Kate Walker spoke to FIA World Endurance Championship CEO Gerard Neveu about finding the right balance between what manufacturers and fans want out of the burgeoning series going forward.
In a period that has seen the World Endurance Championship gain manufacturers as Formula 1 sheds them, it is hard not to compare the two categories’ industry appeal.
But Gerard Neveu, the CEO of WEC, is loath to compare the two.
“First of all, I don’t like the idea of [comparing WEC] with Formula One,” he told Motorsport.com at the Motorsport Industry Association’s Energy Efficient Motorsport Conference. “They’re different stories.
“Regarding the WEC, because there is the ACO [Automobile Club de l'Ouest] and there is Le Mans, and this is in the DNA of the series, we have always had a connection with the manufacturers.
“The idea since the beginning - when the FIA and the ACO relaunched the world championship - the idea was: how can we provide a platform for the manufacturers to make sure they can make the research and development, they can demonstrate and prepare the car of the future, and show also that there is a direct connection with the relevant car?
“At the beginning it is always very difficult to demonstrate, but after a couple of years it is easy - we had the perfect example with Audi and diesel technology, and it is very interesting to see that now we are doing the same with hybrid technology with famous brands like Porsche, Toyota, Audi…”
Framing the rules
Given WEC’s manufacturer appeal, do discussions with the manufacturers take place primarily with the R&D department, or is marketing also a factor? Is the championship more laboratory or advertisement?
“It’s a mix,” Neveu said, “because it’s a compromise between all the manufacturers’ different targets.
“When we prepare the regulations of tomorrow - because every year you are thinking of something in two or three years’ time - always we have discussions with people like this, with specialists from the manufacturers’ different departments, to see ‘What are you looking for in the future? Where do we have to go if we want to continue like this?’.
“At the same time, first of all we are doing motorsport. So that means we have to keep performance challenging, make sure that this is also a human performance in the end, with drivers and mechanics and people.
“In endurance especially, for the stability of this championship we have to keep the balance between the manufacturers who have the capacity to spend a certain budget and the private teams who have the capacity to make the dream also but with a reasonable budget, and to make sure that we guarantee that we have always somebody around the table, that the family is full.
“If you put all your eggs in one basket, if you do everything with the manufacturers, you never know what can happen. But if in motorsport we forget about the idea of research and development, the new technology? In my point of view we are losing the future immediately.”
Maintaining the proper balance between classes while ensuring continued fan interest and manufacturer appeal is an ongoing process, and one that requires careful management.
“There is always - and this is definitely the way we used to manage the championship and the process that we put in place with the ACO - always a consultation, an open discussion, permanently,” Neveu emphasised.
“For that to be practical we have put into place some working groups - technical, sporting, a marketing task-force…
“We have groups working on that,” he explained. “These groups have maybe four or five meetings per year, and are producing some summaries, some reports.
“When they are ready, they introduce proposals for new regulations or adaptations for the future that the Endurance Commission - where you have a selection of 12 people from the FIA and ACO but also outside the world of endurance - discuss those proposals and make decisions for the future.”
For Neveu, growing the WEC fan base is vital not only to the sport’s continued future health, but also for its manufacturer appeal.
“The panel was interesting this morning because today was about the link between the technology, the relevant car, the manufacturers, the motorsport, and the entertainment,” he said.
“Because we say always that without competitors there is no championship, but a championship without fans doesn’t work in the end. You lose all the interest from the media first, and there is no sense to continue like this.
“It makes sense for us to continue to collect more fans through the connection they can have between the manufacturers and the customer they have on the street for the relevant car. That’s very important.”
He added: “If we want to capture the new generation of fan, the new potential fans we can have, it means we have also to have the humility to consider that nothing is definite in motorsport.
“This sport has to have the flexibility - the capacity - to change some format of the race weekend, to change the ways we use to communicate, to change the support we use to communicate, to adapt also in the regulations some details to make sure that we keep the interest of the new generation.
“The biggest concern of the WEC now is to try to continue to improve the sporting side, because this is the heart of the programme.
"But, at the same time, you start to develop all around some access to other people, some attractions, entertainment, ways to communicate, to make sure that all of the people visiting us - on-site and on the website, the app, through social media - will stay interested in us.”