There's hope yet for real-life racing in SA

27 May 2020 - 12:47 By brenwin naidu
A Oettinger Polo Cup race at Zwartkops Raceway.
A Oettinger Polo Cup race at Zwartkops Raceway.
Image: Supplied

While it might be tricky to predict when South Africans can once again enjoy a day at the races, the national motorsport regulatory body is confident the sector will bounce back.

Speaking to TimesLIVE Motoring this week, CEO of Motorsport SA (MSA) Adrian Scholtz said that the organisation was aiming for a resumption in activities “as soon as possible” — but that it will only happen once an effective plan to protect participants and spectators is devised.

Asked to quantify the effects that Covid-19 and national lockdown measures had on the motorsport sector, Scholtz explained that though it was “difficult to put a monetary value on the impact”, the disruption was significant. “Bearing in mind the whole industry, which supports motorsport — and all the individuals and businesses concerned — has not been able to earn an income while no motorsport has been taking place.”

He added, “However, the motorsport community has shown itself to be remarkably resilient in the past, and I am confident it will continue to do so going forward.”

Forecasting changes ahead, Scholtz anticipated that consolidation would be important. “Categories and classes of racing that have similarities will need to work together to ensure the fuller grids that everybody would like to see, which will attract and interest spectators.”

Mike Rowe, head of the Volkswagen South Africa Motorsport division confirmed its investment in the area would continue, citing a presence spanning more than 35 years. He said that it remained a significant part of the brand-building strategy, referencing examples such as the cementing of the GTI brand in the formative years of its local journey.

“The motorsport landscape is likely to look very different post-lockdown and we need to make sure that whatever we do is in the best interests of our customers,” he said. “As the trend to ‘buy-down’ continues in all sectors, an opportunity exists for us to provide motorsport with very affordable platforms for both circuit racing and rally.”

Commenting on the rise of simulated motorsport, highlighted increasingly under lockdown, Rowe believed it would unlikely supplant the action of reality.

In a bid to reboot proceedings, he mentioned engagement with MSA to consider ways in which a responsible restart could occur. “This may mean that we host some events without spectators and explore opportunities to live stream events on social media platforms.”

He added, “We certainly hope that this plan is very much short term as watching motor racing on a screen cannot beat the experience of attending a live race meeting.”

Reigning SA National Superbike champion and leader of the King Price Xtreme racing team Clint Seller had been hopeful about the 2020 season. In particular, the prospect of championing the new Honda CBR1000RR-R, after striking a deal with the manufacturer.

He said that the national lockdown had brought financial difficulties for the team, adding that though they had the benefit of partners and sponsors, race events were crucial to creating income. “Having said that, our sponsors have been incredibly supportive during this time and have assured us that they can’t wait to get back into the swing of things with us.”

Responding to our list of questions, Toyota affirmed the intention to remain a fixture in local motorsport under its Gazoo Racing umbrella.

“Motorsport is a platform that allows us to forge new technologies and make ‘ever-better’ cars. It is also the space that allows us to push ourselves in the toughest challenges and on all kinds of roads.”

It said that its builders would commence working on vehicles as lockdown regulations gradually relax. The company said that drivers and navigators were adhering to exercise regiments at home.

While the brand acknowledged that there could “be no permanent replacement for the exhilarating sound of the engine as the car races past the spectators, or the spectacular clouds of dust and fantastic jumps,” it conceded that changing times have necessitated strides in the field of digital sports. “Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa will share more developments on this front soon.”