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Volvo races to erase image problems once and for all

Factory-backed Polestar V8 Supercar team to change hearts and minds: Volvo

Volvo logo18 Jun 2013

VOLVO Car Australia wants the S60 sedan to be considered a genuine rival to the popular and critically acclaimed BMW 3 Series, and will use its bold move into V8 Supercars to spread the word.

The company revealed this week it would fund a pair of S60-based V8 racecars from the first round of 2014, in collaboration with its official racing partner Polestar in Sweden and Melbourne-based Garry Rogers Motorsport, previously a Holden privateer.

The team will be called Volvo Polestar Racing, and will hit the track a year after a factory-backed Nissan team and a privateer Mercedes-Benz joined the series, moving it beyond traditional rivals Holden and Ford.

The announcement comes in conjunction with the local media launch of the company’s strictly limited $109,950, 257kW, all-wheel-drive S60 Polestar performance sedan.

As reported, Polestar is using the Australian market as part of an international pilot program: it will launch 50 cars here before any other market, including Sweden, and will assess feedback before making its next move.

Polestar is not owned by Volvo, but operates as an exclusive racing partner and tuning arm with full factory support – think somewhere between HSV, which is a separate company to GM Holden but has a standalone retail presence, and Mercedes-owned AMG or BMW-owned M Division.

Volvo in Australia hopes the launch of a factory-backed racing team will, along with its toe-in-the-water road-car exercise with Polestar, change perceptions and sex up its image, particularly that of the S60.

Speaking to GoAuto shortly after the announcement of the V8 Supercars team, Volvo Car Australia managing director Matt Braid said that since the S60 badge had less history than ‘3 Series’, ‘A4’ or ‘C-Class’, it needed new avenues to boost awareness and credibility.

“It’s all about the S60,” he said. “The medium luxury sedan segment is hotly contested if we look at where we are in the marketplace, there’s still a really good opportunity for us.

“But you look against A4, 3 Series, C-Class, those nameplates are all their fourth or fifth generations, whereas S60 is only in its second, so we’re not as well known there.

“The idea behind the racing is to get the S60 there and get the nameplate known and recognised in the minds of the buyers ... it’s the most dynamic car we sell in our range, and it’s therefore the obvious choice from a motorsport angle.

“Come and see why we race it.

“I’d be naive to say we had no image problem, but it’s improving all the time and each year it gets better and better. Quite clearly, without being disrespectful, but certain age groups we see very positive respect for the brand, no baggage ... young buyers.

“It’s only really 50 (years old) and above where the legacy continues, but it’s changing by the day. It’ll take time and we aren’t out of the woods yet.” Volvo is no stranger to Australian motorsport, having won to Australian Touring Car Championship in 1986, and the Bathurst 1000 in 1998 with its S40-based touring car. Former drivers include Peter Brock and Jim Richards.

In what could be construed as a pointed reference to the rival Erebus AMG Supercars team – which is not backed by Mercedes-Benz Australia – Mr Braid called Volvo Polestar “the first luxury car brand to enter a factory team in the V8 Supercars Championship”.

The expansion in the series’ ranks is as intended: the V8 Supercar Championship’s new Car of the Future architecture was designed to accommodate a wider spread of brands than the traditional local car-makers.

But while the factory Volvo racecar will be a rear-drive, V8-powered machine, the S60 road range is a front- or all-wheel-drive car powered by either four- or six-cylinder powertrains. Even the Polestar halo is a turbo six-cylinder.

Full details are not yet available, but Polestar chief executive Christian Dahl said this week that the S60’s race engine – currently under development in Sweden – would be a derivative of the well-known 4.4-litre Yamaha V8 previously used in the S80 and XC90 SUV, stretched to the requisite 5.0 litres.

Ironically, Volvo globally has made a pledge to move towards a four-cylinder-only range in its road cars later this decade. But having a racecar so markedly different from the road version – as is also the case for rivals, especially Nissan – is not an issue according to Mr Braid.

“I don’t think the average person will look at a V8 Supercar today and correlate it directly to what they can buy,” he said.

“I don’t know one racing series in the world that is tied purely to production cars these days.

“Everyone has moved on … it is very hard to align certain (production) cars with categories (of racing).

“The V8 engine architecture is the ticket to entry into the category and we certainly understand that. We’re very proud that the V8 has Volvo DNA.” Garry Rogers Motorsport owner Garry Rogers said he hoped to have racecars testing on the track by December this year, provided the worked engines were available in time.

“The beauty of the rules as they are is that the chassis is really, if you’ve got a Volvo, or a Ford, or a Holden … much of that work is already done, and we’ve got kits so we can get that (engineering) work happening as we speak – and they are happening as we speak,” he said.

“I am still a racer at heart and the big plus of this relationship that impressed me more than other manufacturers I had spoken to was the fact these people had done their homework on the Car of the Future rules and regulations, and could see the commercial opportunities that this offered.” It is understood Mr Rogers had spoken with Chrysler about a possible factory-backed 300 racecar. Key sponsors Fujitsu and Valvoline are signed on, and drivers Scott McLaughlin from New Zealander and French-born Alexandre Premat are expected to remain.

V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton hailed Volvo’s move into supercars, calling it a “red letter day” for the Series.

“The strength of V8 Supercars is such that global brands, not limited to car manufacturers, are becoming increasingly aware of and directly involved in the business,” he said.

“It is my vision to build V8 Supercars into one of the strongest brands in the world with the partners to match. That is the level of untapped potential I believe this sport has.” It is unclear exactly how many millions of dollars the venture is costing, although Mr Dahl said Volvo Car Australia and Polestar were investing “significant capital and resources into Garry Rogers Motorsport”.

“Polestar will do our absolute best to add Volvo knowledge, engineering and development strengths to the already competent team at Garry Rogers Motorsport,” he said.

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