Alright, class, settle down, take a seat, and pay very close attention. This is going to be very important very soon. I know it may not seem like it right now, but in a month, you’re going to thank me. Why? Because our prayers have been answered. That’s right kids, FOX has finally done something right with SPEED besides the Barrett-Jackson Auctions in high definition: The Australian V8 Supercar Series is coming to North American televisions! So get comfortable; as I’m probably the most enthusiastic V8 Supercar fan in North America, I’m going to get you all up to speed. This could take a few minutes.
[Caution, for those of you with really picky work filters: pretty girls ahead, but nothing naughty.]
Now, I know what you’re all thinking right now. “But Deartháir! Hooniverse doesn’t normally cover current news, or racing events, or anything relevant to me today. You like to live in a warm little rose-tinted bubble of nostalgia and pretend that the world around you doesn’t exist!” Yeah, that’s all true, but it’s actually the fault of our medications. So I don’t wanna hear another word about it; trust me, you won’t mind me breaking the rules at all, and you’ll thank me for this.
Here’s the basics to get you started: The Australian V8 Supercar Series is everything that NASCAR should be, but isn’t. That should sum it up, but let’s throw a bit more hyperbole in there: it may also be the very best professional racing series… in the world.
Now that’s not to say it’s perfect; it certainly isn’t. But it strikes the happy balance between racing that is free and open and unregulated, and racing that is so heavily restricted that it becomes irrelevant. There are a whole lot of rules, and a whole lot of restrictions, but they are done in a logical way to ensure that the two camps — Ford and Holden — are fielding cars that are relatively on par with one another.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here; let’s introduce you to the players. On the surface, there appear to be two cars, the Holden Commodore (actually more closely related to the HSV Clubsport R8) and the Ford Falcon (actually more closely related to the FPV GT-P). In actuality, for the past two years, there have been three cars, as Ford Australia has just rolled out a new model of Falcon, designated the FG. The wealthiest teams are all running FG Falcons, which are slightly more advanced; some teams, however, are still running the previous-generation BF Falcon. Don’t ask me how to tell the difference; I’ve been trying to tell them apart for months, and everything I’ve come up with has been wrong. Confused yet? It gets worse. Within those camps, there are even more divisions. There are both factory-developed cars and privately-developed cars in both manufacturing camps, and with both generations of Falcon. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem like a two-car series at all.
The basic rules are that the series is open to any V8, rear-wheel-drive cars designed and produced in Australia. For convenience of the actual race cars, the engines used in the production cars are irrelevant, so long as there is a V8 engine available. While the Australian Ford Falcon is available with a 5.4L V8, and the Holden Commodore is available with either a 6.0L or 6.2L V8, both run older pushrod 5.0L V8s from their respective parent corporations. In race trim, both engines are built to output somewhere over 600 horsepower. Both Toyota and Chrysler have demonstrated interest in having their respective largest cars, the Aurion and the 300C, compete in the series, however at current, neither car meets the rule requirements for Australian development, and the Aurion remains front-wheel drive. There were rumours that the Australian arm of Toyota Racing Development was planning to homologate a series of high performance, Australia-only RWD Aurions specifically to allow them to compete, however when the car was finally released it remained FWD, and therefore ineligible.
So at present, the series remains a Ford-Holden competition; one might think this would make it boring. That was my initial thought when I first started following it, two years ago. Very quickly, I was proven wrong, and there are quite a multitude of reasons. First off, the rules. Yes, cars are designed to be competitive. They must run E85 ethanol; they must run a certain specification of tire; they must run a production-based chassis, and a production-based 5.0L V8 engine; they must utilize a racing sequential gearbox. Further details, however, are not restricted, as they are in NASCAR, for instance. The difference is that all teams are required to make all parts of their vehicles available for inspection, not only by officials, but by the other teams as well. There is, then, no benefit to spending millions on some secret piece of technology that will give an edge, as that technology would then be available to everyone else as well. The advantage must be gained through careful tuning, calibration and — get this — strategic planning. The engines are restricted to 485kW (~650hp), and a 10.5:1 compression ratio with a 7500RPM redline; this is primarily done for safety, not for the benefit of competition. How they apply that power is entirely up to the teams. As such, some cars have a higher top speed, but are slower coming out of corners; others have more low-end grunt for hills and corner exits, but run out of puff at the higher end; still others are good in both low end and high end, but suffer from very poor fuel economy. It is up to the teams, within the rules, to determine their best strategy.
