Mar 032012

Let’s talk about V8 Supercars. 11supercars_logo

Specifically, let’s talk about NEXT season. That’s 2013, not the one currently underway in Adelaide today, the Clipsal 500, which opens Season 2012.

Season 2013 brings a slew of changes to our favourite and premier motorsport category. Actually, one major change which aggregates that slew. It’s called Car of the Future (CotF). 4Since 1993, the premier category we now know as V8 Supercars has been undergoing a genuine evolution. From 1993, you, the ‘punter’ as motorsport insiders call we mere fans, could rock up to your Holden or Ford retail outlet and actually buy a version or at least very, very close to a version of the race car. 5 litre V8 engine, 6-speed ‘H’ pattern gearbox, 17 inch wheels with exactly the same wheelbase dimensions as the race car. In other words, a less modified-for-racing version of the race car, upon which the race car was, and had to be according to the rules, based.

That changed in 2003 for a variety of reasons, principally cost, but also safety. The change was named “Project Blueprint”, designed to have the two different makes as similar in weight, aerodynamics, engine power and handling ability, as possible within the rules. The cost of building a V8 Supercar has increased dramatically over the years in tandem with advances in race technology and subtle rule changes which attempted to bring the two makes closer together in performance terms. In 1993, a rolling chassis cost just over $250,000 to build. By this season, that cost has escalated to more than $500,000 and that’s before all the trick bits are added. In the interim we’ve seen drivers injured, and even killed in incidents on track, porterwhich are unavoidable when pushing almost 1.5 tonnes around street circuits in the main, at well over 160kph average.

So, because of escalating costs the formula has to change again. Now, for mine, the revolution took place with the introduction of “Project Blueprint”. Wheelbase changes, weight changes, engine mount changes and identical suspension pick-up points. Add to those things the enforced change from front metal bodywork panels to carbon-fibre/epoxy body panels and the V8 Supercars I’m watching this afternoon are as far away from the road-going Commodore and Falcon as I am from scoring a level 1 ride with a top team in the championship. As Mark Skaife states, the change to CotF in 2013 is an evolution, not revolution. Whatever ‘DNA’ remains from the original V8 Supercar 1993 formula would have to be akin to claiming rangas have Neanderthal heritage in them. It’s there, but no-one can really nail down the genes.

I disagree with Skaife intensely in his claim that CotF keeps the category ‘industry relevant’. How can that possibly be so when the cars racing on the track bear only a passing, cosmetic resemblance to the road car, and just happen to carry a road car maker’s badging. Changing the cars even further to what amounts to a space frame chassis, mid-mounted fuel tank, engine mounting further rearward, driver positioning more to the middle of the cabin, a transaxle rear-mounted gearbox, 18” wheels & tyres and the ability to run a vanilla, non-manufacturer sourced V8 engine means the 2013 race cars no longer have any relationship with manufacturer sourced or provided rolling chassis’s, floorpans or body shells. The cars are more plastic than metal, more aircraft grade aluminium than steel.

It saddens me in some ways that touring cars I grew up with, are no longer part & parcel of Australia’s premium motorsport category. That’s progress, I suppose, but what happened to the imperative of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday”? I can tell you what happened to it. Motorsport is no longer relevant to Australia’s motor vehicle manufacturers. Why? Because within 6 years, one or both of the major manufacturers will have left Australia. Holden is already deeply into negotiations with Chinese interests. Incentive-wise, China is making a move very, very attractive. Incentives that Australia simply can’t match. So why bother being intimately involved in providing the level of manufacturer support that was so evident prior to 1984, or even up to 2003?

Still, as a motorsport category, V8 Supercars stands alone for excitement and competition. Bernie Ecclestone would sell what’s left of his soul for such close competition and popularity among fans. With a proposed increase to 18 rounds, Ecclestone may well have genuine competition on his hands if Tony Cochrane can weasel a round or two in Europe. That disturbs me because ‘our’ sport is rapidly becoming something other than ‘our’ sport. But that too, is progress. I suppose. Viva la Evolution!

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