On the back of all tickets, paddock and pit passes the disclaimer begins with: “Motor racing is dangerous….” What the disclaimer should go on to say is: “Motor racing is also bloody expensive…”
There’s an old adage around the sport, which goes like this: “How do you make a small fortune out of motor racing?” Answer: “You start with a big one.”
|Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez|
When Ing. Dr. Ulrich Bez took over control of Aston Martin in 2000, he told me that although he did harbor plans for Aston Martin to participate in motor racing, to broaden the appeal of the marque, it would not happen using Aston Martin’s precious and limited financial resources.
Like many British carmakers, Aston Martin boasts a long history in motor sport, and many victories.
“We will sell cars to private teams, but assist them with technical knowledge, advice and discounted prices for parts.” Said Bez.
Times change, and once again Aston Martin is back in the pack at Le Mans, and also participating in the GT3 category, wearing the banner ‘ASTON MARTIN RACING’ and funded by the factory.
Is this a good idea? I think it is. Just like Jaguar’s confidence has grown, on the back of record sales, Aston Martin sales have gained strength year after year since the GFC, and the company feels it’s time to throw its corporate hat in the ring – both with an appropriate investment of company funds, and developing new models under the AMR banner.
For the explanation of the apparent turnabout, I asked my old friend Simon Sproule, Aston Martin’s Chief Marketing Officer:
"Given this is the last year for the current Vantage in GTE and GT3, we decided to take a different strategy for 2018, given both the arrival of the new Vantage, and the launch of the AMR brand.
"We have signed a new agreement with Prodrive to support our racing activities and they are helping to develop the new WEC cars based on the new Vantage which debuts at the end of this year. Prodrive doesn't own Aston Martin Racing (some perceived this in the past)...we, Aston Martin, run that operation.
"The other major change is the launch of AMR as our performance brand. Harking back to the early 50s when David Brown created a higher performance version of the DB4 to start the Vantage bloodline.
|Aston Martin AMR Vantage Pro|
"Creating higher performance versions of our cars continued through to DB7 in the 1990s. From DB9 onwards, we dropped the Vantage versions (and the name was applied to a whole car of course).
"So it was not a difficult decision to bring back a higher performance product line-up, and calling it AMR was a natural way to create the connection between racing and road cars. Every car in our range will have at least one AMR version. The first production AMR cars are the Vantage V8 AMR and Vantage V12 AMR announced recently.
"Racing at the level of the WEC is not for the faint-hearted and requires a deep technical and financial commitment. With Prodrive and our own in-house expertise through special projects, we have the technical depth and capability.
"With our success at Le Mans, the resurgence of the Aston Martin business, and a new Vantage coming soon, we have a robust proposition for sponsors and partners. The launch of AMR also helps to consolidate that strategy, in addition to specifically contributing to the racing program: a percentage of the revenue from every AMR sold goes into helping our racing
"It's a simple and direct way to ensure we never forget that racing is a business and not an indulgence for the company."
In the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans Aston Martin’s efforts were rewarded with a win in the GTE Pro class; plus a second AMR car finishing 9th in GTE Pro, and an 8th place finish in the privateer GTE AM class.
|24 Hours of Le Mans 2017|
However, my original reservations about motor racing ‘as a marketing tool’ remain, because as far as public optics are concerned, you’re only as good as your last victory, and to keep the silverware flowing into the winners hands, you have to keep pumping money in to the motor racing sausage machine.
There’s no doubt companies successfully putting their race cars into the winners’ circle have reaped rewards for their image – namely Jaguar and Bentley – in recent times, but it ain’t cheap and you have to be very sure that it's a credible part of the marque’s heritage, and the myths and legends which grow up around motor racing.
|Sir Stirling Moss, Aston Martin DBR1, Goodwood|