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Mazda considers a third F1 Celebrity Challenge

Possible starter: The third-generation Mazda2 will premiere this September and was previewed by the Hazumi concept earlier this month.

Next-gen Mazda2 under consideration for 2015 Formula One Celebrity Challenge

Mazda logo18 Mar 2014

MAZDA Australia is weighing-up whether to run its next-generation Mazda2 in the 2015 Australian Formula One Grand Prix Celebrity Challenge, having sponsored the event over the past two years.

At last weekend’s Formula One Grand Prix, a group of entertainers and athletes, trained by a team led by V8 Supercar champion Mark Skaife, drove several five-lap races around the Albert Park circuit in the just-launched Mazda3, netting significant television, digital and print exposure.

Australia’s leading full model-line importer also used the race to promote the new-generation Mazda6 in 2013.

Next year’s Grand Prix again takes place in Melbourne in March, close to the Australian premiere of the all-new Mazda2 light hatch – due for a full reveal in Paris this September, previewed by the Hazumi concept in Geneva last month, and set for an Australian arrival in early 2015.

The timing, then, seems right for Mazda to return for a third time. But before the company commits to having another go, Mazda Australia says it will wait until it gets a clearer idea as to whether this year’s event was worth the investment.

There is also the consideration of whether the average Mazda2 buyer watches Formula One, with the racing series typically one to draw an older crowd than the typical ‘2’ buyer.

On the plus side, sponsoring such an event would create the perception than the new version remains a sportier offering than most – a key factor in the current model’s continued sales success in Australia where it reigns as the segment leader.

Despite having to write-off 21 of 23 modified racing Mazda6s in 2013 at enormous expense, Mazda considered the exposure it received valuable enough to sign up again this year. It was a major part of the company’s huge promotional effort on the new Mazda3 — its biggest-selling car.

This year’s event was much less dramatic than last year, with the celebrity crew far more respectful of their vehicles. There were multiple cars with panel damage and one rollover that resulted in no injury to driver Rachael Finch.

The company says the modified vehicles, fitted with rollcages but factory 2.5-litre petrol/six-speed automatic drivetrains, could be sold to dealers as promotional tools, sold to amateur racers as track cars or even sold to the celebrities who drove them – one has expressed interest already.

Speaking with GoAuto from the Grand Prix, Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak said the company now had to work out whether the publicity from this year outweighed the expense, and justified returning to the track next year.

“For Mazda6 last year we got many many millions of dollars worth in media exposure and we were very happy with the result, and that’s why we considered it again (this year),” he said.

“The timing worked even better given it (new Mazda3) just went on sale last month ... This was a big part of the investment in the launch of the car.” Asked if the new-generation Mazda2 would be a candidate as the car of choice next year, Mr Doak said the company was unsure, and that any decision would be based on precisely that question.

“You have to look at your target audience as well, and (is) the target audience for a Mazda2 the people who would be tuning into the Grand Prix as well?” he said.

“Mazda3 is a car that has such a broad audience that it was a pretty easy equation to make. I guess with Mazda6 having a demographic that is slightly older and more male, again a natural fit.

“That would all be part part of our thinking ... We’ll just sit back and see what exposure we get out of everything, TV, print and that takes a while to collect.

“We’ve been very very happy with our relationship with the Grand Prix Corporation, they’ve been great to work with,” he said.

Prior to Mazda’s sponsorship, brands including Lexus and Mini put modified versions of their cars into the F1 celebrity race.

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