Trucking powers motorsport
AUSTRALIA'S 2018 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship was a nail-biter from the moment the lights went out on the first race in Adelaide until the chequered flag fell on the final race in Newcastle.
It was a season in which contenders either stepped up or got out until just two players, Ford gun Scott McLaughlin and Holden pilot Shane van Gisbergen, stood fast for a shot at the title.
When push came to shove though it was McLaughlin, driving his Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske-run Shell V-Power-sponsored Ford Falcon in its last-ever premier race, who dominated on the streets of Newcastle to smash his Red Bull-supported, Holden-driving rival.
What history will probably not show is that both cars - and those of many others in the 26-strong championship field - had strong support from Australia's trucking industry, McLaughlin's from the Penske organisation and van Gisbergen's from Iveco.
In fact the broader national trucking industry appears to be making a friendly sponsorship takeover attempt on the country's premier motor racing championship.
Motorsport has always been powered by money and as we look towards Adelaide 2019 season opener in early March it is easy to see that financial support strengthening.
Penske, for example, has a proud motorsport heritage dating back to the late 1950s, when company patriarch Roger Penske stepped into his first race car.
Over the years the company has raced in America's premier NASCAR and IndyCar championships, various sports car classes and even dabbled in Formula One.
Through its Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske outlet, Penske Australia puts a number of its brands in front of the TV cameras, such as Western Star Trucks, MAN Truck and Bus, MTU, Detroit, and Penske Truck Rental.
Not quite so illustrious but no less supportive is International Trucks Australia which cleverly has a foot in both the Ford and Holden camps, its Iveco brand supporting Triple Eight Race Engineering's Red Bull Racing campaign and its International brand supporting Tickford Racing.
Volvo prime movers lug the Garry Rogers Motorsport cars and equipment around the country.
GRM used to campaign Volvo cars in the championship but these days runs Holdens. Despite that, the Volvo trucks have stayed and the Volvo signage still appears on the race cars.
Volvo-owned Mack has a similar arrangement with the four-car Kelly Racing outfit. Interestingly, the Kelly team runs Nissans from its Braeside, Victoria, base but Nissan's UD truck brand is not a supporter.
Albury-based Brad Jones Racing has a prime mover and sponsorship deal with Freightliner and its associated parts division, Alliance Truck Parts, neatly blending the new and the aftermarket with Freightliner and Alliance opening the door for the spare parts industry, specialist insurers and some of the larger logistics companies as well.
Truck Assist, for example, appears prominently on Jack le Brocq's Tekno Autosports Holden Commodore, a single-car operation run out of the Gold Coast by Jonathon Webb. Melbourne-based transport company Palm Trans features on Garry Jacobson's Nissan Altima Super2 car.
Brisbane-based SCT Logistics is emerging as a major supporter of motorsport Down Under, spreading itself not only across the Supercars main game - its signage appearing on the Tickford cars - but also on cars competing in the New Zealand V8 championship, the Australian Super2 and new Super3 development categories and the Formula 4 open-wheel class.
Multispares Truck Parts is another that is heavily involved in Australian motorsport but not in the premier or secondary categories. Rather, it is a major sponsor of Ryan Hansford's historic Holden Torana A9X in the Touring Car Masters division.
Probably one of the most unusual support ventures in the category though is that given by Toyota's Hino truck division, which has decided that supporting the event rather than the player brings the biggest yield.
Sure, Hino supports the single-car Preston Hire Racing team but its Hino Hub throws a corporate blanket over the whole category as part of the national telecast package.
Fronted by expert commentators Mark Larkham and Neil Crompton, the Hub gives Foxtel and Network Ten viewers technical explanations and statistical updates during telecasts.
Hino, which has been part of Supercars since 2016, recently signed on with the series for another three years with a guarantee of increased support by adding the role of official Supercars Tow Vehicle supplier to its already comprehensive arsenal.
Bill Gillespie, Hino Australia's general manager of brand and franchise development, says the company's extensive involvement with high-profile motorsport not only generates brand exposure but also increases its dealer network and customer base engagement.
"We credit the Supercar involvement with delivering a level of brand and dealer engagement that has been a key factor in strengthening our status as the fastest-growing truck brand in Australia,” Gillespie said.
For its part International, through Iveco, has been associated with Roland Dane's Triple Eight Race Engineering outfit since 2015.
"Teams have a need for reliable, quality transportation. Involvement in the Supercars gives us a chance to showcase the vehicles' performance, style and operating abilities in an elite sport,” International Trucks Australia marketing manager Darren Swenson said.
Swenson says the transporters not only showcase the best of the Iveco product range but are as important to race fans as they are to the team, the trucks constantly together as they criss-cross the country travelling to and from race meetings and always looking pristine.
The Triple Eight Racing trucks, each of which clocks up about 50,000km a year, even have their own fan base and, naturally, serve as a conduit between Iveco, its dealers and its client base.
Like Hino, the company uses race meetings to galvanise dealer interest and invigorate customer support.
Most race meetings usually mean an exclusive dealership dinner for customers, with team drivers Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen in attendance, special corporate hospitality areas at the circuits and organised pit walks.
"Dealers see the benefits of being able to reward key customers,” Swenson says. "It's about showcasing pride in the brand, it's about connection. It's a great way to showcase our products.”
Motorsport involvement is all part of the deal for Penske Australia general manager of marketing Kim Ruddock, who explains it all quite simply as being "part of the Penske DNA”.
"Racing is in the Penske blood, it's part of our DNA - and Roger doesn't get into things for a short time,” she said.
"Motorsport is the third or fourth most-watched sports in Australia and it appeals across every social level so it gives us great representation for our brand.”
The prime movers and transporters, she adds, are hugely popular with fans taking as much interest in the trucks, parked up in the race paddocks or rolling through towns in the truck parades held as part of the lead-in to some events, as they do in the race cars and equipment they carry.
The organised parades in which the transporters drive in convoy through cities pre-race are extremely popular with fans and locals lining the streets to see the rigs rumble by. And on the corporate front?
"Penske focuses on direct customer engagement through motor racing so it's a major activation for us,” Ruddock said.
"We invite customers - 40 each day for Newcastle's final round of the 2018 series, for example - as part of the Shell V-Power Racing engagement.”
What it all means is that many brands are making themselves prominent and getting the all-important television air time, not to mention the thousands of images in magazines and newspapers and millions of hits online.
In the 1960s and 1970s the catch cry from car makers and dealers was to: "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday”.
As we head towards the third decade of the 21st century the catch cry for road transport industry members participating in motorsport could well be: "Get seen, get bought”.