Ever since Colin Chapman painted his Lotus Formula 1 cars in Gold Leaf colours, sponsorship has been an integral part of motor racing. But one man is taking it a step further, carving out a symbiotic relationship between his rally career and the day job of running a Skoda dealership.
As a result, Neil Simpson is basically living the dream: driving what is, to all intents and purposes, a factory rally car in the World Rally Championship (WRC) and being paid for the privilege (in a roundabout way).
The dealership that Simpson owns isn't just any Skoda dealer: it’s the only one in the world that owns a Skoda Fabia R5 Evo.
His latest-specification car used to be one of Skoda’s own. It’s run by the Toksport team based at the Nürburgring in Germany, which took over the running of Skoda’s factory cars after the works scaled down its direct involvement. Simpson reckons on having around five or six outings in it per year, ranging from WRC rallies to his local closed-road event.
So how does an ordinary businessman make it stack up? There are two main benefits. First, Simpson has found significant benefits in attracting and then retaining staff with the rally programme, as they all want to be a part of the story.
“If you look at the car industry as a whole, the very best people come from motorsport,” Simpson says. "They’re used to doing things quickly, better, more innovatively and under pressure. That’s the message we want to send out to everyone, and luckily it works.”
Second is the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ mantra. Simpson’s participation gives the opportunity to increase brand awareness for his business, which employs around 90 people. The numbers are hard to ignore: since he resumed his motorsport career in 2014, sales have increased by around 45%, while the company’s social-media following has grown from nothing to more than 400,000.