Pace cars

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - CRAIG DUFF

LEXUS Aus­tralia is on the verge of de­cid­ing whether to plunge head­first into motorsport or to with­draw from rac­ing en­tirely.

The com­pany sees motorsport as a pos­si­ble plat­form to pro­mote per­for­mance cars to ri­val those from Ger­man mak­ers.

The brand pro­vides the RC F pace and safety cars for the V8 Su­per­cars se­ries. Com­pany boss Sean Han­ley com­mis­sioned a study last year into what ben­e­fits Lexus could ex­tract from en­ter­ing a car in the cham­pi­onship.

Han­ley says there are three op­tions: V8 Su­per­cars, GT3 rac­ing — or walk­ing away.

He sees V8 Su­per­cars as a way to tar­get peo­ple step­ping up from Ford and Holden per­for­mance cars to a lux­ury badge.

But over­seas, Lexus is build­ing a GT3 racer for global com­pe­ti­tion and en­cour­ag­ing its re­gional arms to es­tab­lish a team. The US has com­mit­ted to run­ning at least one car and there are two en­tered for the Euro­pean cham­pi­onship.

Han­ley has yet to de­cide. “If I’m tar­get­ing that ‘step-up’ buyer, some­one mov­ing from main­stream into lux­ury, (V8 Su­per­cars) works big time,” he said.

But the GT3 pro­ject opens another av­enue. “The other thing that evolved in our own or­gan­i­sa­tion was the de­vel­op­ment, and it is still in de­vel­op­ment, of a GT3 rac­ing team, which wasn’t any­where on the agenda ... 12 months ago.”

Han­ley says the lower cost of GT3 rac­ing and pit­ting the brand against other pres­tige mar­ques are equally at­trac­tive.

He cites the grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the se­ries lo­cally, head­lined by the Bathurst 12-Hour race, as a po­ten­tial trig­ger to join the fac­tory-backed global GT3 cam­paign.

“The third op­tion is to walk away from motorsport al­to­gether,” he says. “We’re still eval­u­at­ing which makes the most sense in terms of cost against ex­tend­ing the brand’s reach.

“We ex­pect to have a de­ci­sion in the next three to four weeks.”

Han­ley says the roll­out of high-per­for­mance F mod­els such as the $133,110 RC F coupe and com­ing GS F sedan will bring driv­ing en­thu­si­asts to the brand in much the same way Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have ben­e­fited from their re­spec­tive per­for­mance arms in AMG, M and RS.

“It’s no se­cret Aus­tralians like fast cars and it’s no se­cret it is an area Lexus needs to be in­volved in,” Han­ley says.

“The F Sport mod­els across the range (ex­clud­ing the LX) are also hugely im­por­tant to us. They de­liver a sharper look and drive that brings us to the at­ten­tion of buy­ers who may not have con­sid­ered a Lexus pre­vi­ously.”

Han­ley won’t com­ment on the im­mi­nent ar­rival of a pro­duc­tion ver­sion of the 2+2-seater LF-LC con­cept car de­spite the abun­dance of im­ages show­ing a cam­ou­flaged car un­der­go­ing test­ing.

“There’s no plan to launch that any­time soon … what we can say about that con­cept car is Lexus’s abil­ity to bring con­cept to re­al­ity is pretty good now,” he notes.

Han­d­ley says a new flag­ship would give Lexus a much­needed halo car fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of the LFA.

“The LF-LC con­cept is a car we’d love to get,” he says.

A con­vert­ible ver­sion would be even more de­sir­able, on the ba­sis Aus­tralians buy sporty drop-tops. “It’s got to be a per­for­mance con­vert­ible,” he says. “It’s got to be a fast car.”

The class-win­ning Lexus RC F GT3 at the Nur­bur­gring round of the VLN en­durance se­ries

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