Chronicling the history of the Octan Racing Team [Feature]

The Octan energy company holds a special place in the hearts of many in the LEGO community. On the face of it that might seem rather strange – it’s only an energy company, after all, and a fictional one at that. (Well, mostly fictional – as discussed previously on TBB.) But it has been an ever-present in LEGO’s Town and City lines, and more besides, since its introduction in 1992. Its famous red and green roundel has adorned everything from petrol stations to football jerseys in the brick-built universe.

However, there’s one Octan activity that has always held a special fascination for me personally: motorsport! Their association with racing goes back almost as far as the company itself. But how did this enormous energy mega-corp get involved with motorsport in the first place? Did their monopoly on fuel extend to a winning streak on the circuit? Inspired by a livery spotted in a video game, I thought I would take a stab at answering these questions. So join the starting grid with me, dear reader, and let’s find out about Octan’s racing heritage!

But before we start, a quick caveat: this won’t be the definitive history of Octan motorsports. Rather, it’s our interpretation of events! Just like our real-world aircraft feature from last year, I’ll be leaning on real-world examples here, in combination with the various racing-related Octan sets from years gone by. But there will be a healthy amount of conjecture, speculation, and creative license. And I would encourage you to join in with that in the comments!

So without further ado, let’s hit the track…

Support and supply

If you’re going to have a racing series powered by combustion fuels, then you’ll need someone to provide it. In the interests of fairness, convenience, and cost, every series will generally only have one fuel supplier. That supplier’s logo often ends up in prominent spaces in return for the provision of the fuel.

And since there’s only one fuel supplier in the LEGO world, it’s no surprise that the Octan logo pops up everywhere! Countless minifigures have worn the red-and-green roundel, from racing drivers (such as in 6484 F1 Hauler)…

…To technicians, engineers, and mechanics (like the ones here in 4433 Dirt Bike Transporter).

This isn’t necessarily evidence of Octan’s direct involvement in a given series, though. After all, they are the only fuel company in town, as mentioned above, so the LEGO racers will need to get their go-go juice from somewhere.

Nonetheless, merely buying fuel from somewhere isn’t normally reason enough to slap a logo on a race suit. So perhaps Octan is getting drivers and mechanics to display their emblem in exchange for a small discount on race fuel? It’s not an unusual practice, especially at the lower echelons of the motorsport ladder. Heck, in 1760, there’s even evidence they did this for go-karts!

And noble though it is to support the grassroots of the sport, Octan had bigger ambitions than a few little logos on overalls. It wasn’t long before some technical staff were decked out in full red-white-and-green garb, like this fetching outfit in 1821 Rally Racers.

Some events even had support crew in seemingly unrelated roles. 6617 Tough Truck Rally includes a tow truck in the same corporate colours as the gentleman above. You can juuust about see it in the top left-hand corner.

But for the most part, this is Octan as a bit-part player in motorsports – their branding is not particularly prominent in these cases. As you’d expect from a company whose president is Lord Business, Octan felt that their brand promotion could go further still…

Title sponsorship: vehicles, drivers, and races

The technicians wouldn’t be the only ones to sport the Octan colours. Some drivers received enough sponsorship to warrant a full Octan race suit, even if those colours didn’t extend to the vehicles they drove. Check out this flashy number from the third Collectible Minifigure Series!

But why stop at the drivers? Whereas their grassroots efforts extended to a wide variety of disciplines, their vehicle sponsorship deals were mostly reserved to circuit racing. There were a couple of notable exceptions, such as 2005’s 7244 Speedboat

…Or the special fuel that they developed for a Land Speed Record attempt with 60178 in 2018. They also provided the pilot with one of their coolest-ever race suit designs, in my opinion!

Perhaps more surprising is that fewer than half of their 10 known vehicle sponsorships were minifigure-scaled. The early days of the Technic theme saw three sets feature (admittedly not very conspicuous) Octan branding between 1994-1997. However even then, one of them only appeared on the alternate model of 8880 Super Car. You can just about see it in front of the rear axle.

Image courtesy of Brickipedia

The other three consisted of a pair of Duplo sets and a drag racer set from the Model Team line. In fact, drag racing seems to have been one of Octan’s favoured types of motorsport: of all the racing sets to feature Octan branding, 5 involved drag racing.

Drag racing is also one of the few disciplines to have Octan sponsor a whole event. And although they didn’t do this often – again, 5 in total – they sure pulled out all the stops when they did!

Perhaps the best examples of this are 6539 Victory Cup Racers (above) and 6337 Fast Track Finish, from 1993 and 1996 respectively. The latter in particular featured a huge amount of technical support from Octan.

In fact, it might have featured too much. Following the Fast Track Finish, Octan’s event branding operations abruptly stopped. There was a brief revival in 2000, with some logos appearing at a drag strip and monster truck show before they finally ceased for good.

The Octan Racing Team (ORT)

This cessation of branding activities coincided with another stoppage: that of Octan’s works racing programme. This programme had been running since 1992 – almost as long as Octan had existed.

Their first vehicle, decked out in the white, red, and green corporate colours, was for Baja 500-style rally-raid buggies. Look, 6648 Mag Racer above has even got working suspension! As a matter of fact, the first event they ever sponsored was also a rally-raid one: the 1992 6551 Checkered Flag 500. It’s not as ostentatious as the two previous examples, but the branding is there. Clearly they were making a bit of a push for the off-road crowd.

