racing is still an effective marketing tool

Maserati launched its new MC20 supercar with a fanfare rarely seen in the car industry these days.

The Italian firm assembled a huge temporary stage at the Mugello Circuit in Modena, a fleet of cars and grandstands full (relatively speaking, of course) of dignitaries, customers and the media. As the ushers tried to move us away from the canapés and into seats, a video played on loop on a big screen, showing Maserati’s racing heritage.

Predictably, there was plenty of 1950s Formula 1 action, featuring Juan Manuel Fangio and Sir Stirling Moss, but there was also extensive footage of the Maserati MC12 utterly dominating the FIA GT Championship in the 2000s. By the time that the video had played for the final time, onlookers might have been convinced that the MC12 was a pivotal machine in racing history.

The truth is somewhat different. The MC12 did indeed utterly dominate, notching six consecutive titles from 2005 to 2010 and winning 40 of the 94 races that it started in that time. But so it should have: it was a homologation special, stretching already-liberalised rules to their limits.

Due to tedious background politics, the regulations of the GT Championship’s top division differed from those governing GT cars at Le Mans. As a result, the MC12 never competed in sports car racing’s showpiece event – where it would have faced far tougher competition.

That’s not to say Maserati was being disingenuous: it developed a car to the limit of the rules, beat all comers and won world titles. As a return to racing after 37 years, it was a huge success. But it wasn’t quite the world-beater it was painted as in the MC20 hype.

a helicopter flying over a field

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Does it matter? Absolutely not. Ultimately, for car makers, racing is a marketing exercise, and Maserati can rightly draw on the MC12’s dominance without recourse to such nuance as the level of competition it faced.

The MC20’s launch also represented a brand reset, using the supercar to link Maserati with a long and successful motorsport heritage. The firm was able to do that hugely effectively and in such a way that onlookers might not notice the gap of nearly four decades between its F1 and sports car efforts and that GT campaign.

For years, motorsport’s worth as a marketing tool was all tied to results: think of the tired cliché ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’. In truth, that has never really applied. Racing is only effective as a marketing tool if used in the right way. Maserati’s use of the MC12’s success is a great example.

How it works: onboard fire extinguishers

Fire used to be the racing driver’s greatest fear, in the days when it seemed that they were partaking in a sporting activity while strapped to a bomb. Modern fuel cells have largely diluted the risk, being extremely strong yet also flexible, but still a fire extinguisher has long been mandatory on any competition racing car.

In Formula 1, a range of extinguishants are allowed, but all systems must discharge 95% of their contents at a constant pressure in no less than 10 seconds and in no more than 30 seconds. Drivers must be able to trigger the extinguisher themselves from inside the cockpit, but the breaker switch – marked by a red E within a circle – must also be linked for external deployment; for example, by trackside marshals. It can still make all the difference in a life-or-death situation.

Motorsport greats: Pedro Rodriguez

Sergio Pérez is Mexico’s longest-serving grand prix driver, but there’s no doubt who is the country’s greatest. Pedro Rodríguez won two grands prix, in South Africa in 1967 for Cooper and in Belgium in 1970 for BRM, but he’s perhaps best remembered for his dashing exploits in Gulf Porsche 917s. His virtuoso drive in the sodden Brands Hatch BOAC 1000km in 1970, following an infamous black flag and pit-lane ticking-off by the clerk of the course, is racing folklore. Sadly, like his younger brother Ricardo, Pedro died in a racing car – a Ferrari 512M – at the Norisring in 1971. Charismatic and brave, he had so much more to give.


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