Jun 292009

There are rumblings in my favourite sport about the next generation of V8 Supercar.

Apparently these rumblings began with the appointment of Mark Skaife to chair a ‘Car of the Future’ investigative committee. What ‘Car of the Future’? was obviously the question asked by at least one manufacturer. For years now, ever since the death of Group ‘C’ and the abortive introduction of Group ‘A’ rules and vehicles, other vehicle manufacturers have contemplated re-entering the fray which is Australia’s premier level of motorsport. Toyota is one manufacturer with the vehicles and the where-with-all to indulge and has often been mentioned as a probable future competitor. Does there need to be a new formula for V8 Supercar, which a new vehicle format would necessarily predicate? What’s wrong with the current status quo? Purpose-built race cars which look like and are based upon the rolling chassis of the road-going versions.
The cars are purpose-built for what they do, but not from an actual rolling chassis off the manufacturers production line, as used to be the case. The race cars are built now from the floorpan upwards, with the roll-cage an integral part of the vehicle’s structural integrity. The cage actually forms a part of the framework onto which the exterior panel work, doors, bonnet & boot hinge. Suspension pick-up points are different from the road car, and while the basic suspension geometry might bear resemblances to the road car – Watts linkages as an example – the road-going Commodore SS and Falcon XR8 don’t offer ride height variation, incorporated air jacking, on-the-go torsion bar and brake bias adjustment. Neither do they come with water-cooled brakes, extended inner wheel arches, dry-brake fueling systems,locked rear differentials or 660bhp engines. As the linked article quotes GM-Holden’s Motorsport Manager, “These cars are purpose-built race cars, but they represent a Commodore and a Falcon”. The operative word there being ‘represent’, as in broadly simulate the appearance of, certainly not replicate. Those days are many decades in past history.
That a V8 Supercar is not a form of production racing is self-evident. Holden and Ford are no longer makes of motor car, but teams to be baracked for. Drivers now select the best team for them, or vice-versa. The days of manufacturer allegiance ended with the retirement of the Brock-Johnson generation. All of that acknowledged, I still find myself asking, ‘Is there any genuine need to depart from the current car formula?’ If the driving aim of the Future Car Committee is cost supression, then simply put a construction cost ceiling on the price of producing a V8 Supercar. After all, it’s been acknowledged for quite a few years now that $250,000 is pretty much what one is worth out of the transporter. It’s the replacement of parts, the re-engineering of parts for longevity and the ever-improving technology which spurs the cost factor along. Sequential semi-automatic six-speed gearboxes rather than ‘H’-pattern gearboxes is one recent alteration which still mystifies me. The cost of that technology alone must be much more expensive than the Hollinger ‘H’-pattern box. Ever watched a driver’s feet during a race? Why the clutch pedal is still included in a build is beyond me. Quick change brake systems, sacrificial steering and suspension parts, black box camera and data recorders, radio telemetry repeaters, communications systems for driver & pit, driver environmental control systems…..the lists go on and on. This must surely be where the cost lives. Not in the car itself. Anyone who has looked into the cockpit of a V8 Supercar will realise at a glance that it’s not the interior of your standard road-going motor car. The technology, lights, wires, cables and levers are more reminiscent of a mini-sub or light aircraft.
I really don’t believe the construction of the cars, or moving away from the basic Commodore/Falcon shell and shape is going to reduce costs in any way. It’s the technology and the ever-changing rules which add to cost. The formula needs to be stabilised, that much is certain, but moving away from the construction formula we have now, and even thinking of adopting plastic covered space frames a-la-NASCAR would spell disaster for V8 Supercar. Without involvement from the manufacturers, be it Holden, Ford, Toyota, Nissan or any one of Korean or European manufacturers, motorsport in this country which pretends to remain true to the production car roots will only be a faint echo of better days.

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