The tangled web that is V8 motor racing in this country may be getting closer to untangling itself but maybe only after MotorSport NZ accepts more of a back seat role.
The "war" between Motorsport NZ's NZV8s championship and the breakaway V8 Supertourers series may be about to see a compromise forged. Most observers are predicting that the NZV8s will soon be combined with V8 Supertourers' second-tier series, the Challenge Cup, and will race as a curtain-raiser to the V8 Supertourers. For that to happen, most motor racing sources believe that MSNZ will have to drop the legal action taken against V8STs after their breakaway move. That and the combination of the NZV8s with the Challenge Cup would be a comedown for MSNZ, the official flagbearer of the sport which had come under increasing fire for its stewardship and for the way a regulatory and administrative body became involved in the commercial aspects of motor sport - unsuccessfully.
MSNZ's old promotions entity, The Motor Company (TMC), underwent a review in April which saw it re-present itself as MotorSport Promotions Ltd (MPL). The new body's board included the CEO of TMC, Martin Fine. On August 1, MPL announced the resignation of Fine and Kerry Cooper, the former general manager of TMC, signalling a "changing of the guard and a new approach for the company".
However, most motor racing sources say there is little left for MPL to promote. Successive racing classes have moved over to the Supertourers' umbrella and there is growing suspicion that MPL has little or no money anyway. Already, the Suzuki Swifts, the V8 Utes and muscle cars have moved over to Supertourers and there is increasing talk that the Toyota Racing Series is likely to go it alone, without using MPL as promoters.
Add to that the strong contention in V8 circles that the NZV8s have only three new cars ready for their proposed racing in a couple of months, and it is little wonder that they have approached Supertourers regarding an arrangement.
"They have finally read the writing on the wall - everyone else read it ages ago," said one motor racing source. "So they have decided to go and see Supertourers and put their cards on the table. The only problem is that their card is the two of clubs."
The success of the Supertourers series can be seen by the fact that, on TV, it has consistently out-rated all V8 Supercars events - the Australian-owned series which includes the famed Bathurst 1000 race and the controversial and now-defunct Hamilton street race. The only exception was the ratings for Hamilton, illustrating there is plenty of appetite here for locally-based V8 racing.
Perhaps it was that success that prompted one of the V8 Supertourers founders, Mark Petch, to sniff that the Auckland Council would have done better to spend their money on the Supertourers series instead of giving $10.6 million to the Australians to race at Pukekohe - the new site of the New Zealand race, taking over from Hamilton after it was weighed down by a $40 million price tag. That led to V8 Supercars issuing a pronouncement that none of their drivers should drive in the Supertourers' events.
It is significant that V8 Supertourers mostly out-rate V8 Supercars - as the Australians are currently hawking round their TV deal here. It also has a whiff of burned money about it. TV3, the rights holder here for the past five years, are said to have spent about $3m a year and recouped only $1m per year. The exact loss was lumped in with costs from the switchover from analogue and digital broadcasting, as part of a $17.7m liability provision, but the V8 part of that loss could be up to $10m or thereabouts.
V8 Supercars have previously partnered with a free-to-air channel but TVNZ are unlikely to pick up the option if TV3 decide not to pursue it this time. There is no suggestion there won't be TV coverage of Pukekohe (which is just as well for the Auckland Council, as its millions were justified by having Auckland's assets broadcast internationally) - but it likely means V8 Supercars will have to accept a lower price and work through Sky TV.By Paul Lewis Email Paul