In early February this year, Holden’s longstanding Motor Sport Chief, Simon McNamara, announced he was departing Holden after a 24-year career at the Fishermen’s Bend Head Office.

Rumours had been swelling for two months prior that Simon was intending to move, as those close to him had sensed new marketing styles in Holden were not in accord with his vision.

Simon held several roles in the Sales and Marketing function but in the last 10 years he headed up Holden’s Motorsport function, a role which in recent times was expanded to embrace all sponsorships, incentive programs and national Dealer meetings.

Simon departed having achieved an outstanding level of success for the Holden brand in Motorsport and in terms of the OEMS associated in the sport he was a ‘kingmaker’ in pit lane. His decision to fire the Walkinshaw family last year after nearly 30 years of holding the factory team label in favour of Triple 8 was as bold as it was appropriate given HRT’s long championship drought.

Simon McNamara

There were as many rumours as to where Simon was headed after his Holden tenure. The announcement recently came that he would be taking up the position of Commercial Manager of Australian GT Championship Series.

I recently met with Simon to discover what this series was all about as my ‘uneducated’ view was it was a sport for ‘fat cats’ who had their net worth and age confused with their driving capability and race craft.

Here’s how our Q and A went:

Q:    Give me a snapshot overview of what the Series is about.
A:    It is a global platform based on production road cars of mass production. All cars are homologated to compete in each market. Race-specific advancements, e.g. aerodynamic aids, engine modification, safety cells, etc.
Performance is controlled by a Balance of Performance program – each car has different power outputs and weight, so all data input, including track layout, etc. to supply a BOP for each car, effectively levelling the field.
Auto brands include Ferrari, Lamborghini, Bentley, Mercedes Benz AMG, BMW Msport, Audi Sport, McLaren, Porsche, Aston Martin, Acura (Honda), Lexus, etc.
Two Championships in Australia – Australian GT and Australian GT Endurance. There is the trophy series, which allows older model cars to compete, and more State level racing (stepping stone).

Q:    Explain how the Series ownership and management structure works.
A:    Australian GT is solely owned by Tony Quinn (very successful businessman, entrepreneur, motorsport enthusiast and outstanding presenter). Quinn Foods’ office is in Queensland at the all new Game Over Entertainment Centre (state of the art family activity centre). The AGT Series has a Category Manager (Ken Collier) and staff brought in for race meetings, along with myself, the Commercial Director.

Q:    How many Teams are there and do they operate like Supercars with a Teams Franchise Agreement? How many events in the calendar and are there any Factory teams in the series?
A:    Teams: AGT has several teams with anything up to 25 cars competing at any event. We don’t have a franchise system yet; teams enter races once AGT publishes the calendar for the upcoming season.
Events/Championship: Two Championships in the AGT series – GT Championship (five rounds) and GT Endurance Championship (four rounds).
Factory Teams: No official Factory Teams in the AGT series.

Q:    Who are the Series’ key business partners/sponsors?
A:    AGT, and major partners are Pirelli, AHG Group, Darrell Lea, FreeM, ELF and Mentum Design.

Q:    What is the TV package?
A:    AGT has a Foxsports package when we compete at Supercar events and we also have live streaming for the Endurance Championship (visible from the
australiangt.com.au website).

Q:    Who do the series rate as their major competitors?
A:    Any motorsport category really but, more specifically, Porsche Carrera Cup, given the brand’s strength and aspiration for gentlemen drivers.

Q:    How would you describe the existing fan/supporter base?
A:    The AGT fan base is a mix of traditional Motorsport followers (who’ll watch Supercars, F1, Indycar, Moto GP etc.) and the performance customer of brands such as AMG, BMW Msport and Audi Sport.

Q:    I’m sure you haven’t been hired to settle for status quo. How will you go about growing the business?
A:    The highly aspirational marques involved in the category lend for engagement with their performance customers and partners. There are significant commercial opportunities given the asset base of AGT and the Quinn Group. We plan to leverage these assets and create experiences, unique online content and ultimately business growth for our partners. We have access to some amazing privately-owned facilities with the benchmark being Highlands Motorsport Park in New Zealand (about 50 mins outside Queenstown – state of the art race circuit).
GT4 is on the horizon and we’re working on a plan for implementation of that platform. GT4 is the next generation GT product and is being produced by almost all manufacturers. The excitement surrounding products like GM Camaro, Ford Mustang, Audi R8, McLaren 570S and the Porsche Caymen should prick the ears of many a racer.

Q:     Moving now to yourself, can you enlighten the readers as to why you left Holden, as your role seemed a great job to many in the industry.
A:    I felt the time was right. We had achieved some significant gains in my department and it was time for a change. I saw it as my Seinfeld moment – leave at the top. We’d achieved seven Supercar Manufacturer Titles in a row, won several Bathurst 1000s, Drivers Championships, Teams Championships and assisted the careers of several drivers in Motorsport.
We’d also engaged one of the best and most professional sporting organisations around: the Collingwood Football Club. Commercially a benchmark and proved to be a success for the Holden brand. The partnership engaged Holden staff, the Dealer Network and fans to deliver sales, ultimate experiences and new audience content.
Along with Collingwood FC, there was the Holden State of Origin (the biggest NRL product around), Holden Scramble Golf, Holden Women’s Cycling Team, Perth Wildcats and some community programs.
The Dealer side of the business was always fun and I do miss that. We delivered some exciting Dealer Incentive programs and I always tried to improve our National Dealer Conferences year on year.

Q:    It would seem to me that going from a role where you controlled a significant budget and had many people knocking on your door for funding to you now having to knock on doors to create a budget, this would be a big adjustment.
A:    Some might see it as distributing a budget allocated, but it wasn’t quite that simple. There was always a business case for each spend and I can assure you a significant sales process through many channels to get each program over the line. Especially in the later years, as the company changed and fewer automotive-orientated people entered the business.
Creating a budget is always a challenge and given the state of the market, sometimes harder than others. AGT does have some significant assets and engagement of aspirational marques, so there are strong commercial opportunities.

Q:    During your time at Holden and with your great successes on the track, who would you nominate as the three most impressive Holden people you worked with?
A:    Mark Reuss – was Holden MD during a very difficult economic time. Very product-orientated and passionate person, great leader and one I’d follow into the trenches any time.
John Stevenson – Motorsport Manager for many years, and I worked closely with him. A very intelligent man and one from whom I learned a great deal. I called it the Stevo University.
The last is a tie between John Elsworth and Ross McKenzie – both extremely intelligent and passionate car people. I learnt a great deal from both and thank Ross in particular for his support in getting me into Holden.
Some notable mentions who should be on the list are Mike Simcoe, Peter Hughes, Alan Batey and Jim Campbell.

Q:    What is the best decision you ever made in the job?
A:    Negotiating with Roland Dane to convince him Triple Eight Race Engineering should become a Holden Team (from Ford).

Q:    What was your worst decision? (I am automatically eliminating your Holden sponsorship of the Magpies.)
A:    Some might argue my best decision was also the worst, as it caused a domination for the T8 team over the next years and made Supercars a little one-dimensional – but my priority was for the Holden brand and winning races.

Q:    If Fred Schepisi were to make a movie of your Holden career, who would you like to portray Simon McNamara?
A:    Easy – Ryan Reynolds. He’s a rather funny chap and I’m a fan of his delivery style. I’d like to think we had some fun along the journey. Might take him a few hours in the makeup chair to drag him back to my level of appearance.

John Crennan
Motorsport Contributor

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