The 2016 WEC season has just come to an end. The 6 hours of Bahrain was the last race and it finished about 90 minutes ago. My emotions are still all over the place.
Of course that is the perfect moment to write about how a motorsport fan feels when attending or watching races. (Note: not every fan will feel this way, this is me.)
I guess motorsport fans are no different to any fan of any other sport. Maybe we’re less violent/aggressive than some, but I assume we’re just as passionate about what we love. We buy the merchandise, we want our favourites to sign stuff (lots of it!), we want selfies, we have flags, we laugh, we cry, depending on the result of our favourite team/driver(s). And that can be strange to people who don’t share that passion.
“It’s just cars going around in circles.” That’s one I hear often enough. Well, for your information, most tracks are not circular. And there’s much more to it than that. However, you need to be interested in the technicalities behind it to appreciate that. The strategies, the cars and their technology, fun stuff like downforce, tyre degradation, how a full course yellow can influence the outcome; it all matters.
The #95 Aston Martin – the Dane Train – which has just won the GTE Pro class in the 6 hours of Bahrain resulting in the WEC GTE Pro drivers championship for Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen, here in action at the Nürburgring in July this year.
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Growing up I was very fond of cars and also interested in the technology, but I didn’t understand anything about racing. I just enjoyed watching the cars (F1, at the time) do their laps and listening to the noise. Only recently have I started following several series in earnest. Now I know a lot more!
This additional knowledge makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable as well. Like the commentators (both on television and at the track) I am calculating where a team or a driver needs to end up in the race to gain a place or keep that first spot in the overall standings.
But with the enjoyment come all the other emotions: the disappointment when your team/driver doesn’t finish, the joy when they win, the elation when your favourite driver makes a fantastic move (yes, an overtake can be beautiful), the worry when someone crashes (which team is not important!). It is a rollercoaster.
I have thought long and hard about how I came to be an Aston Martin Racing fan. And I am not actually sure.
A long, long time ago I ended up loving Aston Martins, but that is no guarantee I would end up loving the team, which they didn’t even have at the time! Of course it did interest me when they started up a racing team again after a very long absence. And I guess it’s not strange at all to want to support the racing team associated with your favourite car brand. No surprises there.
But for some reason I got more into this, quite naturally.
For me the team comes first. I am an Aston Martin Racing fan first and foremost. But I do have my favourite car within the team (the #97) and within that a favourite driver (Darren Turner). And I cannot, for the life of me, explain why.
The team runs several cars and they are identical. So why did I pick the #97? No idea.
Explaining my preference for Darren Turner is a bit easier. He’s been in that car since they started using that number and I’ve even heard people refer to him as ‘Mr 97’. He is also very fast and that is how he got my attention. Voila! A fan is born.
Aston Martin Racing is active in WEC – World Endurance Racing – so that quickly became my favourite series. That is not only due to the fact that AMR races there, but also because I have had a love for the 24 hour race at Le Mans for a very long time.
AMR has three cars running in WEC currently, so I have one team to support in two classes (one car in GTE Am and two in GTE Pro). But there are two more classes, LMP1 and LMP2. Even though I like the LMP classes, GTE is by far my favourite. There is just something about those bulky monsters growling while chasing each other around the track. But I managed to get favourites in the LMP classes too: Audi in LMP1 and RGR Sport in LMP2.
Now how does that happen?
This is something you will hear from more motorsport fans. Because drivers tend to move between teams you get introduced to other series and teams. In the case of RGR Sport the interest comes from following the career of Bruno Senna. Thanks to him I now follow Formula E, Blancpain and RGR Sport in WEC.
This via-via system happens across the board. For example: Aston Martin Racing is also involved with customer and partner teams. And they race in series like British GT and Blancpain. Here we go, another series to add to the list! And these teams have different drivers, who sometimes race in yet other series. The list becomes virtually endless.
Before I forget: Audi gets my support because:
1. they are simply awesome in LMP1;
2. I just like the brand.
Recently they announced they will no longer race in WEC, so the race in Bahrain was their last one. A very sad moment.
And that brings me back to the emotional rollercoaster.
WEC is a very close-knit bunch. When Toyota almost won Le Mans this year everyone (and I mean everyone) was sympathetic. The other teams went to the Toyota box to show their support. The fans were practically unanimous in their outpour of support.
So next to the emotions I described earlier there is that strong sense of belonging. It doesn’t really matter who you support. You love the race, so you belong. There will be playful teasing, of course. But I’ve never seen it get vicious.
Many motorsport fans will get up at what we call ‘stupid o’clock’ to watch that all important qualifying session and, obviously, the race – even if it starts at 3 AM in your timezone.
Le Mans, being the mother of all races, is not to be missed and I’m sure I’m not the only one who tries to not miss a second – and fails (people do need their sleep, apparently).
Being at the track itself is a bonus. The experience is direct, you can get to the paddock where you can do a spot of driver spotting or even get an autograph or photo. And there’s the atmosphere.
In 2015 I went to the 6 hours of Nürburgring on my own. I can tell you there weren’t many Aston Martin Racing fans around. Most people were wearing Porsche and Audi shirts. As I said above: it doesn’t matter. People were accepting, friendly and ready to share a laugh or have a chat. You simply belong.
I guess that is one of the things that makes me go back again and again, also online. You make new friends and you have something in common. All of a sudden those races become social events as well.
Additionally you get a chance to meet your favourite driver(s). If you’re lucky you can join the pit walk during which the signing sessions are held. Trust me, the banter between drivers and fans can be quite something. And no mistake, most drivers like this interaction! There are quite a few drivers in WEC alone who are very active online and love interacting with their fans. They ask questions, run competitions and tell their fans they love them lots.
At Nürburgring my best friend had her Aston Martin tattoo signed by all AMR drivers. The drivers thought it was pretty cool and the photographers were also quite curious (in the background).
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All these different experiences add to the passion.
So today Audi had their last WEC race (which they won), RGR Sport became second in the race and the overall standings in their first season, the #98 Aston Martin retired in a fairly spectecular and smoky fashion, the #97 Aston Martin lost a wheel and had to fight back to a descent position and the #95 Aston Martin won the race, resulting in their drivers winning the 2016 WEC GTE Pro drivers championship. I was a blubbering mess…
I’m not sure if everything in this piece actually explains why I shed happy tears (mainly), but I hope it does.
For now I will have a few months of peace until the team announcements and car unveilings start early 2017. Then the emotional rollercoaster starts again and I will be on it.