There has been a lot of doom and gloom for the motor racing fan since the end of last season.
First Seat announced an abrupt withdrawal from the British Touring Car Championship – just as it finally seemed to be on the cusp of success with its diesel Leons.
Honda canned its Formula 1 team, and the World Rally Championship lost Subaru and Suzuki within a couple of days of each other. Audi, which enjoyed massive success with its sports car programme in 2008, announced it would be bring its new R15 to the Le Mans 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, but not the wider American and European Le Mans Series.
This grim news was received with sighs of acceptance and many words written about the dismal state of the world economy. But in the past week, two manufacturers have revealed new motor racing programmes, something we fans can take heart from.
Aston Martin had been tipped to launch a full-scale attack on the Le Mans 24 Hours prototype class this year, which has been confirmed. Last year’s GT1 category winners are building LMP1 prototypes which, enticingly, will take on Audi and Peugeot’s turbodiesels with V12 petrol power. And the timing is just perfect, coming 50 years since Aston Martin first won the French classic.
Good news for BTCC fans, too. Fears that it would have just one manufacturer entrant in 2009 – series stalwarts Vauxhall – have been laid to rest, as Volvo has announced a race programme for its bioethanol-powered C30 hatchback.
These are both manufacturers that have suffered from falling sales and tighter margins. But there is still market share to be won and cars to be sold. Aston and Volvo’s votes of confidence in Le Mans and the BTCC show that motor racing remains a valuable way for car makers to exhibit their products and technologies to the public, as long as it can be made cost-effective.