SIX rounds into the 2012 Australian Football League season and Hyundai is leading from challenger VW, with plucky Kia lurking in third place. Nine AFL teams have car makers as major sponsors, adding an entertaining automotive dimension to the sport, which otherwise would only attract several million viewers every week.
Behind Hyundai (Carlton), Vw(sydney) and Kia (Essendon), fans may follow Toyota (Adelaide). Toyota hedges its bets by also offering some backing to present ladder leaders the West Coast Eagles. Ford backs Geelong, Mazda goes for North Melbourne and Jeep runs with Richmond.
At the bottom of the AFL ladder, winless in season 2012, are the lesser-known but quite ambitious Skoda (Greater Western Sydney) and Opel (Melbourne). They lack both premiership points and massmarket sales.
In Opel’s case this is easily explained. The German branch of General Motors won’t launch in Australia until July, when a multi-car range will be sold through Holden dealers. Opel, whose high-quality compact vehicles are known to Australians under various Holden badges, is betting our fondness for German products will sustain a new brand.
Meanwhile, let’s speculate over which team and car maker might next combine. The Gold Coast Suns and second-hand Mercedes coupes seem an obvious partnership. AT average lap speeds above 300km/h, motor racing is more an aerodynamic battle. Australian NASCAR racer Marcos Ambrose fell victim to an air war at Alabama’s Talladega track last Sunday, when the sixth-running Ford driver suddenly found himself without a late-race drafting partner. Ambrose jinked left and right to maintain position behind leading cars but lost the powerful aero pull they created, dropping to 14th when the flag fell. ‘‘ It’s a shame for the race to finish that way. On the final restart nobody went with me, and I wasn’t able to cut into the draft,’’ he says. Just another reminder that NASCAR is more complicated than mere left-hand turns and pathological bravery.
Best afield: Car makers try to kick a goal with AFL sponsorship