AS he looked out onto Croft Circuit this week, Ben Taylor did not just see miles and miles of tarmac. Instead, after a couple of difficult Covid-affected years, the CEO of the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC), the not-for-profit organisation that owns the North Yorkshire racetrack, saw the road to a brighter future.

In common with a host of other sporting, leisure and music venues, these have been troubled times for Croft, with the Covid pandemic first forcing the gates to be closed, and then preventing spectators from attending when they were cautiously reopened.

Now though, with crowds back to normal and a full calendar of racing planned for the rest of the year, the storm clouds have lifted. Instead of battling simply to remain afloat, Taylor can plan strategically for the next stage of Croft’s evolution and development.

As a died-in-the-wool racing enthusiast, Taylor wants the circuit to remain true to the sporting principles that fuelled its development as it evolved into a leading motorsport venue in the aftermath of the Second World War, when it had been constructed as an aerodrome. But as a successful businessman, he also wants it to grow and evolve in order to safeguard its long-term survival.

“These are exciting times for Croft, and we remain absolutely committed to supporting and improving the circuit,” said Taylor. “We’re going to continue to invest, and grow and develop it.

“Croft has got such exciting potential. Geographically, it’s the motorsport centre for a huge swathe of the country, definitely from Edinburgh to Leeds, and arguably all the way down to Donington. That’s important because it means there’s a huge audience there, and it also means we have a responsibility to nurture and protect Croft because it helps make motorsport a truly national sport.

“It’s a hidden jewel I think, and maybe one criticism is that we haven’t shouted loudly enough about it and told people what we have to offer.

“It’s one of the best racing circuits in the country, but we also want it to be more than that. We’re going to be building a café ahead of the 2023 season – the planning permission is already in place – and that’ll be another important step to creating a venue that isn’t just about the 40 noisy racing days we’re permitted every year. Clearly, those days remain at the core of the business, but like all racing venues, Covid has probably just highlighted the need to offer different things to different people.”

With the 2020 season wiped out because of Covid, Croft lost ten times its annual profit because of its inability to stage any racing. The support of the Government furlough scheme helped, and Taylor is proud the venue has not has to lay off any staff during it post-Covid recovery.

Last season’s bumper attendances helped – “right across the motorsport world, I think we saw a pent-up demand where people wanted to get out and do the things they’d been prevented from doing the previous year” – and Croft heads into the 2022 season in a strong financial position.

As ever, the visit of the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship in June will provide the highlight of the racing year, and as the biggest and most high-profile domestic racing series in the UK, Taylor admits it is imperative that Croft retains a place on the BTCC calendar.

“The BTCC has a massive following and a huge media profile,” he said. “Quite simply, it’s the biggest success story in British motorsport, and it’s continuing to get bigger.

“I think it’s really important that Croft gets the chance to showcase itself as part of the BTCC calendar, and that the BTCC drivers get the chance to come and experience Croft. If it wasn’t here, Croft would still be a fantastic circuit, but it’s important to get that big showpiece event once a year.

“It’s a challenge to stage the BTCC at Croft. It’s not like Donington Park or Silverstone, where you’ve got 800 acres of sparkling tarmac. This is a really small rural venue, and that brings challenges. Over the BTCC weekend, we’re praying it doesn’t rain just so the car parks don’t get churned up because they’re on grass. Logistically, it’s a challenge to get all the teams in and get all the support series on. But it’s worth it – and I think it works for us and for the BTCC as a national series.”

And what about the British Superbikes, an equally popular series on two wheels, but an event that has not visited Croft for more than a decade?

“Listen, if I’m being honest, then I’d love to get Superbikes back to Croft,” said Taylor. “It’s been a long time, and Croft is a great circuit for bikers, as proved by some of the other bike events we stage.

“But the reality is that the speed of the Superbikes would mean some fairly significant changes to the circuit. The run-off at turn one, for example, is very, very close, and because of the speeds the bikes are going, that would have to be completely altered. Also, the site is very small, and the Superbikes are even bigger than the Touring Cars in terms of everything that goes with them, and that you’d have to get in.

“It’s not impossible, but it would come down to us being able to justify the large levels of investment that would be required, and then getting a spot on the calendar. BARC own Thruxton, so we stage Superbikes and we’re in constant dialogue with the organisers. Never say never, although I’m definitely not saying we’re on the brink of bringing Superbikes back to Croft.”

There has been controversy within racing circles about the decision to drop the Jack Frost Rally from Croft’s schedule this year, along with the rallycross events that have historically formed a key part of the track’s offering.

“The law restricts us to 40 event days a year, and the reality is that we have to plan those very carefully and get the absolute maximum we can from them,” said Taylor. “I’m pretty confident we could fill them at least twice over, so we have to be selective.

“I’m a rallying fan – I spent five years organising the World Rally Championship event in North Wales – but the reality is that rallying is really designed to take place in forests or airfields. Not on a racetrack.

“Also, the finances of club rallying are difficult. I’d love to do something benevolent, and say we want to support rallying in this part of the country, but really that’s the job of the governing body, not BARC or Croft.

“Rallycross is a bit different, and I’m well aware that Croft has a huge history of rallycross. But we spent £750,000 in 2019 to completely resurface the circuit. It was a worthwhile investment, and people constantly compliment us on the standard of the track now.

“But that needs to last for 20 years, and the reality is that rallycross, with cars switching from tarmac to gravel, causes an awful lot of wear and tear, and damage. Unfortunately, the crowds to watch rallycross are nothing like what they were in the sport’s heyday. Quite simply, the sums no longer add up.”

Difficult decisions, but ones Taylor feel have been essential to keep Croft motoring successfully into the future.

“I want Croft to be a venue that motorsport fans right across the North of England and into Scotland can be proud of,” he said. “And I want it to be somewhere that showcases motorsport to people who might ordinarily not really pay much attention to the sport.

“You can do both of those things, and you can also run the track successfully so that it turns a profit, which can then be reinvested through further improvements. That’s the goal.”

In fact, you could say it is Taylor’s driving mission.