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TCR: NEXT STOP AUSTRALIA

Can TCR make it in Australia?

Can TCR make it in Australia?

After an exceptional rise across the world, can TCR make it in Australia? Adam Hammonds certainly thinks so, and is hoping the class with be racing here by the end of the year

By HEATH McALPINE

TCR IS one of the world’s fastest growing motorsport classes, expanding from Europe to take in Asia, the US, Middle East and now Australia.

But what is TCR exactly?

TCR takes the basis of the already popular GT3 category and applies it to Touring Car racing. Marcello Lotti, former head of the World Touring Car Championship, is the creator of the series which now features factory homologated cars from Honda, Seat, Opel, Volkswagen, Audi and Kia. Adding to this, privateer efforts representing Alfa Romeo and Subaru are currently competing alongside those manufacturers, as Ford and Peugeot are currently developing ‘kits’ for TCR.

TCR Series Race at Spa-Francorchamps

TCR Series Race at Spa-Francorchamps

TCR has boomed, especially in Europe where the front-wheel-drive, two-litre regulations have proved popular with teams, drivers and spectators. TCR currently runs in most major European countries, except England, has infiltrated Asia and is starting to move into the lucrative American market. One man who is planning to make Australia the next stop for TCR is Adam Hammond.

Hammond is keen to see TCR enter Australia and thinks it will be as much of a success as it has been around the world.
“Even though it’s been around two years, the cars are the right price, the running costs are the right price and the return on investment for sponsors is exactly what they’re looking for,” Hammond explains.

Adam Hammond

Adam Hammond

“Likewise as an OEM, the Volkswagen Golf looks like a Volkswagen Golf with a bodykit and big rear wing. They look like cars that you can go out and buy; the Volkswagen Group cars are especially interesting, because they are all available with the DSG gearbox. It makes the technology that you race applicable to what’s in the showroom, which a lot of other formulas having lost that.”

Hammond hopes to run with the GT Trophy class towards the end of this year, similar to the structure that enabled the MARC cars to run in the class last year. This is ahead of a full scale assault on the class standing alone in 2018, hopefully on the Shannons Nationals program.

“The big issue is that in Australia the platforms you have available to you to start up a new category are limited, which is an understatement,” lamented Hammond.

“There is only really Supercars and the Shannons Nationals and so we’re in a situation where this deal came about pretty late and Marcello [Lotti] and I agree that we can’t do it half-arsed so it’s a case of we only have two options.

TCR Series race at Sochi, Russia

TCR Series race at Sochi, Russia

“We can go out and do a limited number of races in this year, maybe four or six. The other is we call this year a write off and we go into next year all singing, all dancing and the works as its own category and that might give me enough time. Likewise, there are driver’s fees to consider, there’s a fairly considerable amount of cost with CAMS and the Shannons Nationals to register a new category, there is also a certain amount of logistic planning to put time in the schedule for that.

“What we’re left with this year is really to potentially run with GT Trophy and if we start that later in the year, June/July, we could potentially fit in four or even six races and even endurance races in there as well. But the problem is that decision is really only going to come down to Tony [Quinn] and Ken [Collier] at Australian GT because the cars are very evenly matched.

“There is no reason it can’t work but it’s whether those guys want that to happen, at least in the first season that would give us a chance to show the category off.”

TCR Series at Macau

TCR Series at Macau

Hammond has already been proactive in contacting teams and manufacturers to gauge interest with the response being relatively positive, though manufacturers were not willing to commit beyond Hammond’s dealer staff engagement program at this stage.

“Obviously, with how late we were talking about racing this year in 2016, the best response from the OEMs was they’d be interested in talking about a dealer staff engagement program, but we wouldn’t be able to commit more to it. A limited program this year would prove the value of that.”

Hammond sees the developmental advantages for drivers, mechanics and race engineers as the class has spread to the US and has a solid structure in Europe with the International TCR Series being well supported by a range of domestic championships. Drivers such as Gianni Morbidelli, ex-BTCC racer James Nash and dual champion Stefano Comini have seen the series as a much cheaper option to the dismal World Touring Car Championship, which could be an advantage to Aussie youngsters looking to take a leap overseas.

“That’s what attracted me,” enthused Hammond.

“As far as a driver talent development program, you show me another car in Australia that you can buy from somewhere between 110,000-135,000 Euros and have reasonable running costs to go and do a season. If you have the talent you’re going to have the top teams calling out asking, ‘do you want drive in Asia? Do you want to drive in Germany? Do you want to drive in a world series?’ There is currently no other platform on the planet that offers that until you want to step up to GT3, but GT3 is still a bit of a mix in the gentlemen driver and then there are these factory supported.

“There’s no better platform to start at anywhere in the world.”

The manufacturers have also jumped to support the class with Volkswagen Group manufacturers Volkswagen, Audi and Seat joined by Honda, Kia, Opel, Peugeot and privateer Subaru, Alfa Romeo and Ford efforts. All of the models used, bar the Seat, are sold in showrooms all over Australia, but interest has come from top teams internationally as well with the Engstler

Volkswagen team and Craft Bamboo Seat team hoping to field cars in an Australian TCR Series.

Craft Bamboo Seat's ready to race in TCR Series in Bahrain

Craft Bamboo Seat’s ready to race in TCR Series in Bahrain

“What I have done is go out and speak to some of the international teams, which are predominately Asia and some contacts from my time in Germany and Austria,” Hammond said.

“I’ve reached out to some of the established teams such as Red Bull Holden because the Opel is the brand new Astra just released in Australia. When teams like the one that won in TCR Asia are on the phone saying, ‘yep, we want to field a team down there, can you help us out with logistics?’ That’s really where I’m at.”

Hammond plans to handle the key aspects of the series on his own and hopes manufacturers will dip their toes in through a planned program to engage young dealer service staff before extending support of the class in the future.

“I’ll be the series promoter as well as the distributor of the cars and parts for all of the brands involved so there is one central contact. If someone wants to lease a ride a car or an ‘arrive and drive’ program, I’ll put that together.

“Likewise, the big thing to keep running costs down is to allow the OEMs to dip their toes as far as giving opportunities to young mechanics and race engineers. One of the things I’m dealing with the OEMs about is to put together a program more or less what Renault and Infiniti have done globally with their Formula 1 engagement program. Those are young mechanics and engineers that have come from Renault and Infiniti dealerships around the world that get given about an opportunity with race teams.”

TCR Series Race at Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix

TCR Series Race at Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix

TCR boss Marcello Lotti has an extremely close relationship with Formula 1, proof of this is TCR supported F1 at three Grand Prix last year, and in 2018 hopefully four with the addition of Australia. Hammond hopes to see TCR at the Bathurst 12 Hour as a class similar to Dubai and Sepang. If the growth of TCR across the world so far is anything to go by, Hammond could be onto a winner.

Time will tell.

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