In the latest column for VXR, Franck Marie, the commercial and marketing director with VX Racing, talks about his role with the team and how he works together with Vauxhall to bring the teams Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship programme together.
My role within the team is one that varies a lot. My main responsibility is to look after all the commercial and marketing aspects for Triple Eight Race Engineering and obviously a big part of that is the VX Racing programme.
On that one, my job is to try and gain sponsorship for the programme on behalf of Vauxhall and with the help of Vauxhall. That can vary from cash sponsors and title sponsors to technical partnerships, as there are some people who will not give us money but will give us products instead that we can use. That means we can realise a saving on those products and are always at the top end of what is available on the market. That is what I do 'in the office' and when that is all done and secured I look at how it is transferred onto the car and onto the programme.
I have to look after the interests of our partners and make sure they get as much value as possible from their sponsorship of the team. That can be at the track when they may have branding on the cars or guests coming to enjoy it and involves looking after those guests, taking them into the garages to get an insight into the team and almost being 'hands' on with the team to get some kind of preferential treatment. Things can also happen away from the race weekend which can involved looking at marketing plans they can put in place and the activities they can do, like PR, advertising or incentives for their staff and customers. And obviously I help to look after the Vauxhall guests as well!
Working with a manufacturer is a definite advantage. When you try to make a pitch to someone and you are coming in cold, you gain a lot of kudos from being able to say 'We are running the official VX Racing team on behalf of Vauxhall' and you are able to open a few doors because people will listen to you straight away. It is a bit of a balancing act because we have to fulfil Vauxhall's requirements, but it is certainly favourable to have the manufacturer behind us as you can say that you have that association and have had for the last ten years. It gives a lot of credibility to any proposal you take to a sponsor.
With all that in mind, the job does carry a lot of pressures. Vauxhall is contracting us to run the car for them, but it doesn't mean they have an open chequebook – unfortunately it doesn't work like that. They have a set budget that they have to work to, just like any other manufacturer, and part of my job with them is to try to find ways of either bringing in more money so we can do extra things or just complementing the budget. But obviously it is important for Vauxhall to ensure that the figures stack up at the end of the year. Then you have to look at it from the team point of view.
As everyone knows, we are working on the car for next year and while I'm not involved from an engineering side of things, I am involved a lot with the drawing office at the moment. They will come to me and say 'We would like to find a technical partner for the suspension dampers and the springs and for the wheels' and give me their requirements and then I can go out and look for the best company to work with us. It means I have to call various top suppliers and explain what we are doing and what we want to achieve next year and see if they are interested in coming into a potential partnership with us. If it doesn't happen, then it turns things on its head and the drawing office has to think of another way, and possibly a more expensive way, of doing it, so it can have a big impact. It can also have an impact if I can find the best possible partner as it will give us a competitive edge in terms of designing the car and running it so it is another thing to bear in mind. I can't just go to any supplier and say 'We need some springs, you're cheap, let's do it', it goes far beyond that. It's more a case of 'Do you have the right product and can you work with us to improve and be the best?'
While going to people to talk about next year, we don't want it to come out into the public domain as to what car we will be using and it is a bit difficult in that respect – although the companies we are targeting are used to working within a confidentiality remit. We know most of them and they know us, so they are aware that the conversations will be very confidential and even if we don't end up with a deal, it won't go any further. We do put legal documents in place from the start but it's more of a trust relationship that we build with each other. They know that if they go behind our back and tell another team what we are doing, that we won't be using them. It isn't good for them and their image either, as the other team would wonder what was stopping them passing on confidential information about them to others. It's not that difficult to keep things under wraps although it can occasionally be tricky as we don't want people to know what we are doing next year. However at some point we have to tell them and rely on them to be discreet.
In choosing the new car, there is a balance to address between which model the team would like to run and the car that Vauxhall want to use from a marketing point of view but to honest with you, it has been pretty easy. Because we have the long relationship with Vauxhall, it has always been a case of working together to find out what the best scenario is.