If there’s an interesting issue in the modern era of GT-style motorsports, it’s the inevitable challenge of running “manufacturer” versus “customer” driven racing teams and cars. While nothing new, and while most fans of sportscar are familiar with the differences, the business philosophy behind an automotive marque’s involvement may not be as obvious to the casual fan.
First off, let’s identify the obvious: manufacturer versus customer driven teams. Most already know this, but a manufacturer, usually known as a “factory” team, is typically an entirely professional, spare-no-expense type of effort. Millions of dollars poured in to research and development, top-level engineering and mechanical support, topped off with the best available drivers. In the modern GT scene, a perfect example would be the Corvette C6.R program. Pratt & Miller Engineering, long known as the motorsport engineering arm of General Motors, performs the majority of R&D behind the effort. You will only find two of these vehicles in North American racing, competing in next year’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship with a strong roster of professional drivers.
Customer driven teams, however, are driven by private money with much looser ties to the vehicle they compete with. The most famous example is Porsche. The majority of Porsche teams in professional GT racing: Alex Job Racing, Magnus Racing, NGT, Park Place, receive little to no financial support from Porsche, in fact it’s the opposite. In the case of all these teams, they literally purchase their race vehicles, as well as majority of spares, from Porsche. The team’s have to provide the majority of their own mechanical and engineering personnel, and the funding for all of this typically comes from an enthusiast team owner, or a driver who provides funding (or in many cases both).
The conclusion of this year’s American Le Mans Series on Saturday was, for many, the end of an era. With the ALMS taking part in a 15-year, fractious battle against the NASCAR-owned GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, the already niche audience of professional sports car racing has endured a long-standing rivalry.
When both series announced their merger in September of 2012, the fan and media focus for the last 14 months has been on just that; how they’re merging.
How will they balance the technical specifications between both series? What staff will stay on, and who will go? What tracks will make the calendar?
In all of this, however, the debut of the 2014 United Sports Car Championship has had one point completely neglected:
This is a new series.
This is a new opportunity to brand and to market.
While the composition of the series is a marriage between two houses, the opportunity to create an entity that is completely new, and brand it accordingly, was not lost on one company.
We’re of course speaking of Rolex.