John Crennan throws TCR Managing Director, Matt Braid, 21 questions a few days prior to being handed the keys to a new door in Australian motor sport.
JC: Where are the global headquarters of TCR (Touring Car Racing)?
MB: The principal offices are in England and Italy. The series is owned by the ‘World Sporting Consultants’. The series is the brainchild of former World Touring Car Championship Manager, Marcello Lotti, who continues to be the driving force.
JC: How long has TCR been operating and in which regions prior to this expansion into Australia?
MB: Marcello Lotti established it in 2014, so this will be its sixth season. There are four internationally sanctioned series globally, with 12 regional series, primarily throughout Europe, working to the TCR regulations.
JC: I noted in an article that TCR don’t allow fully-fledged factory/manufacturer support. What then is the level of support permitted by manufacturers?
MB: The crucial ethos of TCR is cost-effectiveness, ensuring a level playing field for everyone and not disadvantaging any teams or brands. TCR do not allow a manufacturer to own a team or a car; however, they are free to provide sponsorship dollars or in-kind support within the normal parameters of sports sponsorship.
JC: With the established overseas operations have there been any manufacturers who stand out in terms of the way they have embraced TCR?
MB: It is somewhat of a mixed bag, but certainly Hyundai are a standout, as are Audi and Honda, either directly with the manufacturers or their Dealer Councils.
JC: Turning now to Australia, how is your relationship with global TCR Headquarters governed?
MB: We operate with a licence agreement and the term is a lengthy one.
JC: I understand in Australia the TCR Global Agreement is with ARC (Australian Racing Group). Who and what are they?
MB: ARC is a privately held entity with three owners and directors: me, former CEO of Wilson Security, John McMullen, and a third party who wishes to remain private.
JC: What benefits did the TCR Licencing Agreement bring to ARC to assist and facilitate the best possible start-up phase?
MB: The start-up support has been outstanding with things such as databases and templates for both the technical and commercial operational disciplines and start-up experiences in other countries. It will be a two-way street, however, as TCR Global have been impressed with many of our own early initiatives and are most interested in what learnings they can glean from the Australian series.
JC: How many brands do you currently have over the line?
MB: We currently have eight brands committed of the 14 brands that are internationally homologated. (These eight are) Audi, Alfa, Hyundai, Honda, VW, Opel, Subaru and Renault. We also have a lot of work in progress in attracting more brands to the series.
JC: I understand the series owns the cars. Is this correct?
MB: No. The teams own most of the cars and those that don’t have a buyback/lease program in place.
JC: Have the 16-18 cars that have come into Australia all been previously raced overseas?
MB: No, 90 percent of the cars are brand new and not previously raced.
JC: How is the relationship between TCR Australia and the Team’s governed? Is it like Supercars, with a franchise agreement?
MB: No, it is not a franchise deal.
JC: How demanding are your criteria for appointing teams? Is there a formal application process?
MB: There are no set, specific criteria; however, we want all TCR Australia teams to be professionally presented, self-sufficient, and to share our vision of offering a first-class product on and off the track.
JC: Do any of the owners/directors have any direct or indirect financial interest in any of the teams?
JC: Whilst your selection of Aaron Noonan and Greg Rust as your commentary team is a strong move, all top sports broadcasts these days have a big name who has deep understanding of the sport from the inside and top class experience ‘behind the wheel’. Any plans on this?
MB: Everyone will be pleasantly surprised with our television format where it will take on a very entertaining, concise, Big Bash theme, with Saturday’s telecast qualifying and race format airing for an hour, from 2pm–3pm, and Sunday for two hours, 2pm–4pm.
JC: Do you have a primary/naming rights sponsor and how has the appetite been from sponsors for this new series?
MB: We will be announcing our naming rights sponsor on the Friday just prior to the race weekend (this interview was conducted earlier in May; the series naming rights sponsor has since been revealed to be carsales). What we are finding with the sponsor market is enthusiasm and interest because our business model is far less complex than Supercars. Sponsors seem to get it a lot more than what was experienced in Supercars and, in particular, the more attractive entry cost base.
