Corporate impact

Ever wondered why some racing car colour schemes stand out much more than others? Ian Hutchinson makes his living knowing why.

“Sponsorship is an extension of advertising, product awareness and marketing in the same way as a company may advertise on television, radio or in the press the race car must become a moving billboard which has to sell an instant message to the consumer. The corporate statement of the car must speak for itself with no voice-over and often no copyline.”

The sort of marketingspeak one has become used to since advertising on race cars came to Europe in 1968, for sure, but a typical Nineties truism and one on which Ian Hutchinson has built his business, Hutchinson Motorsport Design.

He’s one of the lucky ones, is Ian. A man who knew from the age of seven, when his father used to take him to watch racing at Thruxton, just what he wanted to do in life. “I wanted to design racing car liveries. Not drive racing cars; just design them.” In fairy tale style, after a three-year graphic design course at Salisbury College of Art he was introduced by Rupert Keegan to Guy Edwards. “He put me in touch with Guy but I heard absolutely nothing. I was working at the time for the second largest design consultancy in Europe, in the West End. Anyway, two months later Guy phoned and said, ‘I understand you want to design racing cars etc. I’ve got a visual that I need by eight o’clock tomorrow morning,’ and this was four in the afternoon. I said I’d make no promises, but I’d meet him that evening and see what I could do. Well I met him, worked through the night, delivered the goods the following morning and since that day I’ve handled all Guy’s stuff. That was for a Silk Cut March in 1982. My first ever visual.”

When Edwards landed the Carlton cigarette brand via Gallaher for the American 100’s Porsche that he drove at Le Mans in 1985, he turned again to Hutchinson. “It was my first full livery car.” What followed would really make his name as a graphic designer of race car liveries: the Silk Cut Jaguar for 1986. That, however, provided an early introduction to the difficulties associated in trying to recreate corporate identification on a racing car.

“On the original Silk Cut Jaguar I was very limited to the corporate of Gallahers and the corporate of Jaguar. Special permission had to be granted just so that I could switch round the leaping cat so that it was facing the direction of the car! At the time I said that I felt the car would be weak; it was too white and the lettering was too spindly, and I used the examples of Rothmans and Marlboro, because what I do find so often is that when a corporate is given to me I need to use creative licence to enhance it.”

That’s where the art comes in, for what looks one colour to you and I may look completely different when it’s on a television screen, or reproduced in black and white photographs. As a recent example, one client’s corporate had to be enhanced from brown to a shade closer to dark orange, to recreate the correct colour on television. And that’s where the value of Hutchinson’s colour tests comes to the fore. There are other lessons. “On a racing car it’s pointless to have spindly lettering because you won’t ever read it in a million years, so you’ve got maintain a corporate but just embolden the lettering. If it’s a weak colour you’ve got to strengthen it. My philosophy is that if a company is sponsoring a racing car, however big their sponsorship budget is, they’re paying what they can afford. And for that amount of area that they’re taking, they need maximum visibility. Otherwise, what’s the point?

“So, what I always do nowadays with any sponsor on a car, I’ll look at them and see how best I can make that logo work. If it means putting a black keyline around it” as he did with beneficial effect for Footwork “or changing the colour slightly or changing the lettering style, then I’ll suggest it. There is a great resistance at times, when a company has spent many millions on their corporate identity, but… Usually, companies that give me licence end up seeing my point. I find that so many major corporates don’t actually understand the reasoning for it, until you show them in practice. Then they don’t want to say ‘You were right’, but they accept it…

“The other classic one at the moment is Philips Car Stereo, on the new Jordan. I suggested that they went on to the front of the cockpit for maximum effect, and I gave it a shape that suggested’ movement. Then I suggested a black keyline. They resisted, because of their corporate colours being just red and white. Jokingly I told good old Huub Rothengatter that I was going to do it anyway, and they not only agreed, but changed all their sponsorship vehicles to that identity! It gives the logos additional strength.”

Hutchinson Motorsport Design first came to real prominence, ironically enough, when he sponsored a brace of Class B F3 cars at Thruxton in 1987. Traditionally, such cars looked tatty and were run on budgets that made shoestrings seem long, but suddenly here were two Ralts beautifully prepared in white with distinctive blue, red and yellow stripes. They ran quite well, too, but the appearance was what counted most. In one race the entire British F3 Championship field had suddenly been made aware of what Hutchinson called Visual Impact in his back-up press material. It was to prove £5,000 very well spent.

