Season-ending Bathurst spectacular a (rare) victory for common sense

I must admit that I had to read the press release twice before the enormity of the decision by rival Aussie race series promotors, Supercars, and the Australian Racing Group, to get together for a huge, six-day ‘grand 2021 season finale’ at Bathurst between Tuesday Nov 30 and Sunday December 05 this year started to sink in.

Usually, I’ll simply skim-read a release and either save it to one of my ‘must-do-something-with-this-in-the-future’ sub-files or delete it straight away.

This time was different though – and not just because we are talking about ‘Australasia’s Greatest Race,’ or the third time in as many months it has now been rescheduled thanks to the second major Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic outbreak (Delta virus) across the Tasman.

Just thinking through the various logistics of changing the date of such a major event from the original Oct 09-10 weekend until the first weekend in December is enough to fry my poor brain.

But to turn what in effect were two competing racing group’s signature events into one – with all the competing egos involved…all I can say is that I take my I take my hat off to both Supercars’ boss Sean Seamer, and Matt Braid, the bloke behind the Australian Racing Group, for ‘putting the sport first.’

“There’s no doubt these are difficult times we live in, so to have this come together with the cooperation of Supercars to benefit all our competitors, commercial partners and most importantly, the fans, it’s a huge win for everyone,” said Braid.

“This major event at Bathurst is going to be one of the biggest spectacles ever seen in Australian motorsport, and it is a credit to all parties.’

None more so than the two key sponsors of the sport across the Tasman these days, Repco, and Supercheap Auto.

Supercheap Auto, you see, effectively ‘lost’ the naming rights to ‘Australasia’s Greatest Race’ last year after a competitive pitch from Repco’s new owner, the US-owned Genuine Parts Company, saw both the Supercars series as a whole, and the ‘jewel in its crown,’ the Bathurst 1000 race re-badged.

Replacing a contra deal on airfares with Virgin Australia with a dollar one with the Repco brand for the series as a whole made a lot of sense and appears to have been accepted by fans, the media et al alike.

After 16 years being known as the ‘Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000’ however, there were rumblings all over Australia when Sean Seamer announced that Supercars had just signed a five-year-deal with the Genuine Parts Company Asia-Pacific to re-badge The Great Race as the Repco Bathurst 1000

None more so than from Supercheap Auto itself, who front-footed the change by putting together its own media campaign in which it appealed to the ‘iconic’ Little Aussie Battler’ in motorsport fans and loyal customers alike.

As part of that ‘campaign,’ company managing director Benjamin Ward said that Supercheap Auto had ‘hoped to continue supporting the iconic Bathurst 1000 event for many years (to come) but were not in the position to counter a ‘big-money offer’ from ‘an overseas competitor.’

Which…was a but rich given that Repco (a name created by Melbourne businessman Robert Geoffrey Russell back in 1922 by shortening the word Replacement Parts Company) has been trading for 99 years (and obviously will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2022) while Supercheap Auto has existed as a brand for just 49 years, and – as an automotive parts store – for 47.

Denny Hulme 1967 racing Brabham BT20 by Terry Marshall TM5125
Denny Hulme 1967 racing Brabham BT20. Photo:Terry Marshall

Repco also has an absolutely impeccable competition record of its own, having developed the 3.0- litre Repco-Brabham V8 engines used by Jack Brabham and our own Denny Hulme to win the F1 world championship in 1966 and 1967 respectively, as well as the Repco-Holden 5.0 litre V8 engine which Frank Matich used to win the Australian Grand Prix races in both 1970 and 1971 and John McCormack used to win our own (New Zealand) Grand Prix races aboard his Adelaide-built Elfin MR5 model at Pukekohe in 1973 and Wigram in 1974.

The Elfin MR5 competing at the SKOPE Classic in 2010, Christchurch – Photo: Euan Cameron Photography

You – literally – can’t buy publicity like this, and I must admit, as I’ve made my way to my local Repco branch of a Saturday morning, I’ve often wondered why – particularly in a marketing landscape where so many manufacturers and retailers spend a fortune trying to create new/old brands – Repco stores didn’t at least have some sort of nod to the brand’s glorious past.

It’s not as if Supercheap Auto appeared that enamoured with the sport for a long time either, seemingly happy to ride on the coat tails of its event ‘buy’ way back in 2005.

