I first met Darren Cox behind a Silverstone pit garage during the Britcar 24 Hours meeting several years ago, introduced by mutual buddy John Hindhaugh.
The conversation almost instantly turned to future motorsport programmes, what works, what doesn’t, opinions were sought and provided, as with many an industry contact trust is established and confidences held. It was a fascinating conversation from a man who, at that point, might have been dealing with several strands of an emergent Nissan motorsport strategy, but it wasn’t on his cv.
Some time later came one of the most astonishing days in DSC’s now near 14 year history when I was fielding a very strong level of interest in sponsoring DSC’s international output from a major automotive OEM. A deal was close for getting backing for our efforts with a couple of major Championships and, suffice to say, it was a pretty upbeat day.
20 minutes after putting down the phone with a final verbal proposal it rang again, on the other end was Darren Cox and it was a conversation that would change everything.
Again confidences are important but it included a suggestion of a breadth of programmes that Nissan were not even close to at that time in a range of different sportscar and GT Series, every aspect of that simply laid out plan ended up being delivered, much of it with not a little success.
It also included a straight offer that significantly bettered the one on the table, and enabled DSC to make a hugely important change, from a subscription model that serviced an artificially restricted audience that, by definition, were a subset of a self selecting current fan base, to an arm of an effort to grow that audience with more and better coverage of what has become one of the few 21st century motorsport success stories, sportscar, endurance and GT racing has thrived as much else in the motorsport world has struggled and Darren, together with a few other significant players, spotted that there was an enthusiastic audience to service and communicate to.
I like to think that we have played a part in assisting that process with more and better coverage on DSC, more and better social media interaction and more and better integration with other media outlets.
Through all of it there was one rule and one only, DSC held editorial control, there was never interference, and there was never a request for direct input, it was a hugely impressive example of hands-off sponsorship.
In particular Nissan helped DSC to play an important role in live coverage of the emergent FIA WEC. We still stand as one of only four English speaking media outlets to have attended every round since the Championship’s inception, and as a part of the second of those four with on-site input into Radio Le Mans remote coverage for some early events.
That commitment led, fairly directly, to my involvement with the TV commentary for the WEC, a role I adore and one which helps me to continue to fulfil that initial wish, to grow the audience even further.
Much will be said, written, and commented upon about Darren’s contributions. Many will remember the ground-breaking Nissan GT Academy, an initiative which many in the industry initially dismissed, but few can now afford to ignore.
The LMP2 engine programme that brought Nissan back into LMP racing, Nissan’s backing of the DeltaWing programme, the GT3 Nissan GT-R Nismo, the ill-fated but strategically important ZEOD RC, V8 Supercars, programmes in Dubai, the Nurburgring and latterly (and successfully) at Bathurst.
‘DC’ played an important series of roles in all of the above and much more besides. An astounding and outstanding motorsport cv for any company.
And then came LMP1!
We knew it was coming, we were at the London launch, and then in early October last year Marshall Pruett and I were taken to see the work in progress. It is fair to say we were both astonished by it’s audacity and visual impact.
Put simply neither of us had seen anything like it, in almost every way it was groundbreaking, it all came down to one BIG question, would it work?
Let’s deal with the criticisms here head on:
“Marketing rather than engineering led” Honestly I have two answers here. Firstly if this was anything other than engineering led that would have been a major surprise to the large team we observed working on the project in that design office and workshop and who continue to do so. Secondly, I do wish people would stop using the word ‘marketing’ as a derogative, and I’ll explain why.
“Corporate arrogance” This tends to come down to repetition of one phrase, Andy Palmer’s aspirational wish to win Le Mans, perhaps over ambitious but arrogant? Those critics probably need to meet the man himself to make that determination!
Has the GTR-LM been successful thus far? No. Is the concept proven? No. Were mistakes made in terms of the technical progression of the project and levels of expectation raised? Yes.
There are still major questions to be asked about the programme and, ultimately the answers to all of those wider questions will emerge. It will work to the required standard, or it won’t.
So what has the GT-R LM programme achieved? Put simply it has played an important part in widening the reach of ‘our’ side of the sport (as, lest we forget, the Nissan DeltaWing did before it)
Its extraordinary presence and technical audacity when presented either on a page (paper or electronic) on video and on the sadly precious few occasions that the car has thus far been seen in public have done nothing other than add interest to a sport that needs all the help it can get. That ladies and gentlemen is a marketing function – add interest and widen the reach.
Whilst the engineers and designers laboured agains the odds to get the GT-R LM on track (literally), the communications effort was also in full swing and Darren and a close knit team around him did a simply stunning job. It is a lasting indictment of the selection process for the annual Le Mans 24 Hours media prize that their efforts were not rewarded there for work that reached way, WAY more members of the public, either directly, or through the media than the eventual winners (ironically their tyre partners Michelin!)
Darren will, I have no doubt, be keeping a close eye on progress, success or otherwise he has never shirked the weight of responsibility or ducked the awkward questions. It will remain, I am sure, a project that he takes pride in where proper to do so, and learns lessons from where appropriate too.
Beyond all of that Darren remains an uber enthusiast, a keen club racer (at times, controversially racing a Toyota and even recently secretly entering a 24 Hour race under a ‘nom de plume’). He appreciates the sport’s heritage and ‘gets’ motorsport from a fan’s perspective and it shows. Get one on one with him and it tends to be an entertaining experience, 1000 ideas a minute can make a meeting an exhausting experience (particularly for his team!) but there’s little doubt that others have learnt from some of Nissan’s successes on and off track.
I have zero doubt that in the fullness of time Darren will make it clear why he is leaving behind a company he has served well for almost two decades.
For now though I’d like to say a very personal thank-you, and a wider thank-you on behalf of DSC’s readers for his, and for NISMO’s support in making what we do what it is today, and, we hope, what it will continue to be for long into the future.