Celebrity race carnage
A close up of the carnage at the Mazda celebrity race at Albert Park.
It’s the ultimate exercise in carnage: unleashing two dozen celebrities onto a Formula One track in brand new passenger cars.
The resulting heap of scrap metal – usually accompanied by a repair bill well into six figures - is enough to make most car enthusiasts shudder.
But in terms of spreading the message of a new model, next month’s Australian Formula One celebrity challenge is treated as a coveted marketing exercise among some car makers, albeit one fraught with outrageous overheads.
“There’s obviously an investment: all the cars are basically written off and because we put a roll cage in them, you’d never take them back to standard [to sell] anyway,” Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak said.
Expect chaotic scenes when a group of 20 A-to-D listers hit Melbourne’s Albert Park complex for the now Mazda-supported celebrity challenge. The vehicle chosen for this year’s exercise is the new Mazda3 small car.
The Japanese car maker this week announced Australian cycling veteran Robbie McEwen would join, among others, adventurer Charley Boorman and Olympic snowboarder Torah Bright in the event, which has developed a reputation for turning into a demolition derby.
The Japanese manufacturer follows BMW, Mini, Fiat and Lexus in putting its hand up for the entertaining sideshow at the Grand Prix, which in 2012 failed to find a vehicle partner, leaving the event without the Celebrity Challenge.
Donning expensive race suits and armed with professional driver training, the celebs are encouraged to keep proceedings clean before being let loose on the twisting 5km street circuit. What ensues is anyone’s guess.
Mazda Australia has essentially consigned a fleet of 24 new Mazda3s to life without number plates once the event is over. In last year’s event, all but one of the Mazda6 race cars used emerged with missing panels and heavy battle scars.
“We did very well with Mazda6 last year, we got a lot of media exposure, obviously several million dollars worth,” Doak said, insisting that the pay-off from the event is worth the carnage.
“Six of the cars were OK, and Brad Hodge who won, his car was pristine basically and we’ve got that car.”
It’s understood car makers use to have to pay a significant mid-six-figure sum to the Grand Prix corporation to take part in the event.
Nowadays, the onus is simply on the designated car makers to supply the cars and their preparation for the race, training, transport, catering and race wear. It’s believed costs will comfortably exceed $1 million for Mazda this year.
According to Doak, the cars are put to good use once the race is over.
“Whether we do something with them, like give them to other people to race or to do things down the track, essentially those cars are quarantined for that,” he said.
“We’ve got dealers who race so they’ve got a couple of last year’s cars, we also send the cars to TAFEs for apprentices to work on; we sent a couple over to New Zealand last year for that reason. We put them to good use.”
The 2014 Australian Grand Prix takes place in Melbourne on March 13-16.
History of cars used in the Celebrity Challenge at the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix
2013 - Mazda6
2012 - no celebrity race
2011 - Lexus CT200h
2010 - Mini Cooper
2009 - Mini Cooper
2008 - Fiat 500
2007 - BMW 1-Series
2006 - BMW 1-Series
2005 - BMW 1-Series
2004 - BMW 318ti
2003 - Mini Cooper
2002 - Mini Cooper
2001 - BMW Z3
2000 - BMW Z3
1999 - BMW Z3
1998 - Holden Astra
1997 - Holden Astra