THE MOLE

Our man in Washington?

The Mole had been working on budgets for most of the weekend and was a bit fed up when he arrived for work at Vauxhall Cross on Monday morning.

"Here we are defending the national interests," he grumbled to Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys), "and rather than being out there dealing with the bad guys, I end up in the office, doing paperwork. It does not make much sense to me."

"Oh," said his personal assistant. "It is all a bit quiet in F1, though, isn't it?"

"Quieter than a Trappist discussion group," said The Mole.

"So what is the problem?" asked Miss Pringle-Featherby.

"I have to decide if we need someone in America," The Mole said. "The bean counters say we could use someone at the embassy in Washington but I feel we need someone on the ground in Charlotte. The Yanks may be our closest allies and all that stuff and nonsense, but when it comes to motorsport they are out to get our slice of the pie. We don't want them to have it. It would be bad for the industry. Simple as that really. All those figures last week showing that F1 teams are expanding fast was terrific. We don't want cost-cutting. That will cost jobs. What we want is expansion. And if the F1 teams are not growing, we want to be expanding business in America. Things have not been going so well recently. Cosworth is owned by the Americans now and Lola has lost the contract to build Champ Cars. And there is NASCAR. It's expanding all the time. They have pretty much done what can be done in the US but now they are after Mexico and Canada. We have Juan Pablo Montoya giving them a pile of coverage all over the world and Jacques Villeneuve sniffing around looking for a job. There is AJ Allmendinger walking out of Champ Car to get a NASCAR drive and he'll be followed by others. Believe me. They even have that Marcus Ambrose bloke from Aussie V8s who has been racing in NASCAR trucks this year."

The Mole paused.

"And now we have a German involved as well," he said.

"A German?" said Miss Pringle-Featherby in the kind of tone that nice young ladies from the Home Counties reserve for nasty things.

"Jochen Mass," said The Mole. "The only man ever to have won half a Grand Prix."

Miss Pringle-Featherby thought about it for a moment but decided that an explanation would make things rather too complicated.

"He's a bit old for NASCAR isn't he?" she said. "I'm pretty sure he has been out of F1 since the 1980s. He's got ot be at least 60."

"No," said The Mole. "He's not going to drive! He's planning to run a new championship in Europe called American Stock Car Europe, which they will pronounce 'ace'."

"But haven't they tried this before?" she said.

"Yes, they did," said The Mole. "There used to be this thing called ASCAR but NASCAR complained and so they had to change their name to something else. It still exists but they only have about 15 cars and all the races are at Rockingham. The championship was won by some guy called Oli Playle."

"So why will this one work?" said Miss Pringle-Featherby.

"Well, there are no guarantees," said The Mole. "But the timing is good. There is more international interest in NASCAR these days and you have to remember that in 2008 the series over there is changing cars and that means that there are going to be hundreds of cheap old chassis available. ASCE has done a deal with the big teams to buy cars: Fords from Roush, Chevrolets from Hendrick and Dodges from Evernham. The budgets are going to be pretty small compared to things like Formula 3 and even Formula Renault because they have some cost-saving ideas. Next year there will be six events at Lausitzring, Nurbgring, Monza and Rockingham and then they are planning to go to 12 events in 2008 with Zandvoort, Dijon, Valencia, Brno, Budapest and some place in Sweden. They are planning to sell tickets cheaply, have racing over two days, and they are going to focus on the drivers and make the whole thing family friendly."

"You mean you might get an autograph?" asked Miss Pringle-Featherby.

"I expect you will," said The Mole. "I am sure that building up this sort of thing will take years. There are not many ovals in Europe even if the cars look pretty good on road courses. The thing is that NASCAR has nothing to lose in supporting such an idea. It is in their interest to let someone else take the risk and do the hard work and then they can come along when things are set up and buy the series. That was what they did in Canada. There was some guy called Tony Novotny, who set up a series called CASCAR in 1981. He spent 25 years building up the business and then sold out to NASCAR a few months ago. The thing is that NASCAR has a lot of money to spend. If you look around you can find a lot of ovals in Europe. They may need work, they may not be in use in racing but there are lots of them and I can see NASCAR buying a few of them in the end."

"Well, I guess it is a free market economy," said Miss Pringle-Featherby.

"Yes," said The Mole. "That's what worries me."

November 20 2006

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