- SpeedMachine Festival will take place on newly built circuit at Silverstone race track
- Car, food, music and gaming elements designed to appeal to families
- Silverstone hopes the event will help it to become less dependent on Formula 1 revenues
The crackle of misfiring engines, the screech of tyres and the insistent thud of a dance track. If you closed your eyes for a moment at the launch of a new event at the Silverstone race track in late May, you might have imagined yourself at an illicit gathering of motor heads in a supermarket car park.
In reality, these were not the sounds of a throng of disaffected teenagers congregating at the local Tesco, but the launch of a new motorsport festival from WME | IMG with an unashamedly edgy appeal.
The sport and entertainment giant had invited the sports and motor racing media to unveil a new rallycross circuit at the famous race track in Northamptonshire, England, and to announce the sale of tickets for the inaugural SpeedMachine Festival.
Mixing the British round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship with a weekend of headline music acts, street food, e-gaming and camping, the SpeedMachine concept, scheduled for 25-27 May 2018, draws on all of WME | IMG’s clout in music, sport and food events to provide an entertainment product which is designed to connect with a younger audience.
The championship around which the festival will be built pits RX Supercars against each other in a head-to-head format that mixes short, sharp racing on mixed dirt and asphalt surfaces.
Sponsored by the high-octane Monster Energy brand, the event sees drivers compete against each other in 600bhp cars that can accelerate from 0-60mph in under two seconds.
After buying the series in 2012, IMG ran the event in 2013 as the FIA European Rallycross Championship, which included nine rounds, before it was promoted to World Championship level after only one year and moved up to 12 rounds.
Paul Bellamy, managing director IMG, World Rallycross Championship, says the company originally bought the rights to the series having recognised the made-for-TV parallels with the FIM Speedway Grand Prix Series that it already owned.
“It’s the format, the fast format, so it lends itself to TV; the heat processes, the ability to talk to the drivers in running,” he says during the launch event.
“From a TV perspective, it allows you to go to a lot of advert breaks, so it’s very commercially viable.”
In the time the company has owned the property it has also set about standardising the TV format across the 12 races and is now ready to build commercial opportunities beyond the four or five minutes a typical rallycross heat or final lasts.
“75 per cent of rallycross’s audience is under 35,” says Bellamy.
“We always knew we had a young audience because it’s short forms of racing. It lends itself as an entertainment product and the intention was always to try and move beyond just a rallycross event. That’s where the festival element came from – to go after those millennials.”
IMAGE: Stuart Pringle, sporting director at Silverstone Circuits, at the SpeedMachine launch
To target this audience, Bellamy explains how the upper floor of the Silverstone Wing conference and pit facility will house an e-gaming show for the duration of the festival next year.
This will feature games like Codmaster’s DiRT simulator, which is based on the rallycross series. One year out from the event, he also talks up the possibility of a tie-up with the IMG-owned ELEAGUE esports property.
“Absolutely, we’ll be speaking to those guys at length internally,” Bellamy says. “My advantage is that I can tap into many people who are experts in their own field and we’ll certainly be talking to those people about how we can develop it, how they can help us, and they may be able to bring part of that whole e-gaming competition into it.”
But rather than fixate completely on this youthful target market, Bellamy says the hope is also to attract their families.
“You have to bring other elements in to make it a day out for everybody. It makes it much easier for the family to come along if there’s a Taste element, there’s a music element, there’s ability to test cars and the kids can go e-gaming,” he says.
Bellamy explains that IMG will again apply its wider experience in organising the Taste series of food festivals to the task of enticing foodies to SpeedMachine, while its extensive contacts book in the music industry will help to create a compelling line-up of bands and headline acts for Saturday and Sunday night concerts that will span the late May bank holiday weekend.
The Silverstone setting will also provide additional sponsorship opportunities for endemic brands like Volkswagen, Ford and Peugeot that already run highly-tuned versions of their cars in the series.
By sponsoring the festival, Bellamy says these brands will be able to turn the pit garages of the Wing into showrooms for their road cars and offer festival-goers the chance to test-drive the vehicles on the race track.
“I’m not sure where else in the world that the public can come in, look at cars and go for a test drive on an F1 circuit, so I think that’s a real benefit and a selling point of why this event will work,” he says.
“A lot of car manufacturers have shown interest already.”
Stuart Pringle, sporting director, Silverstone Circuits, says the festival will help the race track to move away from its dependency on the Formula 1 race in July.
“At the moment, we have one extremely large event in Formula 1 and it would be a more diverse and more secure business if we have a number of other large events, so we hope SpeedMachine will be a first building block towards that,” he says.
“When you’ve got an overhead, 550 acres of stonking great overhead, and you’re in the entertainment business, you need to concentrate on the entertainment value.”
Pringle thinks the fact Formula 1 has made similar moves to engage with younger audiences and improve the fan experience at its races in the shape of its new Fan Festival concept validates the SpeedMachine idea.
The Fan Festival, which was launched at the Spanish Grand Prix, introduced a range of comparable experiences, such as racing simulators, a 200m zip line and live performances from local DJs.
“It’s pretty encouraging that we set out this plan some time before Liberty bought Formula 1 and they’ve very quickly adopted a similar approach. It gives you confidence that we’re heading in the right direction,” he says.
Bellamy suggests IMG will roll out a series of similar festivals around the world if the British version is successful. Like Formula 1, he is also casting eyes at the opportunities across the Atlantic.
“Germany is an obvious country that might be ripe for it, maybe America; we’re not in America yet,” he says. “That’s certainly something we will look at.”
IMAGE: The Silverstone Heritage Experience (Silverstone Heritage)
EXTRA: Silverstone diversifies
The development of the rallycross circuit at the Silverstone race track marks an attempt by its owners, the British Racing Driver’s Club (BRDC), to wean the facility off its dependency on revenues generated by the British Grand Prix.
The owners of the Northamptonshire circuit recently stated that their current contract with Formula 1 was not financially sustainable and it was rumoured they were considering activating a break clause.
“We’d love to have Formula 1 as part of our future, but not at any price – it has to be a price that makes sense,” says Stuart Pringle, sporting director, Silverstone Circuits.
“I think what Liberty is doing is fantastic. I think they are great news, they’ve got some great ideas and we’d like to work with them.
“I’m not sure where else they might run it and we’re on the record as saying we love racing, here’s the British Grand Prix, so in the scheme of [the] $8bn purchase they just made, I’m sure the gaps are small change really.”
As the circuit waits for a resolution to the dispute over hosting fees, it continues to try to expand.
A new hotel is planned to house visitors to the Silverstone Wing, the £60m ($75m/€68m) conference facility built in 2011, and there are plans to open a Heritage Lottery-funded educational visitor attraction, called the Silverstone Heritage Experience, in 2019.
“The Wing is the biggest covered conference and exhibition space between London and Birmingham. It’s already quite busy. It will be a lot busier when we get a hotel built. We have outline planning permission for one and we are talking to investors now,” says Pringle.
“[The Silverstone Heritage Experience] will cover the history of Silverstone, the history of racing drivers, the technical innovation, the sporting battles, but it’s at least 50 per cent forward-looking.
"It’s about science, technology, engineering and maths, STEM subjects being a real focus in education at the moment.”