Hy­brids race for at­ten­tion

Lexus uses the Grand Prix to rev up its CT200h, writes Paul Gover

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Prestige -

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.

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