Parity is what makes the V8 Supercar category such exciting, close racing. Parity decrees that both makes of racecar – Ford and Holden – are so much alike in power and handling as to be within very fine tolerances of each other in pure mechanical terms. The difference is the man behind the wheel and how a particular team sets their car up for a particular track on any given day. So far this season, the Ford wins grossly outweigh the Holden wins, and so the question of parity is being called into play by the Holden runners. The VESCA category rules used to contain pointers regarding the complicated system of parity adjustments. Now the rule book simply states:
The V8 Supercar Board may undertake Parity reviews from time to time throughout a season. Should a perceived disparity arise that requires a review of the Parity between the various makes and models of Cars competing in the Championship, such matter will be referred by the V8 Supercar Board to the Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) for review and any subsequent recommendation.
This tends to explain why many for the Commodore teams are bleating about parity. I guess if no-one complains, VESCA aren’t going to change the rules, are they? That aside, past rounds have been heavily favourable toward Ford. Whether that be due to some performance improvements in the Ford camp being fine tuned between season start and the present or a genuine performance imbalance between makes in the formula remains to be seen. I’d make this comment, however. Seven rounds and twenty races so far this season. Fifteen of those races have been won by Fords. Eight of those Ford wins have gone to Ford Performance Racing (7 to Mark Winterbottom and 1 to Steven Richards), five have gone to Triple Eight Racing (4 to Jamie Whincup and 1 to Craig Lowndes), one to Dick Johnson Racing (Will Davison) and one to Stone Brothers Racing (James Courtney). If there is an imbalance, a disparity, I wouldn’t be coming out claiming it as a fact. I would say, however, that Ford Performance Racing have delivered the promise which a factory-backed team should be delivering. Just as HRT have done in seasons past. Let’s not forget that HRT are still at the pointy end of the pack, just not winning races in consecutive order. The other Holden teams, or rather drivers of seasons past, are in new teams with different engineers, attempting to rebuild winning formulas on vastly different budgets. There is much more to a category dominance than simply the machinery. Russell Ingall’s performance in the Supercheap Commodore this weekend bears me out. If VESCA were contemplating a parity adjustment, it needed to have been sanctioned by round six, not after round seven, or round eight with a six week break between Winton and Phillip Island. Parity adjustments, if such things are required any longer and I don’t believe they are, ought to be evaluated during the season, and brought into the rules at the outset of a new season. The category runs a mix of endurance and sprint races across a plethora of different race tracks, in different weather conditions, in three completely different parts of the world. While maintaining parity is important, it’s not something which should be mucked with in the middle of a racing season.
This weekend’s round at Willowbank displayed, to me at least, that there is no disparity between the two racecar makes, but a broad disparity between drivers and their abilities. James Courtney, to date a flash in the pan in my view, managed to hold out the season performer to date, Mark Winterbottom, to take out race one in a magnificent display of pressure race craft. Russell Ingall showed that 44 years of age hasn’t dulled either his hunger for competition or his ability to meet that competition face on. Conversely, Mark Skaife showed yet again why, as FPR’s Tim Edwards said on the box, "the sooner he retires the better off we’ll all be". During qualifying Skaife had a brilliant opportunity of securing a front row position for race one, only to miscue his entry into turn five at full noise and spear off the track. He’s just not the driver he was. Still, he did manage to finish 5th, 10th and 9th. Skaife is spending almost every race among the rats and mice, these days. His team mate, Tander, was the epitome of consistency over the weekend, coming home 4th, 4th and 4th. Team Vodafone/Triple Eight had another shocker, due to other driver silliness or self-inflicted brain fade. Whincup finishing 9th, 3rd and 6th, while his team mate Lowndes suffered an engine misfire in race one, coming home 28th; fell foul of other driver’s incompetence in race two for a 12th, and again in race three for 7th. The efforts of the brothers Kelly, Steven Johnson, Shane Van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard, Greg Murphy, Jason Richards just to mention a few, shouldn’t be discounted either and considering there’s a 50/50 sharing of makes across those names, I’d still say it’s not parity which is losing out. It’s more likely to do with budget, ability and engineering input as a potpourii than any single parity variable.
Let’s not forget either that all runners are on a new control Dunlop tyre, which no team can say they’re completely comfortable with yet. Ingall showed just how unfamiliar he is with the tyre’s longevity, pushing Winterbottom hard for two-thirds of race three, only to have the rears cry ‘enough’ eight laps from the line. I have to say I was very, very impressed with James Courtney’s performance this weekend, particularly under the pressure he endured during race one from Winterbottom, who clearly had the quicker car. Courtney fell foul of a mid race bingle in race two, but came home a solid second in race three, after Ingall slipped off the verge of turn five on ailing rubber five laps from the end. Plaudits also to Russell Ingall, and to Paul Morris’s outfit for providing a car equal to the talents of the driver over the entire weekend. Judging by the tears in the eyes of ‘The Enforcer’ up on the podium, being able to be there meant a lot.
I wasn’t able to make it out to Willowbank for the final Supercar round. It seems that with GMAC not renewing sponsorship for Tony D`Alberto into 2009, tickets to this years Willowbank event dried up like a sweat drop on a summer pavement. I was quite willing to head out there solo, but upon checking the prices – $140 for two days – plus fuel to get there & back, I couldn’t justify the outlay. Oh well …. maybe I’ll be in a job paying squillions this time next year and Townsville will loom large. In the meantime, it’s television commentary after the fact for a while yet.
Here’s the usual championship points board, and I’ll be back with more motorsport during Round Eight from Winton, Victoria.