COVEN­TRY FIGHTS FOR ITS FU­TURE

A dis­pute has thrown a cloud over Bran­don Sta­dium.

Motor Sport News - - Sporting Scene - Pho­tos: Colin Casser­ley By David Ad­di­son

These are tough times for stock car rac­ing fans. Barely a week goes by with­out the pages of Mo­tor­sport News hav­ing to up­date the lat­est bat­tles in keep­ing Wim­ble­don Sta­dium alive, a venue that fi­nally shuts its doors on March 26th.

But head up the M6 and Mid­lands spec­ta­tors, and in par­tic­u­lar BRISCA F1 fans, are star­ing at the clo­sure of Coven­try Sta­dium, the Mecca for BRISCA F1 en­thu­si­asts and driv­ers alike. The sta­dium has played host to count­less World Fi­nals and in re­cent years ex­panded its cal­en­dar to em­brace do­mes­tic events – club races in long-cir­cuit speak – for a va­ri­ety of other classes. But it is F1 stock car rac­ing that de­fines Coven­try and its first-satur­day-of-the-month fix­tures bring big crowds.

And now it is set to close its doors. Maybe. Or is it?

The last few weeks have been rife with con­jec­ture, mostly fu­elled on web­site fo­rums... those bas­tions of truth and re­li­a­bil­ity. Sources close to MN have re­vealed that the track is still in a state on which it could be raced and that we shouldn’t fear the worst just yet.

The prob­lems started a cou­ple of years back. Sta­dium owner, Av­tar Sandhu, de­cided that the time was right to sell up. The sta­dium, like most stock car tracks, sits close to hous­ing, mean­ing that it has both noise re­stric­tions and is a prime site for devel­op­ment. Sandhu sold the land to Bran­don Es­tates for a re­ported £2.7 mil­lion but re­tained the fix­tures and fit­tings, such as the grand­stands and flood­lights for ex­am­ple, as well as the race dates them­selves.

Now, although Bran­don Es­tates is con­tent to al­low rac­ing to con­tinue, at least in the short-term, prob­lems have sur­faced.

Stock cars are just one el­e­ment of the sta­dium’s us­age, which also boasts grey­hounds and speed­way. The sta­dium has been home to the Coven­try Bees for 69 years, and MN un­der­stands that Bran­don Es­tates wants to re­new the lease with the Speed­way op­er­a­tor. But Bees pro­moter Mick Hor­ton hasn’t agreed terms with Sandhu for stock cars to con­tinue, de­spite the fact he was sched­uled to take over the lease on Jan­uary 3, 2017. Sandhu, there­fore, with­drew his prop­erty be­fore Christ­mas, which prompted Bran­don Es­tates to call in the po­lice claim­ing own­er­ship it­self. That ar­gu­ment rum­bles on, with the first F1 night sched­uled for April 1…

Rugby Bor­ough Coun­cil lead coun­cil­lor Michael Stokes is un­der­stood to have bro­kered a deal be­tween the Bees and Coven­trys­tox (Sandhu’s com­pany), last Novem­ber, which would al­low Sandhu’s op­er­a­tion to put the sta­dium in a state to al­low both cars and speed­way to race.

A state­ment from Coven­try Rac­ing Club/coven­trys­tox said: “We would like to reaf­firm that we in­tend to re­turn our prop­erty to the sta­dium, to re­in­stall the items re­moved and to make good, start­ing in Jan­uary ready for the safety in­spec­tion we have al­ready ar­ranged for March 8.”

MN’S sources con­firm that all par­ties are still talk­ing and that there is a will to con­tinue rac­ing at the venue. Hor­ton’s lease is be­lieved to be for a fur­ther three years, but even if he and Sandhu can make their peace, it is be­lieved that re­build­ing the sta­dium could cost close to £1 mil­lion.

But no sooner had Hor­ton an­nounced that all par­ties were still talk­ing and the sit­u­a­tion was a del­i­cate one, than Bran­don Es­tates re­leased its own ver­sion of events. Ac­cord­ing to the Coven­try Tele­graph, James Crocker, lawyer for Bran­don Es­tates, says that deal is now dead.

He said: “I can ex­pressly con­firm that Mr Mick Hor­ton did not take up the lease of Bran­don Sta­dium on Jan­uary 3, 2017. The de­ci­sion not to take up the lease was Mr Hor­ton’s and not Bran­don Es­tates Ltd, and Bran­don Es­tates Ltd had of­fered a sub­stan­tial and ex­tremely gen­er­ous spon­sor­ship pack­age to Mr Hor­ton/ Coven­try Speed­way Ltd.”

If it all falls apart in Coven­try, what are the op­tions? In the short-term, Sandhu’s dates could be run at a dif­fer­ent track, such as shale venue Stoke for ex­am­ple, which is just a bit fur­ther up the M6. It’s un­likely that he would be able to trans­fer all of his dates to one venue and any trans­fer has to be done with the agree­ment of the other pro­mot­ers too.

There has been talk of a new venue on an al­ter­na­tive site, which would be ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing to build, with a so-called green site, but MN also un­der­stands that Mal­lory Park has been looked at as a pos­si­ble place to build an oval. That would come up against noise is­sues and is un­likely to be run on a Satur­day night, thus hav­ing an im­pact on the num­ber of ‘noisy’ Sun­days that Mal­lory can run.

What­ever hap­pens, it needs sort­ing fast, with the first event loom­ing on April Fools’ Day. Hope­fully, it won’t turn out to be a bad joke with the sport as the stooge. ■

F1 a haven for stock cars, like BRISCA Coven­try Sta­dium has long been

Dis­agree­ment over lease could mean BRISCA moves on

Track has a safety in­spec­tion sched­uled for March

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