National Motorsport Academy

A Winning Formula On & Off the Track: BTCC & Volvo

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vOLVO 1994 850 ESTATE TEAM

Where is the money in motorsport for the manufacturers? Teams spend millions to participate in the top-flight series such as WEC, WRC and even domestic series’ such as BTCC, but where is the financial benefit? The cost of competing can be crippling! Elite motorsport is the place that future innovations are developed and tested but it’s also seen a a vehicle for selling vehicles. Almost all automotive manufacturers have a motorsport division and the race teams are seen as a great way to get in front of millions of potential customers. It may be a less glamourous reality but without car sales, the likes of Mitsubishi, Toyota and Honda would have no money to race.

The BTCC is one series which manufacturers have used to propel their latest family-friendly saloons into the living rooms of the unsuspecting motorsport fan. But leveraging motorsport for commercial gain is a tough business. As part of our MA Business of Motorsport and the Motorsport Management Masterclasses we teach the dark art of making money from motorsport – the commercial tricks of the trade, the insider secrets which take years to learn on the job. To help with this, we’ve sought out experts who have made it their business, quite literally, to turn motorsport into a successful commercial venture for some of the biggest names in the automotive world. 

Introducing Andy King...

Meet Andy King. Andy will be our resident motorsport marketing expert and will be the lead tutor for the How to Use Motorsport to Achieve Business & Marketing Goals masterclass. This masterclass uses the story of Volvo’s strategy of running a team in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), all with the aim of selling more ‘motors’.

With a long history of success at an executive level in motorsport, Andy runs a highly successful consultancy business, specialising in sponsorship and sports marketing. With big ticket clients such as the Silverstone Circuit’s CEO, former WEC champion, multiple Le Mans winner and F1 driver, Allan McNish, and a host of famous names inside and outside the motorsport arena, (including Oasis) Andy has carved out a stellar career in motorsport since he retired, post injury, as a professional racing driver in 1989, and has been responsible for the sourcing, placement and activation of over £120 million worth of sponsorship, working with some of the world’s largest brands.

Here’s a brief rundown of his CV:

  • Sponsorship Consultant McLaren International
  • Sponsorship & Marketing Consultant, Benetton F1
  • Head of marketing for Jaguar’s World Championship and Le Mans 24 Hour winning race programme
  • Head of Marketing and Communications for Volvo Racing Programme – one of the most successful single-manufacturer race programmes
  • Sports Marketing Consultant for Nissan’s Le Mans programme
  • Commercial Director for Orange Arrows F1 Team and TWR Racing

Andy also has recent hands-on experience of competitive motorsport, working within F1 and also through  senior Commercial roles with RML in the WTCC and Vauxhall BTCC team, PMR.

It's 1994 in the BTCC....

For 60 years, the British Touring Car Championship has been the UK’s most popular motorsport series and for nearly a decade it was the envy of the world. Interestingly described by Petrolicious’ Nat Twiss as ‘a gateway drug to motorsport’, it was the 1990s that saw the BTCC lead the way for Super Touring regulations around the world, with the FIA adopting BTCC homologation rules in various other series’. The ‘2 litre Touring Car Formula’ was a winner for manufacturers and the rule-makers.

Early in the 1990’s it was all about the Japanese and German manufacturers battling for supremacy. Such was the popularity of the BTCC, with spectators and the motorsport press, by the mid-90’s everyone wanted in. The 1994 season saw 10 manufacturers and 7 independent teams compete, with the unlikely entry of the Swedish brick/hearse/box manufacturer, Volvo.

'The Aerodynamics of a brick…..'

Working with expert engineers, Tom Walkinshaw Racing, Volvo took the controversial and at the time laughable decision to use the 850 estate. TWR were a global motorsport powerhouse and also Touring Car experts, having worked with Mazda, Rover, Jaguar, Holden and BMW to win BTCC, European, Belgian, French and Australian Championships, and most famously with Jaguar to win in the World Sportscar Championship in 1987, 1988 and 1991. Add this to wins in 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1988 and 1990 and TWR were the experts of the era. TWR was also behind Michael Schumacher’s first two Formula One World Championships with Benetton before winning the Monaco GP with Ligier and the Indy 500 with Infiniti. 

