You have to wonder how happy Rotax will be to see CRG Spa enter a factory team into the Castelletto round of the Rotax Euro Challenge. Rotax is often seen as a the ‘Olympics of karting’. The spirit of amateurs and semi-professionals competing with each other on a level playing field rather than big professional outfits.
You would think that the world’s leading driver right now – Max Verstappen – entry into the race would be plastered all of the Rotax Facebook page or their website. But alas not a word anywhere. Only a delve into the entry list do you find their names. This really should be huge news. If Lewis Hamilton with the support of Mercerdes decided they were going to do a bit of Formula Ford, you can imagine the news would be plastered everywhere.
Rotax bill racing within the Rotax MAX Challenge as “the world‘s biggest, most international and fairest racing series…on a club, regional, national and international level” (Rotax Brochure). It is questionable how fair it is for an amateur going racing against a full factory outfit who have all the facilities you could hope for at their disposal. It isn’t quite the ‘Olympic Spirit’.
The Rotax kart division are faced with quite a challenging time at the moment. As well as a tricky economy, the controversial Bain Capital (who have a controlling 50% stake in BRP – Rotax’s parent company) are preparing an IPO. It is reported that this is to pay off debts incurred when the company was created to pay dividends. This movement suggests, and as reported, that Bain are looking for selling their stake in the business. Something which potentially has massive ramifications for karting worldwide. BRP got rid of the sports boat division last year in a bid to concentrate on parts of the business with ‘greater growth potential’. With the current state of world karting, you are left scratching your head thinking “where’s that growth potential in karting?”
It is understood the strategy of Rotax is to focus on the hobby karter, the first time buyer. The idea that fully-fledged professional outfits are racing within their series might not be something that fits within that marketing framework at a time when the karting division may well be under large scrutiny from shareholders.
For CRG, the move to race within the Rotax program represents the final nail in the coffin for the failed KF project. Make no bones about it – KF was designed to go right up against Rotax and beat it at its own game, and predictably it failed on all counts. CRG have always had a close relationship with Rotax so this move shouldn’t be too surprising. The only surprise is Rotax not mentioning it in any of their literature, but neither are CRG.
One can only speculate that CRG want to increase their presence within the Rotax scene to sell more karts. OTK, despite having no real relationship with Rotax, enjoy very large success selling chassis for the class, particularly in the UK. This must frustrate their Italian rivals whose well documented support has not been rewarded with a dominant market position.
Entering this race is not totally risk free for CRG, and from a marketing perspective it could be lose-lose. If they win and dominate it’s ‘because they are factory outfit’ and if they lose (which is unlikely) it’s because ‘the kart isn’t good enough’. How they get the kart to shine first and foremost should be their greatest point of interest. We all know their drivers could win on pretty much any chassis.
For the CIK, if CRG feel that KF is not a place where it has to be racing to sell karts and get noticed, then KF’s existence is becoming of little relevance other than a ’stepping stone’ to other things. While it is true other manufacturers have supported Rotax racing with teams and so on, nothing has quite matched entering a full factory effort. Max Verstappen, Jordan Lennox-Lamb and Felice Tiene team are all entered. CRG want to win! It’s a wake up call for the CIK, if they really need another one with regard to KF.
With the economy as it is it should be no surprise we are seeing thse shifting marketing strategies as companies try to figure out how to best move forward their businesses. This move from CRG certainly has large implications for everyone!