JC: I have held a strong belief that, for far too long, Supercars have done a poor job to engage car Dealers and key executives from the factory/manufacturer ranks. What is TCR doing to engage these stakeholders?
MB: Considerable contact has been made with many of the Dealer Council bodies to ensure they are across this new opportunity and, likewise, the car companies. We and the teams recognise their importance to our success.
JC: How many car company executives do you anticipate being at the first meeting in Sydney?
MB: Location may be a slight barrier to this but at least four of the brands will be represented at the track.
JC: Given low cost entry is a key plank of your business proposition, can you provide me with some comparative estimate for a two-car team in Supercars versus TCR? For every $100 a team needs to invest to participate in Supercars what would the equivalent be in your series: $10, $20 or $30?
MB: 20 percent, or let’s say the average cost for a team in Supercars is $2 million per car, we would estimate with TCR it is $400k per car, which would include the $250k cost of the car.
JC: It would not be too difficult to assume there is some tension between TCR and Supercars as you roll out your new plans. How serious is the ruffling of the feathers?
MB: When we commenced our plans we sat with Supercars as, ideally, we would have liked to have been on some of their race calendar, as we felt would be good for all parties. They were somewhat dismissive and we got the impression they were a bit threatened, so we then pursued the Shannons path. I think the best way to describe the current situation is that Supercars are watching us a lot more closely than we are watching them.
JC: At the conclusion of the season after your last race in Sydney how will you and your fellow directors be marking your score card in terms of the key elements of success in ticking the boxes on your business case objectives?
MB: 1. Displaying and proving the long-term sustainability for the series. 2. Displaying the overall competitiveness of the teams and cars. 3. Building the fan base around good racing.
Crenno’s post-interview thoughts
The Supercars series deservedly enjoys its dominant position of leadership in Australian motorsport, with excellent TV choices and coverage, a strong attendance base at most events, some exciting stars and personalities, and a well-established 15 events/30 races calendar across the year. Additionally, with the Bathurst race, it has a Melbourne Cup-type annual showcase event that stops the nation for a full day.
Displacing, or even mounting a strong challenge to Supercars’ dominance, is a big ask; however, TCR should be able to shake things up and create an all-new young fan base and/or take a slice of the cake with anything from sponsorship or even team shifts. TCR will certainly create a varying range of options for parties seriously invested in motorsport.
It will need to be a well-executed five-year plan to make serious inroads into the Supercars stranglehold. TCR is, however, in the unique position of starting with a clean sheet to not only follow the established global guidelines of TCR but also have the IP of Supercars and their threats and weaknesses, given the previous key roles Matt Braid and James Warburton recently held at Supercars. There are a number of TCR start-up elements that would suggest Supercars will have to work harder.
TCR having an established international series already operating in 12 regions and being able to draw on that IP is big. TCR being able to draw on 14 global manufacturers that have a presence in the Australian market is significant. (Supercars currently have only three manufacturers and one of those has withdrawn from the series.) The low-cost base for TCR team entry and participation (which represents approximately 20 percent of a Supercar team) is significant. Having directors and a governance policy of not allowing team owners on the TCR board means any influential self-interested owner cannot get an unfair jump on their competitors.
The eight manufacturer brands TCR currently have signed represent a combined market share of 30.5 percent (based on YTD VFACTS figures). This compares with the 15 percent combined share of Supercars’ participating brands. This is a very significant increase in the annual potential pool, now and in future years, of brand-new loyal fans that could be attracted to the Series. On an annualised basis this pool for TCR is approximately 360,000 buyers versus 180,000 for Supercars, or 180,000 more chances for TCR to win over brand loyal fans.
The initial driver lineup for TCR’s first race was refreshing, with many new young men and women having their careers launched and with TCR appearing not to allow ‘never been’ or ‘has been’ Supercar drivers on the grid. It will be interesting to follow the fortunes of both TCR and Supercars over the next few years; however, it is to be hoped the chequered flag will go to Australian motorsport, given there will now be two series in the market competing hard for fans and sponsors, and growing the employment levels of our industry.