But these visionaries did not trust their eyes, they trusted their collective imagination, fuelled by a vision to bring the development of young talent for motor racing to life.
The A1 Grand Prix of Nations' organizers set themselves an incredible task, part of which was securing sponsors, but perhaps not so astonishingly, sponsors who were willing to stretch their imaginations (and budgets) were few and far between. The road certainly was set for only the brave...
The reality today is the team participation of 25 countries, 15 global broadcasters, an estimated international viewership in excess of 8 million viewers per race in more than 120 countries. The A1Grand Prix of Nations has also reeled in accolades from the Motorsport Industry Association, governments and youth development bodies worldwide. Even Scalectrix has secured rights to develop models based on the sport property.
South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale was one of the first to hear of this explosive new idea, and one of the first to buy his country one of only 25 places on offer in the World Cup of Motorsport. His faith in the passion and pride of the South African people, and in the fervour of South African business, led him to invest in a brand new sport, untried, untested, with no benchmark in terms of sponsorship opportunities or viewership potential. Many potential sponsors baulked at the price of sponsorship in an unknown motorsport series, even though at 10% of the current pricing for sponsorship in the more well known Formula 1 series, and with the potential of reaching the same if not more people, the pricing was highly favourable to an early-adopter and the genre in the domain of motorsport was certainly virgin territory.
Mortimer Harvey, one of Johannesburg's leading advertising and promotion agencies, has walked the long road these nine months with A1 GP Team South Africa. "Getting sponsors on board was not easy at first" says Gerald Harvey, Executive Creative Director "few SA companies saw the potential with eyes of imagination. That is, until Absa had the plain bravery to take it up and support it fully. All the credit goes to the Absa leadership for having literally had the foresight to see opportunity where others plainly saw risk. The A1 Grand Prix of Nations is set to grow from strength to strength, offering longevity and growth for motorsport and sponsors for years to come" avers an excited Harvey. Absa secured the branding rights on the SA car and team early on in the stakes and signed up for an exclusive broadcast deal with SABC. An extended community-vision in true South African spirit
There are things that truly characterize South Africa from the rest of the world. One is the spirit and sense of community. Apart from instantly recognizable names like Soviet clothing who sponsored the team apparel, A1 Grand Prix Team South Africa placed the names of other well-known South African brands onto their car - not for financial gain, but for the chance to give our community initiatives an international audience. These initiatives included Brand South Africa and 46664, Nelson Mandela's charity organization and fast becoming one of the world's most recognized numbers.
KwaZulu-Natal province and the City of Durban also saw great opportunity for the promotion of tourism and the stimulation of the local economy and business communities, and thus began their lobby to take the SA race to the streets of Durban. Durban and KZN host and sponsor the event, which is the only street race on the A1 Grand Prix of Nations calendar (live in Durban 27 - 29 January 2006). The Sun Coast Casino joined the visionary quest and is now proud to have a prime view of the circuit- virtually right outside its hotel windows.
Tokyo Sexwale, Absa, SABC, Soviet, KZN Province, the City of Durban and Suncoast Casino were able to recognize the opportunity before them, and were more than willing to walk where others literally feared to tread. The pay off for these visionaries, has seen the opening up of their brands to a local and global audience of millions. Absa has particularly adopted a local leverage of the sponsorship and included a wide spectrum of its customers, ranging from the local business community to its personal banking customers in the KZN province.Proud Sponsors, Proud Supporters of the National Flag
From the first event at Brands Hatch in the UK, A1 Grand Prix of Nations has grown from strength to strength. Each successive race has only improved the skills and confidence of the drivers, and the growing demand from sponsors for the chance to be involved in this ground breaking racing extravaganza. With only 12 races scheduled for the 2005/2006 season countries are now clamouring for additional races to be hosted in their territories, and A1 Grand Prix of Nations is currently considering extending the season to include an additional three or four races.
On a South African note, the 3rd place podium finish by rising South African driver Stephen Simpson has ensured that interest in the A1 Grand Prix of Nations is growing exponentially in South Africa. A1 Grand Prix Team South Africa, proudly supported by Absa estimates in excess of 100 000 spectators over the weekend at the Durban events, paying dividends for the global image and brand vision of South African sponsors.
With the countdown to the Durban race underway, the proud sponsors and supporters of A1 Grand Prix Team South Africa are as excited about the SA Team's prospects as they are about the imagination and potential-seeking they share. But there is room no room for cynicism or sinister notions, when one considers the sport's growing popularity amongst aficionados, and the growing adoption by new enthusiasts and consumers. As Swiss-author Hermann Hesse once said: "People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest". There's certainly nothing sinister in boosting a brand, a sport, a community and a country's development. A toast to the brave!