Supercars CEO James Warburton will step in to assist Garry Rogers Motorsport move forward after the shock announcement that Volvo would withdraw from the category at the end of 2016.
Speaking on Inside Supercars this evening, Warburton emphasised the health of the sport and discussed the role of manufacturers moving forward into the Gen2 phase.
He admitted no one was ready for the Volvo announcement, given the general expectation was there would be a three-year renewal.
Warburton spoke of his disappointment at the news; particularly given the news the manufacturer would recall the S60s to Sweden and leave GRM high and dry. The team is saying publicly it wants to continue to run the Volvos next year.
“The frustrating thing is that it was funded here locally from Volvo Cars Australia, it was knocked back because it was a V8 engine,” Warburton said.
“We’ve got Gen2, we’ve got the ability not to have a V8 engine – so the entire program they put forward was around a V8 engine.
“For me, I think the championship and the way the fans have embraced Volvo has been extraordinary. The program, if you like – through Garry Rogers Motorsport and particularly Scotty McLaughlin – it’s made Volvo very cool.
“So I would hope that Volvo Sweden – and I certainly plan to make my voice known – do the right thing. And if Garry does want to continue to roll forward with Volvo product, that they do the right thing and we end the relationship properly.”
Manufacturer support is clearly important in the sport, though team boss Brad Jones explained on last week’s episode of Inside Supercars a team like his could run as a privateer outfit with a solid bank of sponsors.
Warburton is open to both strains of thinking moving forward, with Holden and Nissan still to commit to Supercars past this season, but believes the product and benefit for manufacturers are clear.
“Look at what we’ve got and the manufacturers participating – at the level they’re participating.
“But the reality is we’re an entertainment business, so the Volvo decision affects Garry Rogers Motorsport. For Garry to say he’s going to be on the grid next year – and Garry has as much rat cunning as anybody – he will be there.
“But what Gen2 is about, is about opening out the optionality and saying to any automotive brand, ‘look at our platform, look at our numbers’.”
It’s a difficult time for the automotive industry in general in Australia, but Warburton believes Supercars’ statistics speak for themselves.
“We’re the number three sport on the FOX SPORTS platform behind only the NRL and the AFL – 80 per cent more viewers than Super Rugby, 120 per cent more viewers than the A-League.
“So [it’s] an extraordinary platform, combined with our digital platform, and the events itself.”
Gen2 allows teams to run engines other than the V8 configuration and opens up to different body shapes. The category will maintain its loud, intense racing, but provide opportunity and relevance for manufacturers, teams and fans.
“We can run whatever option the manufacturers want to run.
“And we’re also talking about manufacturing at a time when we’re moving form manufacturing to importing in a huge state of flux and no one really knowing what their engine plans are.
“So we’re kind of doing a bit of pioneering on this as well. But the optionality for manufacturers is there at the time that’s right.”
The business has considered the alternative, where there is little or no manufacturer support, but Warburton believes that suggestion is only from the ‘naysayers’ while the future is unclear.
“That would go the other way – high octane entertainment exactly as we’re doing, and we’d have to look at the overall sustainability in teams.
“But … the naysayers always come out at these times.
“Volvo has been in and out of the sport four times since 1985 so manufacturers come and go in motor racing and that’s the reality of life.
“We are a very, very strong business and I’m sure we’ll continue to have very strong manufacturing support.”