TOCA And PowerTour

23 February 2001

Last year, in the UK, there were three competing packages of motor sport: the TOCA package, PowerTour and the BRSCC’s Premier Package. TOCA followed the trend it established in previous years, running the hugely popular British Touring Car Championship to a format well-known to its fans. Each round featured a one-shot showdown qualifying and two races for Super Touring, one of which included a compulsory pit stop. The supporting races were strongly supported by manufacturers, particularly Ford and Renault, and variety was occasionally created by adding ‘guest’ support races from one round to another.

PowerTour, a new concept for 2000, took this idea a stage further by creating a motor sports ‘show’. A fixed timetable, timed races, and headlined by three ‘hero’ championships – the British Formula Three Championship, the Privilege Insurance British GT championship and the National Saloon Cup for ‘production’ touring cars. In addition, there was off-track razzamatazz: dancing girls, a PowerTour Village in the paddock, etc.

The BRSCC’s premier championships - Formula Palmer Audi, TVR Tuscans, Porsches and Caterhams - came together occasionally in a package format, but was run more along the lines of traditional race meetings. Racing was good, but the smaller marketing budgets and less hype kept the crowds generally smaller than for the other two packages.

Whilst they avoided head-on conflict (just), the autumn and winter had all the ingredients for a full-scale war, particularly between TOCA and PowerTour. Fortunately, no blood was spilled, but the outcome has been that the cream of British motor racing will be split between PowerTour and a TOCA Tour for 2001.

One of the consequences of the close season negotiation has been the emergence of a single body, British Motorsport Promoters (BMP), under whose organisation both PowerTour and TOCA Tour will run in 2001. However, beneath the top layer of the hierarchy, I sense two very different approaches being taken. If this is true, it is actually quite important, as it is going to ensure the continued success of both categories.

PowerTour was a brave new initiative last year, and undoubtedly attracted some new faces to race meetings, as well as showing existing fans a ‘new feel’ to a race meeting. Lengthy presentations after each race were avoided, and the PowerTour Village provided a focal point in the paddock when there was no action on the track. The British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) pronounced itself satisfied with the results at the end of the season, and could point at extensive exposure on terrestrial and satellite TV as well as additional plans for future seasons.

TOCA, on the other hand, has had to regroup following significant change last year. First, as already mentioned, the TOCA organisation has been disbanded and reassembled under the auspices of BMP. Second, Alan Gow, the guiding hand behind the spectacular rise in popularity of the championship, has been replaced by Richard West. Third, the core product, Super Touring, has been replaced by a new formula, based on last year’s Super Production class. Fourth, Ford and Honda, two of only three manufacturers to support the Championship last year, have pulled out of the revised championship this year. And fifth, Ford is taking its Formula Ford and Ford Fiestas away for 2001.

To say that this is unsettling is an understatement. Whereas PowerTour can look back on 2000, learn lessons, and move forward, TOCA has to start practically from scratch, with unknown quantities in terms of drivers, manufacturers, teams and spectators for the coming season.

So, we have PowerTour, building on the foundation of last year and TOCA, attempting to prove that Touring Cars can still be the most popular form of motorsport in the UK and that the new format can win back crowds which have been steadily declining over the last few years.

What are the strategies?

Simply put, the TOCA tour is motor racing for the masses. More people attend rounds of the British Touring Car Championship than any other championship in the UK. Put another way, if someone is only going to attend one motor race in a season, then likely as not, it will be a TOCA meeting. With this foundation, there seems little point in chasing another market. The coverage on BBC TV ensures that the profile of the championship is high. The problem for Richard West is winning back those touring car spectators that witnessed the titanic races of the nineties, and who have drifted away as the costs spiralled and manufacturer interest dwindled.

PowerTour is coming from behind. Looking at the content of the raceday for 2001 though, the enthusiast is going to drool. Formula 3, featuring names that should grace Grand Prix grids in a few seasons. The Privilege GT cars, running an endurance style race with pit stops and driver changes, bring the scent of Le Mans to the UK. And this year, TVR Tuscans and Porsches will add further glamour, spectacular cars and close racing. Looked at logically, motor racing enthusiasts (as opposed to the masses) should put at least one PowerTour meeting in their diaries for 2001. Maybe those fans who no longer want to go to the British Grand Prix would rather go to some PowerTours, for less money, with less hassle.

PowerTour should preserve the motor-racing element of the show – it is certainly its strongest suit. TOCA probably has to aim to provide entertainment in a more general sense. There needs to be a fundamental difference between the target audience for TOCA and PowerTour. The more you can identify different ‘brands’ (no pun intended) the better. People who buy Ariel don’t buy Persil. Brand loyalty is a strong factor in helping people decide what motor racing event to visit. You can only sell so much soap powder and if PowerTour and TOCA go after the same spectators, one will lose out.

PowerTour’s mission should be to win more motor racing spectators from other activities, TOCA’s mission to win back the spectators who used to go and see the Alfa Romeos, the BMWs, the Audis and the Nissans. Are there still people out there who haven’t returned to a race since the Sierra Cosworths withdrew?

I would be interested to know if the market research agrees with me, but I reckon that the average PowerTour spectator is likely to be a reader of the specialist press, or even of this web-site. If not, then the opportunity exists for him to become a reader. The average Touring Car fan will watch Top Gear on the telly, but is more likely to have other interests that compete for his attention. The ability of TOCA to provide him with an entertaining day will be the prime mover in bringing him back again.

Has anyone noticed that this is actually a reversal of the original philosophies? PowerTour was supposed to bring in first time spectators and motor-racing regulars went to see Touring Cars. It would be interesting to know if this has been deliberate and planned, or just the result of circumstances.

BMP is in a privileged position, controlling the major UK championships for cars, bikes and trucks. It seems to be behaving like the experienced angler, who selects his bait with care to catch the fish he’s chasing. Let’s hope so.

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