What it paid for the naming rights of Bathurst 1000 race back in 2005 would no doubt pale into insignificance to what Repco would have been expected to stump up for both overall series and individual Bathurst round naming rights in 2020, particularly when you are talking about a multi-year (five) deal.

Having ‘tested the water’ with a secondary spot on Scott McLaughlin’s Penske-run Shell V-Power Racing Team DJR Ford Mustang, the company obviously decided that there was a benefit to be had from stepping up to series’ and major event naming right’s sponsor.

Helping in no small part, obviously, is the brand’s current owner, GPC Asia-Pacific. A wholly-owned subsidiary of the publicly-traded Atlanta, Georgia, USA-based GPC (for Genuine Parts Company), GPC Asia-Pacific acquired Repco and fellow Aussie automotive trade brands Ashdown-Ingram, McLeod Accessories, Motorspecs (and here in NZ Appco) from private equity group Exego Group in 2012 and 2013.

As owner of the NAPA Autoparts chain in the United States, GPC obviously has its heart more ‘in the game’ than the venture capitalists who used Repco very much as a plaything between 2003 and 2012 and with close to 400 stores and over 2000 employees across Australia and New Zealand the company has obviously decided it’s time to flex its marketing muscle.

Rather than retreat to the side-lines to lick its wounds however, Supercheap Auto came back out fighting, acquiring the naming rights of the Australian Racing Group’s popular 2.0 turbo, FWD TCR championship for 2021 almost immediately, as well as – in June this year – announcing a naming rights deal for the ARG’s own proposed end-of -year Bathurst extravaganza meeting scheduled for the last weekend in November.

It has also kept a decent sort of profile on the, ahem, Repco Supercars championship circuit, despite the perceived snub from Supercars.

The company signed on as a major sponsor with last year’s Bathurst 1000 race winner and runaway 2021 series leader (our very own) Shane Van Gisbergen’s Red Bull Ampol Racing squad, and back in April announced that it would be sponsoring a wild card Red Bull Ampol team-run entry  in this year’s Great Race to be driven by two-time former Bathurst 1000 winner Russel Ingall and the current leader of the Dunlop Super2 series for the team, teenage Queensland sensation, Broc Feeney.

With NZ’s own spring/autumn pairing of Richie Stanaway and Greg Murphy also running as a wild card entry (in their case in an Erebus-entered car sponsored by Boost Mobile) there has already been a lot of press about the two wild cards, with most of the photos used so far…. of Russell Ingall standing beside his Supercheap Auto-liveried car.

While the ARG had to formally cancel its own Supercheap Auto Bathurst International event – originally scheduled for November 26-28 – ticket holders will receive a full refund plus the opportunity to re-book for the Nov 30-Dec 05 Repco Bathurst 1000 meeting.

Set to support the first annual Repco Bathurst 1000 enduro on Sunday December 05 this year are the Dunlop Super2 & Super3 Series, Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia, Toyota Gazoo Racing Australia 86 Series, and the Haltech V8 SuperUtes Series.

Supercheap Auto TCR Australia Series will have their finale at the 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000 event

Added to these are six of the ARG’s own key support categories which include the season finale of the Supercheap Auto TCR Australia Series, the long-awaited Bathurst debut of the V8-powered S5000 open wheelers, and the final 2021 series rounds of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Australia Powered by AWS, the National Trans Am Series and the Gulf Western Oil Touring Car Masters series.

It really is a line-up for the ages, and one only made available because of the unique set of circumstances that series organisers and sponsors have found themselves in thanks to the ravages of Coronavirus V2.0.

As the ARG’s Matt Braid concluded; “We’d really like to thank Benjamin Ward and his team at Supercheap Auto for their flexibility, as well as the Bathurst Regional Council for their ongoing support and desire to make this event happen.

“With COVID-19 restrictions on state borders and mass gatherings continuing late into 2021, the consolidated event allows 10 categories to race at Mount Panorama over a date which is expected to offer the best prospect of spectator attendance and reduced or removed restrictions on interstate travel.”

Sadly, fans on this side of the Tasman have no such guarantees – but one day we will be able to leave our so-called ‘hermit kingdom’ and until then we’ve got live streaming. And Sky TV.

National Trans Am Series

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines contract media work with weekend Mountain Bike missions and trips to grassroots drift days.

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