Such a concerted effort to win over one discipline quickly went out the window, however. They attempted to go straight for F1 with 1990 Octan F1 Race car, albeit without their usual colours. In fact, this livery bears an uncanny resemblance to the real Haas F1 team’s ill-fated dalliance with a Uralkaki title sponsorship. Presumably, seeing as this was their one and only full-scale entry to F1, on-track results were similarly poor. (Sorry, Haas fans!)

They would return to open-wheel racing in 1996, following forays into jet-ski racing (6663 Wave Rebel, 1993) and motorcycle racing (Duplo set 2621 Octan Motorbike Transport, 1994). This time they went stateside, with two sets depicting racecars for the IndyCar (or CART, as it was also known at the time) series. Only one car (6546) and the truck inĀ 6335 featured the team’s usual colours, though.

This must have had better results for the company, as it wasn’t until 1999 that they switched sports again. Developed under the Octan Diesel Power group, 5563 Racing Truck may have featured more chrome than green, but that didn’t make it any less formidable.

However, much like the event sponsorship branch before it, ORT was not immune to the LEGO group’s financial struggles around the turn of the millennium. The expense of running a works motorsport team could no longer be justified, and it wasn’t until 2012 that a race car would once again run with Octan branding and crew. This time, it was under the Duplo theme.

This must have performed well enough to convince Lord Business to re-open the Octan Race Team outfit. Subsequent motorsport efforts appeared to be far more polished and professional than what had come before, all featuring Octan’s now-iconic white, red, and green livery. Arguably the best example of this is 60025 Grand Prix Truck.

If you want a real blast from the past, we did review it on TBB all the way back in 2013! (And, incidentally, it’s a set that’s right at the top of my wanted list. So, you know, if anyone’s got one going spare…)

Once it had hit on its formula for success, ORT elected to stick to circuit racing cars such as prototypes and go-karts, rather than reverting to its haphazard try-everything-at-once strategy. There was one exception, however, when they made a triumphant return to their rally-raid roots with 60115 4×4 Off Roader. There are those cool race suits again! And, perhaps more importantly, some female representation in motorsport at last!

The most recent Octan Works project to hit the track is not actually in Octan colours at all! With environmental concerns growing, the petrochemical company has become an energy company and developed a fully electric prototype racer under the auspices of Octan-E. Fans of colour theory will be pleased to see the complimentary element of the livery retained in 60256 Racing Cars!

Given the way ORT’s activities started, then stopped, then re-started, I wonder if the original team in the 1990s may have only been a ‘de facto’ works team, rather than a full in-house effort. In certain racing circles, it’s not unusual for cars that are ostensibly run by manufacturers to be run almost entirely by private outfits, with the manufacturer acting as a title sponsor.

For real-world equivalents, think the recent reincarnation of the Alfa Romeo F1 team (below, which was run by Swiss company Sauber); or Ford’s entry in the World Rally Championship, which is run by a company called M-Sport, with backing from Ford. For manufacturers (or big-money sponsors like, say, Octan), this is great, as it means maximum return for minimum investment. But it doesn’t always guarantee success and can make for easy pickings when financial belts need to be tightened.

Image courtesy of Lukas Raich – CC-BY-SA 4.0

So my theory is that Octan were happy for a racing outfit to run using their branding and colours, until financial pressures dictated otherwise and the funding was pulled. Then once they were back on stable ground and they were confident of a good return from brand exposure, they revived the racing activities, but brought everything in-house to have more control over their destiny!

What next?

Octan’s involvement in motorsports has clearly been a bit of a bumpy ride in the past. But what does the future hold? In a world of changing energy priorities, one has to assume that the blue-and-yellow scheme of Octan-E will become the predominant force in their racing activities. But that is to say nothing of synthetic combustion fuels, bio-fuels, or even hydrogen power.

And given their history, who knows what series Octan might try to enter next. As the graph below shows, they’ve tried their hand at almost everything, to varying degrees of commitment. One category is conspicuously absent, however: so-called ‘tin-top’ racers.

These are racecars based on everyday production roadcars, that can be seen in everything from touring cars and stock car races to rallying and rallycross. Just one production car has ever been run with Octan branding -Duplo set 10589 Rally Car.

The fact that this is Octan’s sole foray into rallying is somewhat surprising. After all, one of the most iconic liveries in the real-life World Rally Championship was a white, red, and green paint job done at the behest of a petrochemical company’s sponsorship, which you can see below. And given Octan’s success in rally-raid, surely rally stages are the ideal arena to taste future success?

Image courtesy of KKPCW (Kyu3) – CC-BY-SA 4.0

Speaking of the real world, we can return there now to think of where Octan might crop up next. Remember the livery I mentioned at the beginning? The one on the left is what inspired this whole article in the first place! Created by a user named SlowMotionFire, I stumbled across it in the Forza Motorsport racing game. Before long, I came across several others, including a fetching Formula Mazda livery made by orsai24. So it seems that Octan has jumped into all sorts of different categories at the behest of budding sim-racing drivers!

And fundamentally, that sort of answers the question asked in this final section. Considering they’re a fictional energy company, they clearly hold a special place in many an AFOL’s heart. So where does Octan go next? Wherever you and your bricks decide to take them, dear reader!

1 comment on “Chronicling the history of the Octan Racing Team [Feature]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.