Toyota’s commitment to next year's new one-make 86 Pro-Am race series may be aimed at grassroots motorsport, but the spend it will involve is big business.
Fees to V8 Supercars, television licensing costs and corporate facilities are expected to run well into seven-figures each season – not including equipment, activation, competitor support and potentially pro drivers, say motor racing insiders.
Motoring.com.au attended the launch of the 86 Pro-Am series at the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars season opener on Friday. It’s at this race the series is expected to debut in earnest in 2016.
And while Toyota would not comment on the specifics of its investment in the series, V8 Supercars insiders were more forthcoming -- on the basis of anonymity.
“They’re not riding on our coat tails free of charge,” one high-profile team executive told motoring.com.au.
“They’re paying us to be here. They will be paying us for the television footage. And they’ll be supporting the V8 Supercars championship via their spend on corporate and other facilities,” he said.
Toyota expects the 86 Pro-Am series to run at between six and eight rounds of the V8 Supercars Championship. While the Clipsal opener is not promoted by V8 Supercars in its own right, key rounds in the title are.
Not surprisingly, it is the V8 Supercars-promoted rounds that will likely make up the lion’s share of the 86 events. It’s at these rounds that the V8 Supercar series itself benefits most from on- and off-track spend. But it’s not just Toyota’s dollars that those within the V8 Supercars organisation see benefit in.
“Toyota and Volkswagen are the two jewels the series needs. This is a great way for us to let Toyota inside the tent… To let them see what the show’s all about,” our V8 Supercars insider stated.
V8 Supercars CEO, James Warburton, was happy to go on record and welcome Toyota into the fold.
“Toyota is the number one sales brand in Australia. This is a great way to start the relationship with Toyota,” he stated.
Toyota Australia sales boss Tony Cramb was on hand for the launch of the series -- an indication of the high level of support the Pro-Am series has within the local Toyota organisation.
Cramb told motoring.com.au the Japanese car-maker's commitment to the series was “long term”. He said Toyota staff were “genuinely excited” about the series.
Making reference to problems with other recent one-make series Down Under: “It will not be under-funded,” he said.
Today's announcement of the 2016 86 Pro-Am series comes just weeks after sister luxury brand Lexus was named as the official safety, course and medical car supplier for the 2015 V8 Supercars Championship, as part of a two-year deal ending in 2016 and spearheaded by the luxury brand's new RC F Coupe.
Lexus Australia is currently considering whether the RC F will also form the basis of its first V8 Supercars campaign when new rules allow coupes in 2017 – the same year Toyota (and Holden) cease Australian production – or a GT3 sports car campaign including the rival Australian GT Championship and the Bathurst 12-Hour.
A feasibility study will decide Lexus' Australian motorsport future by mid-2015, but Cramb ruled out a V8 Supercars assault by Toyota, saying it was never a choice between V8s or the 86 Pro-Am.
"Truthfully no, this was always Toyota’s direction. This is a grass-roots approach. Our idea is to give the young people the idea of getting involved in motorsport and develop their skills.
"I personally have never crunched the numbers on V8 Supercars since I have been in charge at Toyota, which is going on for three years now.”
When asked if Toyota's investment in the Pro-Am leaves the V8 Supercars field clear for Lexus, Cramb said: “I am not saying anything about Lexus, this is a Toyota discussion.”
However, the sales chief of Lexus Australia's parent company stressed that Toyota's substantial new investment in local car racing was another example indication of the world’s largest car-maker’s growing appetite for motorsport worldwide.
Toyota announced its high-profile return to the World Rally Championship in 2017 last month in Tokyo, when Toyota Racing Australia was also formed in line with its global brand Toyota Racing.
“Akio Toyoda, the big boss of Toyota, has ignited a passion for all things automotive, for cars generally, for racing and for connecting back to the vehicle itself," said Cramb.
“I think the establishment of this Pro-Am series for the 86… is a big step forward as far as that passion is concerned."
On the sensitive issue of V8 Supercar drivers also racing in other series, Cramb said that at this stage Toyota does't expect any full-time V8 competitors to be among the Pro-Am series' professional drivers.
"Those details are yet to be finally decided but we are not proposing that at this point in time. There are a number of different options we have to work our way through and we are having discussions with different people at the moment to establish what is the most appropriate way forward.
"Once again, the focus is to mentor the young. To bring some attention to their race [that] would be brilliant from that respect, but it’s also the mentoring side of things so they need to have the time as well to spend with these young guys who are coming and joining the business of racing."
Seeing as the Toyota 86 incorporates a Subaru built boxer engine, MRT has a plethora of upgrades for them.
Article and images from www.motoring.com.au