It’s been a bad few weeks for the motor sports and the car industry.
Of course, things are economically bad in metal world but reputation-wise think about these lowlights: this week The Australian’s Nicola Berkovic told us that “the former Australasian head of the Fezzer car company, Herbert Appleroth, who alleges he was sacked in October last year for having an affair with a female subordinate, alleged in his Federal Court statement of claim that the relationship was ‘not inconsistent with the expected behaviours of the CEO’ or the company’s code of conduct”. Interestingly Ferrari’s values of individual and team, emotion, integrity, tradition and innovation, passion and excellence don’t mention not having affairs with staff or the expectation that the top brass are expected to share the love around.
Instead, it was a “notorious fact” among senior officers of the company that “very senior officers of the Ferrari group of companies routinely conducted consensual sexual relations with subordinate employees without adverse consequence for their employment”.
Mr Appleroth is the great grandson of tram driver Bert (Adolphus Herbert Frederick Norman) Appleroth who invented Aeroplane Jelly, making the crystals in his bathtub and distributing them along his tram route.
Anyway, the young Mr Appleroth was on a base annual salary of $320,000, an annual bonus of $160,000, plus super and the use of a company car. Half a mill plus taking home a demonstrator Fezzer every night sounds pretty smick till you realise that his boss Louis Camilleri picked up $1.4m last year and had customary fringe benefits such as personal use of aircraft, company cars and drivers and personal and home security. Hold on. Lou has another job on the side. Yes, he’s chairman of the world’s biggest gasper company, Philip Morris. For that he picks up a lazy $1.4m plus he owns $30m worth of the smokes maker’s shares.
But making Fezzers is not a bad little earner. Enzo’s company turns over $6bn a year, has margins of 18 per cent, returned 24 per cent last year and its shares are selling at $255 each.
Then online media and marketing mag Mumbrella’s Meggie Palmer wrote on the BP Supercars all-stars Eseries, a COVID-19 replacement for real racing by real people in real cars. “Enter Supercars with a great concept, an e-series as well as a celebrity Bathurst virtual race,” Meggie said. “The fans get their fix and Supercars nabs sponsors and decent ratings. Win win, in theory. The execution, though, was sloppy. Nathan Prendergast from Supercars framed it as a plan ‘to get our friends from other sporting codes and anyone who is keen to come and play with us’. Their ‘celeb’ friends were 24 men. Among them AFL player Jack Riewoldt, NRL’s Nathan Hindmarsh, DJ Carl Cox and radio announcer Matt de Groot. 24 blokes, no women.” Now Meggie got some of her facts wrong but the reaction from sponsors and readers to her piece was about as vitriolic as it gets. And that included one from what appears to be my former racing hero, Jamie Whincup.
Event sponsor BP told her: “Supercars has provided a response to your queries — we have nothing further to share.” Supercars said it had done nothing wrong and was a “fully inclusive sport”. This is despite Meggie writing: ‘‘Women in the Supercar community told me they don’t think it was malicious — neither do I. Most likely it was an oversight. A mistake. It happens.” So, here’s the thing.
Motorsport is a truly equal sport. Effectively there’s no women’s teams or special sections for girls. But it’s one of the few parts of life where participation rates for women at the top level are worse than they were 85 years ago. Across all motorsports in Australia, female participation is about 10 per cent. For karts it’s 7 per cent.
Part of the problem is not discrimination but the fact that grassroots motorsport is a well-kept secret. While traditional sports are offered at school and even surfing is on the curriculum at some, karting, which is the pathway to racing, doesn’t register.
As was the case in business, there are very few visible women role models at the top of any form of racing. Rachelle Stirling, the founder of The Women’s Motorsport Development Program and Race Chix Motorsport, told me: “There’s a disconnect on how to get involved, then add in the gender part … girls not seeing women in the sport … you can’t be what you don’t see.”
Rachelle was a supercar fan for 20 years with no thought of getting involved. It wasn’t till she saw a CAMS ‘‘come and try’’ stand at a race that she realised she could get on the track for $36 in her Subaru Liberty. She hasn’t stopped since. The question is, why aren’t companies like BP promoting women in motorsport? “The last thing anyone wants to be is the token female but women like to learn in a supportive environment.”
Now for a joke
Moving right along, there used to be a joke that went: A woman goes into a service-station and asks, “Can I have a windscreen-wiper for my Jeep?”
“OK,” replies the garage attendant, “it seems a fair swap”. In fact, things were so crook that Rocker Rod’s ACCC issued 13 recalls for Jeeps in 2018, including one that had yet to be launched.
But demonstrating the boundless optimism of all car dealers, Kevin Flynn, managing director, this week told the world that everything was fixed and issued a rare apology. “We’re the first to admit we grew too big, too fast. Unfortunately, in the process we left some drivers behind. That’s why we’ve made big changes to Jeep in Australia with reduced running costs, improved technical support and dedicated customer care. We’ve listened, we’ve changed, and there’s no turning back.” Very good, but where does that leave the thousands of owners stuck with expensive lemons?
Just to cheer you up: RM Sotheby’s first car auction specifically curated for online only — Driving into Summer — ended with a bang last week. The time-based, online auction sold an impressive $24m of metal to 550 bidders from 35 countries. A 2003 Fezzer Enzo went for $3.8m with a three-owner 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO making $3.3m.