Despite claims from V8 Supercars management there would be “a new major brand” joining “the grid in 2015” the involvement of Lexus is to help clear crashes and resurface the track.
Lexus will supply three cars – including the flagship RC F with a 5.0-litre, 351kW V8 – for the 2015 and 2016 seasons, where they will lead the field at a reduced pace when racing is halted and provide medical assistance.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the Lexus brand to showcase its new RC F V8 to motorsport fans around Australia and also a wonderful opportunity to present the Lexus brand with its new [F Sport] performance credentials,” said Lexus Australia chief executive Sean Hanley.
Hanley shrugged off suggestions the V8 Supercar audience wasn’t in line with the luxury positioning of Lexus.
“Our brand’s available to everybody,” said Hanley. “We have an absolute respect for V8 Supercars and their audience and their history. We think Lexus is a perfectly suited brand…”
But brands that have been part of the real V8 Supercars grid have experienced less than stellar off-track results.
In 2014 Ford sales dropped 8.6 percent, Holden slid 5.3 percent, Volvo dropped 9.3 percent and Nissan 14.3 percent.
On top of that Ford and Holden sales have been in freefall for more than a decade – the most successful period ever for V8 Supercar racing.
Mercedes-Benz was the only one of the five cars represented on the grid to experience sales growth – up 15.8 percent in 2014 – yet the brand tried not to be involved in V8 Supercars (a customer wanted to race the cars) and doesn’t inject a cent.
Lexus sales have been stable but disappointing – trailing major German luxury rivals and failing to capitalise on the growth at the premium end of the market.
V8 Supercars is doing all it can to talk up the popularity of the sport amid expectations that the grid currently made up of four manufacturers – Holden, Ford, Nissan and Volvo, as well as Mercedes-Benz that doesn’t fund the team but was dragged kicking by a customer keen to race its wares – likely to shrink to three within years.
Ford has already announced it is leaving the sport and Volvo’s Swedish management has flagged its intention to exit motorsport globally, leading to speculation the 2016 contract end would see the end of the Volvo program.
It’s a tough period for V8 Supercars with some predicting a new TV deal will reduce eyeballs on the sport. In recent years it’s also had a failed international race program.
Touring car racing in Australia has typically been about grass roots brands – predominantly Ford and Holden.
Toyota is making a big push into motorsport globally, giving rise to a re-entry into the World Rally Championship using a heavily modified Corolla, and using its Lexus badge to re-enter GT500 racing in Japan and announcing extended plans to also field a GT3 contender.