Volvo chose their motorsport engineering partners well. They took a family estate and made it….well…exceptional!

“When Tom Walkinshaw Racing were building the 850 touring car, they ran into some issues. The engine struggled to get past the 260 HP mark. This put the Volvo 25-30 HP down on the rivals of the time. So, TWR decided to look at the rule books, and *metaphorically* throw it in the bin. In 1994, the BTCC regulations stated that a production cylinder head must be used, but different valves could be fitted. No extra metal could be attached to the head and the angle of the valves couldn’t be altered. The key part that TWR worked their way around was the angle of valves couldn’t be changed. The engineers at TWR decided to be a bit cheeky and cut a part of the head out. This gave the exhaust valve a different angle, that brought more power. The official power figure was a stupid 325 HP. Once all was said and done, the 850 started at 260 HP and ended some 60 HP above the rest of the engines in the field. The best part of all of this was that the scrutineers couldn’t do anything about it, because they hadn’t broken any rules. British engineering at its best…”

Head over to DriveTribe and read the rest of the article which explores some ‘Fun Facts’ about Volvo and TWR’s engineering excellence!

To cut a long story short, the Volvo 850 didn’t suck! Their foray into the BTCC was widely regarded as one of the most successful of all Manufacturer race programmes carried out in the 1990’s. They finished 8th in the 1994 championship and the 850 estate was only made unusable on track when the FIA allowed the use of aerodynamic aids the following year – they had to be below the roof line. This didn’t stop TWR and Volvo – the 850 saloon notched up 6 wins in 1995 and one less in 1996, with the Volvo S40 gaining a top spot once in the 1997 BTTC season. Not bad for a brand known for making rock solid, robust family wagons with the turning circle of a minibus and the aerodynamics of a brick!

Shifting Opinion

To shift considered opinion, particularly of a knowledgeable, critical and opinion forming audience such as the BTCC fan base, is not easy. But Volvo were savvy. They had identified a way of growing the fanbase of their brand and using it to steer the development of their future models. They used the BTCC fans to measure the improvements in their brand identity and credibility by competing on track. Here are some metrics from this hugely successful motorsport marketing campaign:

The key question – “How likely are you to consider buying a Volvo in the future?” went from 20% of the BTCC fan base in 1994 to 45% in 1997.

Amazingly, considering Volvo was known for safe, boxy and boring cars more likely to be towing a caravan, people gave the following responses to the statement…..

"Volvo Produces.........

  • Performance cars
  • Cars I want to drive
  • Prestigious cars
  • Cars for younger drivers
  • Cars that are exciting to drive
  • Volvo produce stylish cars…

This shift in opinion also gave Volvo the confidence to produce cars they’d perhaps not have considered such as the T5R, which originally had a production run of 2,500 cars before being increased to 5,500 due to demand. T5R is a classic example of a model achieving cult status and brand value, and you only have to look at the resale price today to wish you’d jumped on that particular bandwagon!

Proof the Motorsport Can Make Money!

The C70 coupe and C70 cabriolet were also produced off the back of Volvo’s motorsport campaign, with design, engineering and production all done with TWR who compressed the project time down to 30 months. In total, 76,500 cars were produced. These were all models (including the S40) that the traditional image of Volvo wouldn’t have permitted before the BTCC programme. Proof that  market research is key to any marketing campaign.

Positive shifts in attitude are very hard to achieve and typically takes millions in advertising and marketing spend over a long period of time. Volvo managed to achieve over 80,000 additional vehicle sales, across 35 countries which ultimately wouldn’t have happened without their very credible on-track performance in the BTCCand a very savvy marketing mind.

Masterclass host, Andy King, was at the very centre of the Volvo BTCC programme, from the very first discussions to the execution of a marketing strategy that broke the mould in motorsport. You can find out more about our expert Motorsport Management Masterclasses, including Andy’s here.

Commercial Motorsport Masterclasses

We've broken down our MA Business of Motorsport into individual CPD modules and masterclasses. Covering motorsport governance, law, sponsorship, marketing and media, our masterclass seminars can help you get ahead in motorsport management.

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