Most of the world thinks Americans won't watch any auto racing that isn't accompanied by pulled pork. And so, what happens when the World Touring Car Championship stops at Sonoma Raceway, like it did this past weekend? No one knows a damn thing about it. Does that mean we don't care?
Sure, the grassroots guys knew the race — America's first taste of WTCC, the global, FIA-sanctioned series for two-liter, Group A touring cars — was happening, and more than 20,000 spectators showed up. Some say that totals to more butts in seats than ALMS gets. And there were a couple of big auto brands out on the track. You'd think one of them might have stepped up and papered the town with communications bucks. Or at least rented a T-shirt gun.
You could blame WTCC, its FIA overlords, or managers of the Sonoma track (formerly Infineon, formerly Sears Point) for dropping the marketing and PR ball. Maybe their wires got crossed, each one thinking the other was handling it.
Did anyone think to cut a distribution deal with Eurosport (the series' media partner) for cable TV and streaming-video coverage? Why yes, Speed TV did. It was part of an existing season-long agreement to air 26-minute highlights of all WTCC rounds on SPEED 2 and online in the U.S. Did anyone set their TiVos? No you didn't because you didn't know it was on.
But back to those big auto brands. There were five Chevrolet Cruze racecars out there, amounting to nearly one-in-four cars on the grid. For each lap of the Sonoma race, I'll bet spectators saw five times more Chevy Cruzes than they saw in the entire parking lot. So where was Chevy's support for its WTCC racing brethren — Yvan Muller, Rob Huff and Alain Menu — during their U.S. debut? Did I mention Chevy's also headed toward a third WTCC Constructors' title? They are.
There was even an American driver on the grid in one of those Cruzes, Jalopnik's own super friend Robb Holland, who's been racing in British Touring Car in a Honda. Holland signed on with the Bamboo Engineering WTCC team to field one of its RML-prepped Chevy Cruze racecars at Sonoma. Where was the corporate love? Would it have hurt to send a fruit basket?
Stop smirking, Ford. I think your Tom Chilton and James Nash could have used some media pixie dust from the mothership. I mean, they came all this way in a goddamn metal storage container. At least their cars did.
To be fair, Chevrolet's already announced it's pulling out of WTCC after the 2012 season, and it's pretty clear Ford probably will too. But c'mon, would throwing a few crumbs have killed either of you? I mean, it's not like we could have counted on anyone else. BMW's WTCC teams are privateers, and everyone in America thinks Seat is something you store beer farts in.
Robb Holland was recently in Germany with Jalopnik's Matt Hardigree, where a local said to him, no lie, "An American racing driver? You must not be very good." That's where that's at.
WTCC has two more years at Sonoma, per contract, to get it right. It's never too late to start planning for next year.