Hybrids race for attention
Lexus uses the Grand Prix to rev up its CT200h, writes Paul Gover
THE first real race anywhere in the world that is only open to hybrid cars will be run at the Australian Grand Prix in March.
The hybrid fight comes as Lexus uses the high-profile event to introduce its compact CT200h to local buyers, as well as the drivers who will compete in the 2011 celebrity challenge.
Hybrids have run in Formula One, as well as major sports car races and some touring car events, but only in contests open to petrol-powered cars.
No one in a CT200h will be going for all-out efficiency at Albert Park, or running the car on pure battery power, but Lexus believes the AGP is an ideal way to change the green focus away from the efficiency of the Prius to the potential driving enjoyment of the CT.
‘‘We want to show that hybrids can be sporty and they can be fun. This is a world first,’’ says Lexus executive Peter Evans.
‘‘We also think this is the single biggest bang-for-your-buck opportunity to launch a new car in Australia.
‘‘It’s an amazing platform with 4.6 million people at the peak television viewing and 310,000 spectators over four days.’’
Evans avoids discussing the potential on-track carnage with the cars but promises a field with far more genuine celebrities than recent AGP celebrity contests.
‘‘Our target is to try and get a new group. Not so much new faces, but different faces,’’ he says.
‘‘ We want high-profile people. We’re targeting a 50:50 mix of male and female and we’re going for people who match the intended buyer profile, so younger and almost half will be women. Most will be under 40.
‘‘We’re still working to finalise the list and we’ll announce that in Melbourne next week. We don’t want a repeat of 2008 when the motocross racer Robbie Madison cleared out and won by half a lap.’’
The celebrity race commitment will gobble the early supply of CT200h cars, although they will head to dealerships afterwards for promotional work and likely sale.
Evans also promises a record number of chances for non-celebrity drivers to take part in the race.
‘‘There will be 30 cars, 27 on track and three reserves. They will be made up of 24 cars representing our dealer sites, plus three competition cars.
‘‘There will be a consumer competition, a dealer competition and a buyer’s competition. If you sign a contract to buy a CT200H then you go into a draw to win a drive.
‘‘There will also be two winners in the race, an outright and an index-ofefficiency prize.’’
The celebrity race program will be run by retired Australian rally champions Neal Bates and Coral Taylor, who drove for Lexus in Targa Tasmania with an IS200.
They will be responsible for everything from car preparation at Bates’ race base in Canberra to the training and licensing of the celebrity drivers, although Lexus technicians will also be involved in maintenance of the cars during the AGP meeting.
On track: the Lexus CT200h will get a celebrity boost at the Australian Grand Prix.