Champ Car must partner with Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Companies

   by Cássio Côrtes
August 17, 2004

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Bringing sponsors interested in reaching consumers instead of only building business-to-business relationships is the fastest way to expand Champ Car’s marketability

Check out Kevin Kalkhoven’s tan – he’s no snow driver

A basic part of the journalistic trade consists of approaching publicity events with a calculated attitude of blasé cynicism. You see the press release in your e-mail box, and although it may say “Come and see the Beer A launch party with wet T-shirt contest featuring Pamela Anderson!”, your professional duties oblige you to react with a staged yawn. “Oh, yeah. Whatever.”

“I’ll be there.”

Bridgestone’s PR event at Denver’s Pepsi Center (intended to display the prowess of its Blizzak winter tires by having the likes of Paul Tracy and other big names from the Champ Car community flogging Ford Escapes inside an ice rink) couldn’t quite match the appeal of Beer A’s party. But it came close.

Thus, Friday at 4:30 pm, after Champ Car and Trans-Am qualifying ended, I stood beside the Pepsi Center’s ice rink (most notably used by the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche) with my studied expression of indifference.

Three minutes later, I was grinning already.

All-season and Blizzak go head-to-head

Here’s how it worked: two Ford Escapes, one equipped with all-season tires, the other shod with Blizzak winter rubber, were handed to two different drivers. They took five laps around the rink, then switched rides, both getting to experience the car’s behavior on the distinctive conditions.

The first round matched PKV and Champ Car co-owner Kevin Kalkhoven against the lovely Bronte Tagliani, Alex’s wife. One quick glance at the Achillean tan on Kevin's and Bronte’s forehead revealed their unfamiliarity with the slippery stuff right away.

Hailing from the tropical lands of Brazil, my knowledge of winter tires so far consisted of a few diagrams teaching how to install tire chains printed on the owner’s manual of my uncle’s ‘73 BMW 2002. So I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect once Bronte and Kevin turned the keys of their Escapes.

Turns out, it’s hellishly hard to drive any four-wheeled thing on ice. I was thinking the conditions would be similar to the ones we experience in the tropics, when powersliding over desert beach sands at night before the cops show up. Wrong: that’s like driving on hot tar in comparison.

Kalkhoven skidded all over the place, even hitting the hockey rink’s barrier when steering the all-season tires car, then proceeded to honk his horn incessantly behind Bronte’s car when her turn without the snow tires came up. After climbing out the second time, Kalkhoven said he “could not believe the difference. It was like night and day.”

Sliding cars on ice is the sort of silly activity real car guys cannot stay indifferent to. When those cars are being steered by great personalities like Paul Tracy, Paul Gentilozzi and Tommy Kendall, and their reactions are being blasted by a PA announcer as soon as they hop out of the cars, fans can instantly relate to both the sport’s biggest asset – the drivers – and the product being showcased, be it snow tires or any other thing they might consume.

When your sponsors only have business-to-business interests, however, opportunities like this are lost. Without promoting the drivers and making them interact with the public, expanding your fan base becomes much more difficult, for such promotions cost money – money that business-to-business companies likely won’t be interested in spending, since they have no need to reach the consumers directly.

Partnerships with business-to-consumer corporations bring promotions that not only add to an event’s overall number of entertainment options, but also help publicize the sport and its drivers/stars (even outside a racing weekend environment – can you say free Sebastien Bourdais miniature cars with the purchase of every Happy Meal?)

Plus, you get to see Tommy Kendall bumping Tracy’s behind to send him skidding into a hockey rink wall. It’s a win-win situation.

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