MAKE no mistake, V8 Supercars really needed to buy the increasingly valuable property that is the Bathurst 12 Hour, the annual race for GT cars.
The surprise move to purchase the rights to promote and run the 12 Hour certainly triggered a tsunami of comment in the grown-up media as well as the usual gossip – much of it ill-informed and hysterical – on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.
In some quarters, the bold act by V8 Supercars – the same rival category that earlier this year blocked its drivers from competing in the Bathurst 12 Hour – could be interpreted as being bad for the future of that enduro.
Some even suggested the V8s only wanted it to kill off a rising threat, a race with real momentum and one that in recent years has been emerging as an increasingly popular and significant event internationally.
Not so. V8 Supercars Australia (using owner Archer Capital’s money) wanted the 12 Hour for many fascinating reasons – mostly very positive for V8SA and some potentially beneficial for the race.
V8SA is structurally geared to market and run big events and, according to Speedcafe, was prepared to fork out $4 million to secure it. V8SA has shown it can be quite capable in growing existing domestic events with obvious potential.
V8SA CEO James Warburton and Archer probably know they paid over the odds for the race, but given their current struggles with V8 Supercars, it was an outlay they really had to make.
To do nothing meant V8SA would face a serious rival GT race with great growth potential on the free-to-air Seven Network.
V8SA is in the business of propagating motor racing, a business aim not limited to whatever its core business happens to be.
GT racing has momentum here and globally and, helpfully, the 12 Hour is held at the Mecca of motor sport.
Buying the Bathurst 12 Hour means V8SA has alternatives if there is an earthquake in V8 Supercars – and we’re already feeling tremors.
V8 Supercars is about to wear the full effects of some very harsh realities, specifically the reaction of media buyers and sponsors to the tiny viewership on pay TV. The people who sign the cheques don’t care a fig about pretend repeat/cumulative audiences; it’s really all about live TV viewer figures.
There will be pain, too, when the Ford and Holden car plants are shuttered, with tears and confusion among long-time supporters. No more Aussie Holdens or Fords. Best of luck converting these loyalists to cheer for made-up cars originally badged Daewoo, Opel, et al.
Ford Australia has gone, Volvo is reviewing its involvement and will likely go, Nissan is swinging in the breeze, and Erebus is reliant on the enthusiasm and war chest of Betty Klimenko.
That leaves Holden, the brand with the longest investment in high-level Australian motor racing, as the beacon. Holden’s motor sport boss Simon McNamara wants to encourage his teams to adopt V6 twin turbos from 2017, rather than the optional current V8. Selling them to deeply financially troubled teams will not be easy.
On top of this, the local Car of the Future platform is proving very expensive while GT is playing a bigger, far-reaching globalisation game with involvement and support from many of the world’s evocative brands using exotic poster cars as their track stars.
It’s easy to appreciate why some thinkers within the V8SA fortress see the Bathurst 12 Hour and the international GT formula as a handy parachute, a fall-back position.
Instead of the trouble and expense of maintaining a local Supercars formula, teams could just order off-the-shelf cars from Ford, GM, Ferrari, McLaren, Nissan, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, Bentley, Porsche, Lexus and others – at prices no higher than that of a V8 Supercar. And the FIA does the costly parity process.
A few V8 Supercar team owners have already noted opportunities to generate more dollars by playing in GT racing. You’ll see this at the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour.
V8SA and Archer are also interested in adding the Australian GT Championship to its portfolio. Approaches have already been made to current series owner Tony Quinn.
Grabbing the 12 Hour also cements V8SA’s existing joint-venture relationship with the Bathurst Regional Council. There's a clear synergy in having the February and October events fed from one source. If V8SA can grow the February race – and it believes it will – the council will be delighted.
TV is a crucial part of the scenario, too. The Seven Network was happy with the audience the 12 Hour attracted last February and it has two more years to run on its current contract to show the race.
Given the cosiness of V8 Supercars with its TV partner, Foxtel, it’s not hard to imagine that when the Seven deal expires V8SA could align the Bathurst 12 Hour to the pay network, possibly as a five-day carnival with V8 Supercars on the program.
The Seven camp is bemused at the notion of taking the race coverage away from free-to-air Seven/7Mate to Foxtel with the outcome of making the viewing audience shrink.
One Seven insider told Wheels: “I can’t see James Warburton moving the 12 Hour from FTA to pay Foxtel. Given the viewer figures we’re seeing with the V8s this year, the manufacturers and sponsors would go berserk.”
The same contact suggested that, because of the poor Foxtel/Ten numbers (compared with last year on Seven), the V8 drivers are now having problems even getting deals for helmet sponsors.
Nissan Australia CEO Richard Emery, who has a vested interest in both categories – the Kelly-run Altima V8 Supercars and the NISMO GT-R GT3 that won the 12 Hour this year – wasted no time delivering a strong message to the new B12 owner “not to f--k it up”.
In an interview with the Speedcafe, Emery emphasised that the new owner should not mess with the formula that has turned the 12 Hour into a flourishing event for GT cars.
The Nissan boss told Speedcafe: “As we all know, the 12 Hour has got some momentum now. It was probably already going to roll along and didn’t necessarily need to be ramped up.”
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