RIGHT NOW about the only racing category selling a meaningful number of tickets or drawing decent racings in this part of the world is the Supercars Championship.
Outside of a few key events like the Bathurst 12 Hour, World Time Attack and one or two others there’s just nothing that comes close.
No other series has the fan appeal, driver names or, perhaps most importantly, the marketing clout to sell a substantial number of tickets to venues and get eyeballs on TV.
Even though a challenging period for the sport people continue to tune in and turn up to see the likes of Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen go at it week in, week out, in exciting cars that for all their flaws, still put on great racing.
There’s also no other series in the Southern Hemisphere that gets paid as much for their TV rights or commands such a commercial presence and as such as long as they don’t completely shoot themselves in the foot, it will remain that way for some time.
Much has been made about the introduction of TCR in this part of the world this year and there’s no doubt that it has the potential to be quite a big show.
The likelihood of having big grids, multiple brands and a host of very high quality drivers engaging in entertaining, door-to-door racing means that it has a very good chance of at least standing on it’s own two feet.
Some say it is a potential rival to Supercars but ask yourself this question – as good as it is, would 50,000 turn out to Bathurst to watch them race? I find it unlikely.
TCR’s likely strength is engaging brands that otherwise wouldn’t have a presence in the sport if the world was dominated by Supercars racing. Renault, for example, has made a solid impact in leveraging what is a tiny investment in backing Garry Rogers Motorsport’s Megane’ program this year. Other brands, like Honda, Hyundai and most recently Peugeot, have dipped their proverbial toes in the water as well.
But there’s just not an appetite, in this part of the world especially, for two-litre cars. It may build a following that brings eyeballs and ratings, but I doubt it’ll ever be anything the size or scope of that the V8-powered category has.
However, if TCR is about the brands then their sister category, S5000, could well be the Box Office in this equation.
The new open-wheel category has a real chance of becoming something that can have a meaningful impact on ticket sales and could bring eyeballs to the TV, too.
The cars are hugely impactful; loud, exciting to watch and in their first two rounds produced pretty good racing given there was really nothing on the line other than testing laps.
I’ve worked in motorsport for more than 15 years and I’ve never seen a brand-new category draw the kind of attention and interest from punters as S5000 has in their first two rounds.
Now I admit that I’m looking at this through rose-tinted glasses; I’m an open wheel purist and would love nothing more than to have a big-banger wings and slicks class as a box-office draw in this part of the world. So there’s definitely some bias on my part here and I’m more than happy to admit it.
But there really is something special about this category and outside of the cars, which are spectacular, I think key to that is the fact that it isn’t positioned as a development category.
S5000 is designed and marketed as an alternative to other classes, rather than a rung in a driver development ladder. It’s being pushed as the headline act, where gun drivers race hard and for sheep stations, rather than for a chance to be recognised as the next big thing.
Will people still utilise it like that? Of course they will – it could prove a stepping stone to Supercars or open-wheel racing in the ‘States or Europe. But the point of difference S5000 has is that it wants to be its own thing, rather than fitting in with everything else in the world.
And I think this is why it will work.
People love to watch destination categories; what they believe to be the top level of that particular discipline within the broader sport. It’s why people watch Formula 1, it’s why they watch IndyCar racing and it’s why they watch Supercars. In that segment of the sport, it’s the peak.
It’s the same reason people watch Test Match Cricket and not the state league stuff, even when the latter often provides better games and closer contests. The tests are the pinnacle of the sport and as such, people watch.
I think S5000 can be the same, or at least similar. If it’s looked after properly, marketed well and given the right opportunities then there is no doubt in my mind that people will not only want to be on the grid, but will want to watch it as well.
In building their racing portfolio, promoters Australian Racing Group (ARG) have either by chance or by design stumbled on an almost perfect double act that they can promote.
TCR will bring brands. S5000 will bring the box-office. And together they may just prove to be a meaningful force in this part of the racing world. Either way, it’s going to be fun watching.