April 8, 2015 / 5:08 PM / 2 years ago

WEC boss steers away from F1 comparisons

4 Min Read

LONDON (Reuters) - Gerard Neveu is no fan of comparisons between his FIA World Endurance Championship and Formula One, even if others are making them in his favor.

As grand prix racing lurches from crisis to crisis, with shrinking starting grids and rising costs for teams and fans alike, the revamped WEC has attracted attention for doing things differently.

Race day tickets are affordable, social media platforms are nurtured, spectators are able to get close to the cars in the garages, the youth audience is actively targeted and gimmickry kept to a minimum.

Even the grid girls, a staple of F1's pre-race 'glamour', have been banished.

The number of entries are on the rise too with Le Mans, which draws around 250,000 spectators for the 24 Hours race in June, increasing the number of pit garages from 56 to 60 for 2016.

Neveu, the WEC chief executive and former Le Castellet circuit boss, told Reuters ahead of Sunday's Six Hours of Silverstone season-opener that the business models were very different, however.

"There is nothing to compare. This is two parallel ways," he insisted.

"They (F1) are racing with celebrities...in our championship the main actors are first the manufacturers," he said. "The car is the star.

"The angle they (Formula One organizers) have adopted for the public is totally different. We keep the door open, we have a low price, we try to offer different value."

Tickets for Sunday's race at Silverstone cost 35 pounds ($52), if bought in advance, with children under 15s free.

That compares to the cheapest, limited offering of advance general admission tickets for the British Grand Prix of 99 pounds with under-11s free.

Formula One is still on a different scale of popularity, with the WEC having only eight rounds on four continents compared to 19 grands prix and -- Le Mans excepted -- far smaller crowds.

But Neveu can see the interest building, particularly in the key U.S. market where FOX TV recently agreed a deal to broadcast all the races live on satellite, cable and online platforms, as it enters a fourth season as an FIA-backed championship.

"We have to be realistic and humble and admit the fact that WEC is with this new business model and the configuration is a new one, only three years old," said the Frenchman.

"The only concern we have is that we upgrade the figures year after year. So we start with a very poor level of audience in Silverstone three years ago and we see that every year we have more and more fans.

"All I am looking for is to find a new potential of fan, and a new generation for each race."

Le Mans, the classic sportscar race that has run at the Sarthe circuit in western France since 1923, is the jewel in the crown and model for the six-hour races that make up the rest of the championship.

It is also the template for 'the brand'.

"The idea is to keep the value and to modelize Le Mans and to transport this around the world," said Neveu.

"For Le Mans it was also very important to have this world championship because if you want to provide for manufacturers a correct platform for the future, a single race is not enough regarding the budget they have to invest for the car and research and development of hybrid technology."

Neveu said the series -- with Audi, Porsche and Nissan taking the fight to champions Toyota with fuel-saving hybrid technology -- had shown it had a future and the next growth phase would be to attract non-automotive sponsors.

"What we try to do in the next three years is to create the real value of this championship," he said.

"There is more and more audience, more fans, more and more media. And it means there is more and more interest."

(1 = 0.6701 pounds)

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis

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