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Thursday, 12 November 2015 00:00

Ford’s folly: Blue Oval’s big blunder


Barring a disaster, Prodrive Racing Australia should win the 2015 V8 Supercars championship. But it will do so with limited support from Ford Australia, in the latest misjudgement from the manufacturer in a long list of blunders.

The following editorial appeared in V8X Supercar Magazine issue #89:

The blank blue strip on the windscreen of the Prodrive Racing Australia Pepsi Max Crew entries for much of 2015 was the visual representation of Ford Australia's decision to pull funding from V8 Supercars.

While Ford branding previously sat pride of place on the windscreen of the factory-backed Falcon entries, you'd be hard pressed finding a Blue Oval presence on the five FG Xs on the grid this season.

Ford Australia will complete its funding withdrawal from V8 Supercars at the end of 2015, just as the final Falcon could claim a championship win on debut.

Ford said at the time of the withdrawal, "We are electing to invest our funds to continue expanding and refreshing our product lineup while delivering a leading consumer experience."

But by pulling what is in the grand scheme of things minimal funding in order to maintain a connection to its Australian racing heritage, Ford has further alienated itself from its hardcore fanbase at a time when it could least afford to do so.

Ford will soon pull up stumps on Australian manufacturing and become just another imported manufacturer, so maintaining a link to its local heritage should have been seen as essential for the brand.

Instead, Ford has done little to leverage the Falcon FG X's racing success. Though the Falcon will soon be retired, it remains one of the Blue Oval's top sellers – and what better curtain call for the Falcon to incorporate a racing program in the model's promotion.

As of the middle of 2015, Ford sales in Australia were down 16.3 per cent on the previous year, the biggest decline of any manufacturer. What a missed opportunity to promote on the dominant V8 Supercar in 2015...

Of course, this isn't the first time Ford has misjudged an opportunity. There were multiple withdrawals of support for Allan Moffat despite repeated championship and Bathurst wins, back door and relatively minimal support for Dick Johnson, pulling of support for Triple Eight Race Engineering at start of its dominance, and now walking out on Prodrive Racing Australia as the FG X helped lift the team to next level.

If the FG X does claim a debut championship win, it will be down to Prodrive Racing Australia and not Ford Australia. While many have looked for some secret weapon to account for the FG X's strong form, let's not forget that as Ford Performance Racing, the team won two consecutive Bathursts and proved to be the only consistent challenger to Triple Eight despite the FG's deficiencies.

Prodrive Racing Australia and DJR Team Penske will continue to run the FG X Falcon into 2016 but with no funding from Ford. Local Ford dealers have reportedly looked to dealer-supported funding schemes, while Ford Performance could sync up with NASCAR partner Team Penske to funnel technical support from America.

But while the FG X will continue on irrespective of Ford's support, the lack of funding from Ford Australia leaves Prodrive Racing Australia and DJR Team Penske ripe for the picking for another manufacturer looking to join V8 Supercars into the Gen2 era.

Yet the Gen2 rulebook is perfectly suited for Ford. The two-door V8 coupe Mustang replaces the Falcon as Ford's performance model in Australia. And racing the Mustang makes complete sense in order to market its performance pedigree and as the Falcon successor.

After all, the Mustang has a connection to Australian touring cars with multiple championship wins with Norm Beechey and Ian Geoghegan throughout the sixties. And with the Team Penske racing the Mustang in the second-tier NASCAR Xfinity Series, there's the potential to sync up with the Ford Performance to develop a V8 Supercar version of the model.

Ford is already well placed in the emerging 'pony' muscle car market with uncertainty over whether there will be an imported Holden version of the Chevrolet Camaro or Dodge Challenger.

But while Holden is likely to race the new imported Commodore (based on the Opel Insignia) with a V6 twin-turbo from General Motors brand Cadillac, great rival Ford's plans remain uncertain, despite a visible direction with the Mustang.

Will it be another squandered opportunity for the Blue Oval?