Transformed Ailing V8 Supercars in Australia

In anyone’s language, Aussie entrepreneur Tony Cochrane leaves a remarkable legacy in motorsport.

In the mid nineties, it was long argued V8 Supercars needed a controversial figure to generate more media coverage and drag it from its malaise.

The entertainment  guru was that catalyst and he morphed into a larger than life presence with his audacious, controversial comments and his ability to articulate them, anywhere, anytime.

TC, with his vision that was essential to the wellbeing of motorsport into the future, was the right man for the job in ’97.

Glenn Seton won that inaugural title against the might of Dick Johnson and Alan Jones, and Peter Brock in his final championship year. Those legends set the scene for the orchestrated mayhem that was to follow.

“The series – built on home-grown motor vehicles and Australia’s unique racetracks – is continuing to forge a genuine following on a global scale.

“The spit-and-polish of the teams, the magnitude of the transporters, the speed and technology of the cars and the skill of the drivers make it a spectacle of F1 standard.”

The words of author Gordon Lomas are as relevant today as when he wrote them five years ago.

Many questions were raised over the structure of the proposal put forward by Cochrane’s Australian V8 Supercar Company.

AVESCO’s mandate was to bring Australian touring car racing into previously uncharted waters, lifting its profile into the mainstream, and expanding the number of rounds and competitors.

Traditionalists were strongly opposed to the plan, believing Cochrane was in the game to pocket a truckload of loot before vanishing like a thief in the night, Lomas wrote.

“A money-grabbing tyrant was the last thing motor racing needed at the time, and someone purporting to take the sport out of the dark ages and transform it into a commercial giant was treated with suspicion.”

As then chairman of CAMS’ national circuit operators group, I can attest to the ominous dark cloud that hovered over me and my colleagues. Most of us relied on the V8s to keep us afloat and we worked hard on ways and means to ensure we wouldn’t be priced out of the market by crippling sanction fees.

But the V8s were the only viable game around and we had little option but to live by their rules and, provided we did, reap the benefits of their success.

The fact is Cochrane did eventually pocket that “truckload of loot”. But he and his crack team of professionals worked tirelessly for such a handsome return on a 10-year investment that saw them transform an ailing sport into a spectacle now recognised as the best touring car series in the world.

It remains a remarkable achievement and has indelibly imprinted Cochrane’s legacy on the entertainment annals of this country.

The undoubted success of his vision and the pressure he applied has resulted in vastly improved motor racing facilities across Australia.

It’s hard to imagine the average punter not referring to the series as the V8s and perhaps that undeniable familiarity is part of the rationale for dropping it from the logo.

What does TC think of dropping the iconic tag?

“Personally, but no longer my call, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said from New York this week. “The brand V8 Supercars was aspirational to the fans.

“It did not necessarily mean they all wanted to own or drive a V8 – but the power and image of it was very important.

“However, I haven’t been involved for four years and smarter people than me run it now.”

Does he still watch Supercars live?

“Whenever I can. I still have a lot of good friends involved in the sport and I certainly miss seeing them regularly.”

Cochrane has his hands full these days as chairman of the Gold Coast Suns, and advisory board member to Red Bull Global Rallycross – reportedly the second highest rated motorsport on US television and now seeking an Australian listing.

“The series is terrific,” he said. “It’s a great sport, great people and it’s fun and in its early days. It reminds me a lot of the early days of V8s, but in a much bigger market.”

Cochrane is also working with his wife Thea on their ongoing global partnership with The Rolling Stones.

And you can bet GRC will be heading Down Under, when TC considers the time is ripe.