A great Birmingham motoring brand is hoping to boost sales across the continent with its first foray into Britain’s favourite home-grown motorsport.
MG Motors UK is to compete in this year’s British Touring Car Championships with a race-going version of its fledgling vehicle the MG6.
But the manufacturer, its partners and drivers face a race against time if they are to realistically compete for honours in this year’s series, which kicks off on March 31 at Brands Hatch.
MG Motor UK’s sales and marketing director Guy Jones believes the move will provide a huge boost to brand awareness among car buyers.
“We have got a dream package – the dream team – kicking off an exciting chapter in MG history that will help put the brand back on the map,” he said.
“It is an exceptionally proud day for the team here in Birmingham and it is going to give a huge amount of visibility to the MG6, which they have spent years designing, developing and now building here in the city.”
Mr Jones added that the popular race series, which is televised by ITV, was the perfect platform for MG to showcase its wares, as well as being a second venture (it has also returned to the Le Mans series) for a brand with a lengthy motorsport heritage.
“Seeing our products getting this visibility is just what we need,” he said. “In all 366,000 people attended BTCC events last year and something like 19 million people watched on television. It gets massive coverage and this is exactly what we need.
“We have invested in the product – now we need to work at promoting it, raising the visibility of the brand and proving MGs are cars with great sporting dynamics and a lot of car for the money.”
The fact that the car that will be competing bears a close resemblance to the production car, something that is not always the case as far as BTCC racing goes, is an added bonus said Mr Jones.
“It’s pretty much the case that the car you look at driving around the track is the car you’ll buy,” he said. “It is very exciting for us.
“This is a commercial decision. We have got to get out there and sell products. We’ve done the hard bit, getting the team off the ground commercially, the next step is we need to sell products.”
Mr Jones would not be drawn on sales figures but added: “We sold 360 cars last year and our first milestone will be 1,000 cars. We don’t want to be bandying numbers around yet.
"I have been criticised for being too reticent but people have been hanged for giving numbers out.
“I want to build up and for there to be an infrastructure there that can deliver. This is the key part, the first part of an exciting story of expansion.”
The BTCC team will be known as MG KX Momentum Racing and sees MG Motor UK join forces with Triple Eight Race Engineering, as well as sponsors Tesco Fuels with their Momentum 99 brand and KX energy drinks.
The team drivers will be established BTCC star Jason Plato and rising star Andy Neate. For Peter Cattell, category director for petrol at Tesco, the MG tie-up has added significance.
A Bromsgrove native, his late parents once worked at Longbridge – his father Ken as a planning engineer and his mother Margaret in the wages department.
”They would be absolutely chuffed to see this,” he said. “My dad was an engineer through and through and to see one of his lads launching this would be a proud moment for him.”
Mr Cattell added that the sponsorship represented a first for a supermarket fuel business and one of the reasons he was keen to pursue it was to “help dispel the myth supermarket fuel is inferior just because it’s cheaper”.
He added: “This is a combination of Britishness that I’m really proud to be a part of. You’ve got a British company like Tesco, a British marque in the shape of MG, a British team, British drivers and a British championships.”
For driver Andy Neate said the season can’t start soon enough.
“It means everything to me,” he said. “When you set out on a career path to be a racing driver you’re always aiming to be a works driver.
“To do it with MG, which is a British brand, is everything I have ever strived to achieve.”
He said the next step was to “win the championship” but admitted establishing the team at the top level will prove a tough task.
“You have got the likes of Honda, and maybe Chevrolet, coming in so we have to raise the bar. We also have to manage the expectations of our sponsors.
“Although we would like to win races straight away it is not going to be that simple.”
Mr Jones echoed caution saying: “We have to build up. People have to scale their expectations but we will try and build up a credible presence.”
The BTCC project is part of MG Motor UK’s growth strategy which this year will see the expansion of its UK dealer network, which currently stands at 40, and the launch of a diesel version of the MG6.
Next year will herald expansion into Europe and the arrival of a new model – the MG3.
Moving into Europe will be a “step by step approach”, according to Mr Jones who added: “We don’t have any distribution network in Europe so we will be building from scratch. But we have got a famous and iconic brand with big expectations.
“We have also got the bonus of a company behind us – that no one seems to have heard of heard of – but which sold eight million cars last year and is the eighth largest manufacturer in the world and the biggest car maker in China.
“We have got a fantastic, stable and secure business behind us, which is what the brand has always needed.
“Now it has got that I think it has a very exciting future.”
The MG story began in 1924, when Morris Garages, an Oxford car dealer, started making affordable sports cars by modifying Morrises.
The MG logo was registered for the first time.
In 1952 MG was absorbed into the British Motor Corporation and by 1956 MG had produced its 100,000th vehicle. The first Longbridge-built MG was rolled out in 1962. MG’s name was built largely on its achievements in racing and its distinguished history included highly successful periods with the MGA, Midget and other models. It won acclaim for its performances at the Le Mans 24-hour race.
But MG often faced a struggle against the parent group’s accountants to race and factory MG motorsport ground to a halt in the 1970s after BMC merged to become BL and the Competitions Department at Abingdon was dissolved.
Following the takeover by the Phoenix consortium in 2000, the firm briefly took MG back into touring car and sports car racing.