The association with Edwards has led to involvement with all of the sponsorship broking entrepreneur’s projects since the Silk Cut Jaguars: the original Castrol IMSA Jaguar, then the Bud Light cars; Andy Rouse’s Kaliber-backed BTCC entries; Edwards’ forthcoming tome on motor racing sponsorship. There is also work for a number of rally teams, and for a major unidentified client in the sport. Along the way, his first F1 assignment was the original Moneytron Onyx livery, followed by work for AGS and Scuderia Italia. It is his stunning livery for the 7Up Jordan that will best be remembered, though, for in that one car he encapsulated the essence of modem day professional motorsport: the livery lived on in the minds and affections of enthusiasts long after the car actually changed into its current Sasol two-tone blues.

The original Gold Leaf Team Lotus colour scheme of red, gold and white is, he says, his all-time favourite, and immediately he produces a classic shot of Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72 at Paul Ricard in 1971 to back his claim. But the Jordan 191 too will live on, beyond even the beautifully detailed fine art print that his Strood-based operation currently markets for £75 (details on 0634 712630).

The relationship with Jordan grew directly from that day at Thruxton, and via the Q8 backing of the EJR’s F3000 programme. He created the Jordan GP logo, an amalgam of the traditional blue and yellow colours, and the shamrock freshly identified with a globe that reflects F1 ‘s worldwide image. And his portfolio boasts more than a thousand visuals for sponsor presentations for EJ’s company.

The duo-tone green livery of the 191, and the colour coordination of the Jordan blue sidepods, was pure Hutchinson, as were the modifications to the 7Up logos to suit the shape of Gary Anderson’s creation. Typically. Jordan gave him total responsibility for the look of the car. “It was the easiest shape I’ve ever had to work with. What I’m hoping,” he says as he expresses his regret that car and image lasted but a brief season, “is that it will go down as one of the Gold Leaf Lotus type of liveries.

“The most critical thing in my opinion,” he says of his work, “is the translation between two-dimension drawings and the three-dimension reality with the shape of the car.” History will come to regard the Jordan as a total success, a classic combining simplicity with total impact.

His first step is always to consider a linear drawing, usually perfect side and perfect plan. “Reynard and Lola are very good at providing such drawings, others aren’t so hot! It gets like 20 questions why I need them. But you need accuracy in producing a visual. If you’re presenting to a sponsor you want to show it in the best possible way. Nine times out of 10 I work on two-dimensional drawings, because that way you can use the corporate logo correctly. Whenever I do a proposal to a corporate sponsor for the first time, I always use their correct corporate livery. At a later stage I may suggest a change. If a major corporate sees a first-time visual where their logo has been changed, they’ll reject it. From that stage I would produce a linear, and from that stage sponsors’ logos are put on. You’ve got to make a car with colours that look nice, but the most important factor is the sponsor’s logo. That must take priority over everything else. I put that into position where it’s been agreed in the contract, and then with a felt pen I’ll start putting some lines on. Sometimes I’ll take photostats home with me, work late in my studio at home, relax, get some lines flowing, and then the next morning bring them into the office and analyse all those different lines. Q8 is the prime example of that, on the Eddie Jordan Reynard I did in 1988. That was a case where Q8 was very happy not to use its cream because it felt it was a dead colour and it wanted something fresh, so I used blue and white. That was very successful, although they went back to their corporate colours of darker blue and cream for 1989. Again, both years were examples where you put the logos on to a car and work colours around them, to create the illusion of speed. If you can make a car look as if it’s moving even when it’s standing still, it’ll look fast on the track.”

The colour testing is vital, especially for monochrome reproduction. It’s a simple step that has reaped dividends. He performs one quickly, to illustrate how on a colour photo reproduced in black and white, yellow disappears to white, gold goes to black, red goes to black. Light blue goes to white. If a minor change is required, this is when it will be suggested. “To me, a lot of it is obvious, but if it’s so obvious, why aren’t more sponsors doing it this way?”

Like so many things, the obvious only becomes obvious once it’s been pointed out. And frequently the simplest design is the best. Says Hutchinson: “Simple is efficient, to use the old Ford copyline.” Of no fewer than 67 visuals produced for the Silk Cut Jaguar logo his very first, twin mortice boxes containing Silk Cut and Jaguar’s leaping cat, was the most elegant. It won hands down.