Ah yes, hills and corners. For fans of NASCAR, this may seem a bit distasteful. If this is you, it’s time to let go of your oval and embrace the overwhelming superiority of the road-race circuit. Like all proper Touring Cars, the Supercars run on a variety of courses. Some are city courses, where they find themselves hurtling down two-lane roads between office towers. Some are proper Grand Prix circuits, and some are old, traditional touring car circuits such as Bathurst and Phillip Island. (We’ll talk about them in a moment.) It’s this sheer variety that adds excitement to the mix, as the different cars respond differently to various portions of the track. Holdens, for instance, tend to be better on the exit from a corner, whereas the new current-generation FG Falcons have demonstrated an impressive ability to hold their speed and enter a corner far later than either the BF Falcon or the Commodore. Depending on the course, either car could hold an advantage. Each race, as well, has its own variety of rules. Some races require a pit-stop and a certain amount of fuel, even though no car will actually need it. Some races require the changing of all four tires whether it is needed or not. Some races allow the use of a single set of newly-developed “soft-compound” tire that gives dramatically better race performance, but at the expense of a far-shorter life. Some races are endurance races, and require that each car have two drivers who must switch out within a certain number of laps. Every race is somewhat unique, and going in as a new viewer, you will have to pay close attention to the commentary, which will bring you up to speed on that particular race.
Oh, of course, the commentary. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this series. While it remains to be seen if the series will simply use the commentary from Australia’s Channel Seven when rebroadcast in North America, they would be absolutely foolish not to. Each of the commentators is a former driver himself; as such, the level of knowledge they bring to their coverage is not just impressive, but downright astonishing. And, refreshingly, they go on the assumption that their audience is already well-educated, but not all-knowing. Sideline informative segments will focus on the various refuelling strategies, or the different ways drivers have chosen to hit a particular corner’s apex, or why a seemingly harmless series of curves can actually be so hazardous. It is informative and enlightening. Combine that with the various friendly rivalries that some of these former competitors had in their racing days, and the dialogues can frequently be hilarious.
Oh, and the dry Aussie humour helps too. In one sequence, they were viewing a camera that was static mounted inside the curbing of one corner. Cars were driving directly over the camera, producing some amazing images as the massive tires blacked out the screen for fractions of a second over and over again. “Crikey,” quipped one commentator. “I wouldn’t want that cameraman’s job!” Without missing a beat, his companion replied, straight-faced, “Nah, it’s no problem. ‘E’s got a helmet.”
So you’re almost prepped; you’ve got your basics of the V8 Supercar Series, but there are still a few things to know. Most importantly, you can’t go into the series without knowing of two major races: The Island, and The Mountain. The Island refers to the Phillip Island 500 endurance race, usually considered the warmup race for The Mountain. It’s the first enduro of the season, and it’s on the challenging Phillip Island circuit, which frequently features changing weather, strong winds, and a series of dangerous and unpredictable corners that follow extremely long and fast straight stretches. By itself, it’s an amazing race; but it is dwarfed by The Mountain.
The Mountain, or “The Great Race”, is the Bathurst 1000, held at the Mount Panorama circuit. There is no competitor to this event in Australian motorsport, and it may be one of the most exciting events in the world of racing. Prone to violent changes of weather and strong winds, it features many tight, winding corners, razor-thin margins of error for the drivers — the course is over 70 years old, and was designed for smaller, slower cars — and some incredible high-speed straights. Driving it well is considered almost an art form, and only a very few can claim to be masters. A list of those who can, reads as a who’s who of V8 Supercar racing. If there’s a race to search out for some background, it has to be the Bathurst 1000.
Oh, and lastly, and most importantly, the XXXX Angels. I won’t say anything more about them other than to state that I love them dearly and they are always welcome in my home anytime they should like to stop by.
So there you have it. Speed is finally bringing us this fantastic series, and with any luck it will replace that nonsense that is NASCAR in the hearts and minds of North American enthusiasts everywhere. I realize this was a bit long-winded, but there is a lot of catching up to do when coverage starts in December; sadly, we only get one race for this season, but there are other venues to get yourself caught up. (Some of our wiser commenters know of these techniques.)
Still got questions? Fire away in the comments below, and those of us (engineerd and Mike the Dog, for instance) who have been following the series will be happy to help you out. Trust us, it’s worth the time it takes to familiarize yourself. It’s what racing should be.
[Image credit to a series of fan Flickr accounts, and Sportsworld-Pacific.com]