At the beginning of 2019, Justin and Darren Oates weren’t sure they’d be able to race professionally that year. Sponsorship deals had fallen through, the pair had been forced to drive for different teams, and they weren’t sure they had the funds to keep going independently.
The brothers had started racing in the Polo Cup Series when they were just 18-years-old, spending years hustling to secure permanent sponsorship. Sometimes it had worked, sometimes it hadn’t, but each year they pushed to make sure their team could participate. “So many people think that when you drive professionally, you just jump in. But most of the time, you have to come up with your own sponsors, even when you get to a Formula 1 level,” said Justin.
“Even when you’ve got the talent, most of the time you need to have your own funding and sponsors,” said Darren. “We had put our team together ourselves, a technical team and at that point, we were able to keep going, but it was always hard to keep sponsorship going,” he said.
By 2019, the pair had been forced to fund the team through their family’s finances, but it wasn’t sustainable. But they wanted to keep driving and were hoping that a sponsor would come their way if they kept appearing on the track.
But the first race of the 2019 season had been disastrous, Justin admits. “It was a difficult feeling to make peace with. It was why we decided to skip the next races, at least until we could figure out a way forward,” he said.
It was by chance that the Oates brothers’ father, Cecil, had been at an off-road event the following week in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, the same event attended by Total South Africa’s Retail Fuel sales manager, Sanjeev Sheosanker.
“All we wanted was a fuel sponsorship to support the others on the team. We weren’t even sure we’d be racing ourselves that year, but we wanted to keep the rest of the team going,” said Justin.
Total was looking to market its fuel brand – Total Excellium - and the fuel provider was looking for young talent to foster. Within days a deal was struck to keep the Oates’ team – including the brothers themselves – on the track.
“We were just at the right place at the right time. We were so lucky to have struck this sponsorship. Looking back on all the trouble we had in the past, working with Total has been incredible,” said Justin.
“In terms of professionalism, the company is at a different level. Their communication is incomparable. In the past, a company would invest their money in us and then not really even attend the events,” he said.
Darren continued: “But Total gets involved. They’re in the sport with us, I remember when we had to put everything together ourselves, we wanted to compete with the big teams, now we’re one of the big teams,” Darren added.
The week after signing up with Total South Africa, the new Total Excellium team was already tearing up the track. Justin won the race weekend, a massive achievement in the Polo league.
This year, before the COVID-19 lockdown stopped racing events, the pair were already topping the ranks. “The first race of the season, Darren won the race, I came second. And this was on one of our weaker tracks,” said Justin. Just a few short races in, Darren is in second position overall, with Justin just behind.
While the lockdown meant the Polo Cup has been put on hold, the twins are still staying fit and mentally healthy as they await Motorsport South Africa to announce when the series can continue.
In the meantime, the multi-talented pair are also working on their musical careers, set to finish recording their second album as part of their Afrikaans-language band, Alter Ego.
To learn more about the Polo Cup and the Total Excellium team, visit the Total Excellium Racing page on Facebook.