HIGH-LEVEL car racing such as Formula One, Le Mans, Rally and Paris-Dakar increases brand image and awareness, but there is not direct relation to sales.
In the USA, the slogan is 'Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.' Races like NASCAR feature cars that resemble production models, and winning brings new customers.
Sales seem unrelated to success in Europe's top sport, Formula One.
Ferrari has raced in F1 since the sport's beginning in 1951. Ferrari won its last F1 title in 1978, when it built 1,939 units. Production has since risen to about 3,500 units a year, while the next victory is always postponed to the next season.
Renault dominated F1 for four years with its V-10 engine. Last year Renault quit. It may restart in 2000.
The reason for a stop-and-go policy? High investment, low returns.
The battle was always between Damon Hill's Williams team and Michael Schumacher's Benetton. Almost no one remembered that both used Renault engines.
Several attempts have been made to promote races using cars closer to normal production units, but they have not had the success of F1.
One of the closest to success, in terms of image and promoting regular cars, has been the World Rally Championship.
Nowadays, however, the championship has moved to Japan. Europeans withdrew, partly because western Europe no longer wanted races on public roads.
The fact that rally cars were quite close to the production units helped Lancia maintain production of the old Delta Integrale for two years after the launch of the new one.
However, after six consecutive titles it became normal for a world rally to be won by a Lancia. The only time the championship made headlines was when Toyota (rarely) beat Lancia. The production car survived the racing legend, but Lancia finally withdrew, leaving the World Rally Championship to become a mainly Japanese competition.
Another attempt to create a close relationship between racing and production cars was the DTM Tourism Championship in Germany. It began in the early 1990s and died last year due to excessive costs. Manufacturers spent almost as much for an F1 season, but the return in publicity was much smaller and mainly limited to Germany.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is among the most important European motorsport events, but it has two basic problems. It is mainly a one-off event, and it is divided into many classes, causing confusion.
Although it is part of a championship now recognized by FIA, the board that governs racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an event in itself. It obliges manufacturers to make expensive preparations, and is not ideal for TV coverage.
For manufacturers, Le Mans is a risky investment. If you win all year but fail to win Le Mans, almost no one will recognize your feat. And if you win, you share the glory with winners in other class categories.
The answer seems to be one-make race series.
Manufacturers find them a good use of marketing money, as they can be carefully targeted at an audience. One-make races generally put together small cars and young drivers, and the manufacturer can't lose a race.
Fiat has a long racing tradition with the Autobianchi A112 and the Cinquecento. So does Renault with the 5 and the Clio, and Rover with the Mini series. Volkswagen has started a series for its new Lupo.
These one-make championships boost the image and give the makers complete control of the brand image. They are popular with young drivers because they offer a chance to race an entire season at a reasonable cost.
These championships also attract affluent buyers of strong brands, such as Ferrari, Porsche and Lamborghini. The big names usually race during big motorsport events, such as F1 races. Again, manufacturers can control costs and the brand message.
Through the end of the century, Formula One will remain 'the automotive event' in terms of TV and press audience worldwide. It is an exclusive club of changing members, depending on who has the money and technology and who can benefit from the publicity.
The European members are Fiat (through Ferrari) and engines by Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot. The former Renault V-10 is still here, as the Mechacrome.
But the cast will change as surely as it has changed before. BMW has already said it will re-enter F1 by 2000, and Renault and Audi are toying with the idea.
Luca Ciferri is Automotive News Europe correspondent for Italy