road. You can't afford to get out... Renting a car for a weekend can cost you from 1.000 or 2.000€, up to ten times more if you are looking for a "pata negra". To that you have to add the insurance (with excess as a general rule, but at least you will know that if you crash the economic disaster will be less) and the guarantee that usually ask for those who rent it to you.

Add consumables (tyres, petrol), add to this the assistance equipment (unless you prepare the car yourself), and add also the equipment (clothes and others) for you and your co-driver.

Spending 2.000 or 3.000€ in a weekend is not a waste under these circumstances. Of course it can be a little less if you have bought the race car and intend to amortize it over several appearances.

An example/advice? You can get a well-prepared 106 for £7,000 to get you started in rallying. If you use it in seven rallies, you'll be looking at £1,000 per race... if you don't break it, of course. But moving your own car is another odyssey in itself. Moving it on a flatbed will require you to have a B+E driving licence, plus a flatbed and a car with a towball. No, it's not cheap. And you have to find somewhere to leave the car when you're not racing it, of course.

Circuits

But what if rallying isn't your thing, what if you prefer the safety of the circuit loopholes? Spain is not prolific, unfortunately, as I said before, in setting up circuit events.

We have a lot of tracks right now, yes, but they are recent, and we are not a country of "club cups" and the like.

The "good" thing is that there are championships that allow you to start almost from scratch with very little knowledge of this racing. The CER, the Spanish Endurance Cup, especially in its access categories, offers a perfect platform to get started in this racing, especially if you sign up to do it after a few driving courses on the circuit, to adapt to your bike.

But how much does it cost? It's back to the same old story: getting kitted out is the most expensive thing to start with, with €3,000 to put up front to dress up properly. But if you've already covered that, the rest has to be taken into account as well.

As with rallying, you can rent your seat, or buy a car. Renting a seat is not extremely expensive or complicated. If you get around and talk to several teams, negotiating, you can get a car from around 3.500€ per weekend, and even for a little less, if things are bad (for the team, I mean) and the car is not competitive.

If you want a "decent" car to fight at the front (another thing is that your driving level is up to it) or if you want to race alone and not share a car, it can go up to 8.000€ per weekend in a top car of the lower categories. No, it's not cheap.

And if you buy your own car? That's another option. The old Hyundai Getz, Accent and some other single-make cup cars are still tools that change hands between CER drivers, and you can buy them for 1,000 or 2,000 euros. The problem is moving the car to the circuit, which requires logistical costs. And also having a place to keep it, do the maintenance, pay for petrol, tyres...

So, the weekend, at least, can cost you almost 3.000€, even if you set it up well.

Conclusions

Racing is expensive. It is very, very expensive. In fact, it's one of the most expensive sports (sports as such?) that exist. The problem is often the approach to being a "driver".

Are you a pilot if you want to be or if you can? That is possibly the big difference in approach. When you are paying 6.000€ to race every race weekend, you have to take it for what it is: A hobby. You race because you can afford it, or because you want to afford it and you find a way to do it.

The best people don't always race. In fact, there are many "good" ones who are left on the road, or directly at the start, without being able to get behind the wheel of a race car. There are people who see motor racing as a professional activity, with which they can make a living. Unfortunately, in Spain that is an almost impossible task, and very, very few will ever make it.

Investing in your son and pressuring him to become a professional driver (someone who lives from competing on the circuits) is almost a chimera, because it is almost certain that, no matter how many hands he has, he will fall by the wayside due to lack of economic resources, if your current account is not very solvent.

So racing has to be seen as what it is in its raw form: A very, very expensive hobby. A sporting activity among amateurs where those who can pay race, and the victories are disputed by those who can spend more on their cars. Of all those who have been able to pay for it, the one who has the best hands wins, of course.

I don't want to discourage anyone from racing, in fact quite the opposite, but don't ever forget that you are "the customer" of a business built around those who can afford to have motor racing as a hobby.

There is an elite of professionals, very few, who by their hands and know-how when it comes to selling and negotiating, end up doing this professionally within the country (in the rallies, because in the circuits in Spanish championships almost all race paying, with few exceptions), and it is always fighting for the budget each year, moving sponsors, in some cases with money of dubious origin (has anyone said anything about Profilatex out there in the background?)

Moraleja? In my view we lack low cost, but high security club racing. We are lacking in our circuits, and in the exploitation of our circuits. But we also lack to spread the reality of this racing stuff. Because in the end it is not the first or the second kid I know in the circuits investing money that will never recover, and then feels cheated by how things work. It's better to know that you race because you pay, that you are the customer, and that you are buying minutes at the track. The same way you buy minutes when you go to indoor karting to race the rental karts.

Racing on a "good plan", with no constraints, is for people with money. People with solvency to whom spending 8.000€ in a weekend (or more) is not a problem. If that's not your case, this report is worth as a warning of "the harsh reality".

By the way, there is another way to have fun driving competitively in a much cheaper way. I am referring to the championships that are disputed with rental karts, such as CRAKS, where the biggest cost you will have to assume is the safety equipment (overalls, helmet, gloves, boots ...) but where each race is really cheap. This is probably the most realistic solution for the vast majority of "middle class" enthusiasts.

Article originally published in August 2014, retrieved for Pistonudos
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