What is Mexican A1GP team doing right that Champ Car teams can't?

 by Jose Arrambide
February 9, 2006

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Portland 2002 - There was a time when Champ Car was flush with Mexican sponsors
Bill Kistler/AutoRacing1.com

Not too long ago Champ Car (and its previous incarnation CART) had plenty of sponsorship from Mexican companies. Tecate along with Telmex and Quaker State used to sponsor one car. Herdez went from sponsoring one car to sponsoring two cars. Nextel Mexico used to sponsor two cars. Gigante used to sponsor one car and Corona used to also sponsor one car. Even small company Gonher sponsored a car for one of the Mexican races.

How quickly that changed. Last season there wasn't even one Mexican company to sponsor at least a car for the whole season. (Corona sponsored one car but the sponsorship came relatively late in the season.) Even with two successful races in Mexican territory, Champ Car teams are having a hard time convincing Mexican companies that Champ Car is a good place for their brands.

It's not that Mexican companies stopped their involvement with the racing world. In fact, they didn't just continue to sponsor teams in local racing series, but they increased that sponsorship. (Former Champ Car sponsors Nextel Mexico and Telmex have their own teams in different local series, for example.) It's just that they stopped their involvement with international series. But that changed a few months ago. One international team convinced one of the biggest Mexican companies to be their main sponsor for a whole season and probably a few more years.

Telmex is primary sponsor on the Team Mexico A1GP car
A1 Grand Prix

A1GP's Team Mexico somehow convinced Telmex to return to an international series as their main sponsor. Did I mention that Team Mexico was a new team with no previous racing experience at all and that they were looking for sponsorship to compete in a new series that no one knew if it was going to be a success or a failure? So how do you convince a huge company to come back as a sponsor for a team that hadn't raced a single race before in a series that hadn't held a single race at all when a more established series with more established teams (yes, I'm talking about Champ Car) couldn't do it?

It is true that Champ Car is still trying to rise from the ashes of CART like the Phoenix. And yes, it is true that sponsoring a Champ Car is supposed to be more expensive than sponsoring an A1GP car, but on paper it looks like you get more for your money as a Mexican company getting involved in Champ Car than in A1GP.

Corona finally stepped up to sponsor Lavin late in 2005
Champ Car

Let's talk about name recognition. After years of having their races transmitted on a national network and cable, after years of having at least one Mexican driver in every series, after years of having media coverage of their races, and after years of hosting two races in Mexico, every race fan, every casual race fan and a lot of non-racing fans know what Champ Car is about. One year ago, A1GP didn't exist at all as a series. It was just a concept, an idea.

How about events in Mexico? Champ Car not only has two races held in Mexican territory, they have the two most successful races attendance-wise in all of Champ Car. Funny thing is that Telmex is one of the sponsors of both races and has been since the beginning of both events. A1GP will have only one race in Mexican territory, on the same track Champ Car uses for the Monterrey event. (The idea of A1GP organizers is to have the race one year in Monterrey and one year in Mexico City.)

And media coverage, which is probably the most important part when considering a sponsorship, because you are sponsoring a car to get your brand to possible consumers. Having an advantage in name recognition and having more events in your country will give you more coverage in newspapers, magazines, racing and sports shows on TV and radio. But let's concentrate on the most important coverage you want when you sponsor a race car, the transmission of the race itself on TV. Last season, Champ Car had all of their races broadcast live in Mexico on two different cable channels, and had a little more than half of their races broadcast live on a national network. A1GP will only have the Monterrey race broadcast on network television. Every other race has only a one hour summary on network TV.

On the other hand, you can claim that since A1GP is a racing cup of nations, national pride plays a very important role. By sponsoring your nation's team, you technically become the sponsor of a national team and you are sponsoring a whole country.

When you add everything up, it seems that Champ Car has a lot more to offer to Mexican companies than A1GP. That is why I have to ask myself, "What is A1GP's Team Mexico doing right that Champ Car teams couldn't do?" Whatever they are doing, Champ Car teams should learn a lesson.

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