Do Mexican fans only care about Mexican drivers?

 by Jose Arrambide
Jun 27, 2006

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Mario Dominguez
LAT for Champ Car

While the majority of sport fans and media members of the world have been concentrating on the soccer World Cup, the fans that have been keeping up with racing, and more specifically with Champ Car, can’t complain - the last couple of weeks have been anything but boring.

The shuffling of drivers and the on track drama of the Portland and Cleveland races have been discussed in detail by AutoRacing1.com, but there’s one aspect I want to concentrate on. With the possibility of Mario Dominguez ending up without a seat or ending up in one of the uncompetitive teams, many believe will result in a dramatic decrease in the Mexico City race attendance.  So I wonder, do Mexican fans need Mexican drivers to be interested in Champ Car or any kind of racing for that matter?

During the 60s Mexico City hosted a few non paying points Formula 1 races (the practice of staging non paying points races ended in the 70s).  Formula 1 returned to Mexico City in the 80s,  when the “Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez” hosted official Formula 1 races from 1987 until 1992. Every one of those races were a sellout and a financial success despite the fact that no Mexican had run in F1 since 1981 (Hector Rebaque).  If F1 didn’t need Mexican drivers then why would Champ Car?

National pride is very evident in Mexico
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

AutoRacing1.com has stated many times that the series needs to sell the drivers to the public.  Ask our editor Mark Cipolloni about it and he will explain in detail why the drivers should be the real stars.  While this has yet to happen in the U.S., in Mexico Champ Car (and CART before them) was very successful at turning drivers into stars, as a matter of fact they turned Mexican drivers practically into national heroes.  Every race was broadcast live on network TV, the two Mexican races were sold-out events, every Mexican including non racing fans knew who Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Mario Dominguez were, they couldn't get enough of them.

Ironically, what made Champ Car so popular in Mexico is now also to blame for its present decline.  They did such a great job of selling the Mexican drivers to the public that they forgot to sell the other drivers and the series itself, and as successful as this plan was, its biggest flaw is that it only works if you have Mexican drivers as front-runners.  There is no backup plan.

What if Mario loses his seat at Dale Coyne Racing and can’t get another one?  What if Mario gets to keep his seat but can’t get any spectacular results? The most probable outcome is that the Mexico City event will yet again have declining attendance.  The Mexican media will continue to cover less and less of the series, and fans will keep losing interest until a new Adrian Fernandez or Michel Jourdain Jr. comes along.

Don’t get me wrong, making heroes out of Mexican drivers was a great marketing tool for Champ Car in Mexico, but you can’t have all your eggs in only one basket.  Champ Car should have taken advantage of the big success they had in the country to start selling the benefits of the series to the fans and sponsors.  They should have invested a little bit so they wouldn’t have to rely on Mexican drivers so much.   F1 proved you don’t need them to have successful races in the country, but Champ Car does not command the kind of respect in the international community like F1 does, and Champ Car does very little marketing of its own in Mexico.

Champ Car was most successful in Mexico when it had a team of people led by Joe Heitzler looking after its interests and living in Mexico City.  Now Joe and his team are gone and Champ Car's success in Mexico has gone right down the tubes.  So much for Champ Car's NAFTA model.  With fully staffed offices in Canada and Mexico, NASCAR is marching right in and stealing it out from under their noses.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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