Editor's Note: We're leaving this "Fumes" column up for another week because it speaks to many important issues that come into play when manufacturers contemplate major league racing programs. Peter will return next week. -WG
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. As most of you readers out there know, I've been in and around the racing business for a long time. Because of my experience, I've consulted manufacturers on the "Who?, What?, When?, Where?, How? and Why?" of their racing programs for years. Even after all of this time I still enjoy racing, even loving a lot of aspects of it as much as I ever have, but as you've probably determined by now I don't love a lot of what's going on in the racing world right now for a long list of reasons (you can read Peter's previous "Fumes" columns by scrolling down and clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. -WG).
Despite my enduring enthusiasm for racing and the positive marketing aspects of it available to the participating manufacturers if it's handled properly, I have never counseled a manufacturer to blindly just go racing because they felt like it. It would not only be disingenuous on my part, but it can be a costly and stupid decision as well. Not every executive at a manufacturer who calls him or herself an enthusiast is qualified to make the kind of decisions necessary to mount a first-class racing program (yes, I know that's a shocker but it's painfully true). Mistakes are made, ridiculous expectations are set and unfortunately a good idea can turn into a big pile of shit in a matter of moments.
The emergence of ROI (Return On Investment) has transformed the racing game permanently. No surprise there, though sometimes I long for the swashbuckling days of yesteryear when Henry Ford II vowed to kick Ferrari's ass at Le Mans with the added impetus of saying, "I don't care what it costs." But those days are now relegated to the history books. What that means is that no racing program exists today at any company unless there's a good reason to link it to a product or a specific marketing initiative.
Top-line example? Some wonder why Toyota is involved with NASCAR with a nameplate - Camry - that is decidedly average in every way, even though it performs sensationally in the market, and the fact that nothing is built by Toyota that somehow links to its NASCAR involvement. And that is all very true. But Toyota's involvement in NASCAR has everything to do with its overarching goal of becoming part of the fabric of America, not with a specific product and also, its interest in usurping Chevrolet's position in the U.S. market every chance they get. In Toyota's case, its NASCAR involvement is blatant image-wrangling of the highest - and most expensive - order.
And then there's Cadillac. On the one hand, GM's involvement in the Pirelli World Challenge with Cadillac Racing is perfectly justifiable. It's a way to promote its superb V-Series cars within the context of competing against other prestigious manufacturers on the racetrack and besides, the True Believers at GM in Design, Engineering and Product Development deserve to have their efforts with these impressive machines on display for the world to see.
With that said, the news that GM racing is putting a Cadillac-branded V8 in an IMSA DPi car makes no sense at all. As in less than zero.* Read the whole Cadillac story in my Rant column this week for the total background on what Cadillac is about right now in terms of product and marketing, and you'll understand where I'm coming from on this. The 4.2-liter twin-turbo V8 talked about in the Escala Concept that's designated for future Cadillac models is probably the engine you'll see at Daytona next January. But again, the overriding question is why?
It's clear that the future of Cadillac lies in China. And it's also clear that a Cadillac-branded DPi car is nonsensical and silly, because it simply has no context within the stated future direction of the brand. Now, some have suggested that Cadillac will get a version of the new mid-engine Corvette in 2021, but it still doesn't make sense. What, will Cadillac and Corvette then square-off in GTLM? Or will Cadillac continue its branding effort in the DPi class? Again, there's no context for it and no justification for doing it.
Johan de Nysschen, the ex-Audi guru who is now the Supreme Leader of all things Cadillac, has indicated by the direction he's taking GM's luxury division that racing doesn't count for much within his Master Plan for the brand. And given what I know, Cadillac racing in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship really doesn't count for much.
Does de Nysschen expect it will add engineering credibility to a brand that's clearly more concerned with the "ride-alongs" populating the back seats of Cadillac models in China? Is there anything about the non-V-Series Cadillacs that suggests that engineering integrity is something GM's luxury division is going to try to "prove" through racing to add credibility to its products? And if that is the case why limit it to IMSA? Why doesn't GM grow a set and make the bolder statement - and go for the overall win at Le Mans with a hyper-advanced Cadillac racing machine?
Because this Cadillac Racing marketing initiative is going nowhere fast.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
*Racers, on the other hand, are less concerned with Cadillac's motives. If they're on the receiving end of GM Racing's largesse when it comes to getting Cadillac-branded power for their racing team, their attitude is 'Why ask why?" Remember, as Dr. Bud once famously said, "Drivers will race through a Shit Storm for Twinkies they want to do it so bad." And if someone else is paying for it, even better.
Editor's Note: Many of you have seen Peter's references over the years to the Hydrogen Electric Racing Federation (HERF), which he launched in 2007. For those of you who weren't following AE at the time, you can read two of HERF's press releases here and here. And for even more details (including a link to Peter's announcement speech), check out the HERF entry on Wikipedia here. -WG
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Le Mans, France, June 11, 1967. The No. 2 Shelby American Ford Mark IV driven by Bruce McLaren/Mark Donohue before the start of that year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The duo would finish fourth overall. The winning No. 1 Shelby American Ford Mark IV team car driven by Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt Jr. sits next to it.