I had a listen to the latest Panelbeaters podcast last night, which to those of you not atuned to the V8 Supercar scene in Australia, might think of as a recording made by a convention of motor vehicle repairers.
It’s actually the principal media outlet for the sport, sanctioned by V8 Supercar Australia, Bigpond and Network Seven. Panelbeaters is run by Neil Crompton, one of the sport’s movers and shakers as well as the technical advisor and commentator for Network Seven’s telecasts. He’s accompanied by Brad Jones, owner and manager of Brad Jones Motorsport, or in sponsor terms, Team BOC Gases, and a plethora of guests who are usually drivers or team managers.
The latest podcast dealt heavily with the subject of parity. That ethereal standard of measure which draws what once was two entirely disparate motor vehicle makes as close together in performance terms as technology can bring them, without surrendering basic chassis forms and body shapes. Those familiar with the former touring car formula from which V8 Supercars has evolved, will recognise the word ‘parity’ in line with another word from the 1980’s – homologation. When manufacturers Ford and Holden ruled the premier motorsport category, the regulations surrounding homologation decreed that a specific number of a given production model had to be built and sold before that model was allowed to be used as the basis for a race car. These days, with manufacturers taking very much a back seat to the sport itself, homologation has given way to Project Blueprint, which in turn, evolved into the rules and regulations under which two seemingly different race car makes on the surface, come together in terms of performance on paper.
If you’ve even been lucky enough to get close to a Supercar, have a look inside it’s ‘office’, underneath it, in the boot and under the bonnet, you’ll know that a Supercar bears as much resemblance to a road-going Falcon or Commodore as a Cessna 182 bears to a Lockheed SR71. Virtually nothing, other than the floorpan and chassis rails from the production line vehicle make it into the race car. Between Holden and Ford, suspension pickup points are virtually the same, engine outputs in kilowatt terms are the same, brake discs and materials are the same, tyres are the same and many, many of the suspension components are the same. The differences arise in the actual construction of the car, which rests on the rigidity and form of the roll-cage and how it conforms to the body shell which is constructed around the cage. Exactly where the driver sits, which is far and away different from where you & I sit behind the wheel of a road car. And of course, the aero package approved for each make of race car, Holden or Ford.
It’s here that the parity issue has raised it’s hoarey head. Some, possibly all, Holden teams are claiming that Ford teams have a decided edge in performance terms because the BF Falcon carries less drag than the VE Commodore. They claim it’s the aero package of splitters and wings which the Ford teams have been carrying since the beginning of this season, which is giving Ford a decided advantage over Holden thus far in the series. Certainly, Ford has had a terrific run, and specifically Ford Performance Racing with Mark Winterbottom as lead driver.
Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that a disadvantage in performance terms has taken 37 races to be realised by those who feel they are being nobbled by a set of rules which all have apparently agreed to at season start. Actually, the means of determining parity through the aero package are far from scientific, so some wriggle room for complaint does exist. At the beginning of each season, one of each make in the promulgated aero package for that season are taken to Woomera and put through a series of ‘coast-down’ tests to measure drag and slip through the air. Adjustments are made to the aero package and other performance mods on the basis of these tests. Hardly scientific or conclusive of drag measurements. As was stated in the podcast, the sooner these aero tests are performed in properly designed wind tunnels in either the US or Europe, the sooner these whinges about parity will go away. Still, I find it extraordinarily predictable for Holden runners in the Supercar circus to be the ones doing the whinging, and for HRT to be leading the baying pack.
It’s the portrayed letter from Mark Skaife to the sport’s administrators which has opened this pandora’s box, yet Skaife, et al, would have signed off on the aero package for the VE Commodore at the beginning of this season in full knowledge of the process which delivered it. The supposed additional drag which the VE Commodore carries makes accurate cornering under a trailing throttle more difficult than Ford drivers might find the same circumstances. Surely that would indicate a different driving style be adopted, at least until the end of this season when deep and meaningful, and genuinely scientific solutions to the issues at hand can be discussed and resolved, out of the idiot media spotlight. Complaining to the sport’s administrators just prior to the endurance races, and the biggest race of the season at Bathurst, simply smacks of the last minute rocket-ship homologation stunts Holden and Peter Brock pulled in the early eighties, just so they could take a decided edge into the big race of the year. It’s a tired stunt, Skaife, and I’d have thought, below you and HRT. Obviously not, but at least it’s sparked a valid argument into the ways and means parity in our permier motorsport category is arriaved at.