Australian V8 SuperCars: A Primer for North Americans

The Supercars lined up for qualifying
The Supercars lined up for qualifying

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.]

God Bless Team Australia. Welcome to the V8 Supercar Championship.
God Bless Team Australia. Welcome to the V8 Supercar Championship.

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.
Shunned, the Chrysler 300 realized that Australia wasn't so different from the rest of the world after all.
Shunned, the Chrysler 300 realized that Australia wasn't so different from the rest of the world after 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.
Falcons in mid-flight.
Falcons in mid-flight.

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.
Advance Australia! What a great country.
Advance Australia! What a great country.

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.
Garth Tander's Commodore blazes a path to North America
Garth Tander's Commodore blazes a path to North America

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]

0 Comments

  1. I found out abut this last night. I immediately fired off an email to Dearthair to share in my elation. I also need to stop at urgent care this afternoon for a bad case of priapism. Best. News. Ever!
    Listen, I [used to] like NASCAR. There is drama and strategy. However, NASCAR has become so overwhelmingly heavy-handed with the rulebook and turned itself into a spec series. It's still fun to watch on occasion, but it pales in comparison to V8 Supercars. Every track in NASCAR seems the same now with so many tri-ovals on the circuit. The 2 road coarses are fun to watch, but there's only 2 among a seemingly endless stream of tri-ovals. I've been to Bristol and that is probably one of the most exciting races of the year just because of the proximity of the cars, and it's probably the best party of the year. I was literally drunk for 2-1/2 days straight.
    However, when I discovered V8 Supercars a few years ago, I began to change. I saw a couple races on Speedvision (or whoever carried it back then) and was hooked. It's exactly what I was missing in NASCAR. It has all the drama, all the personalities, and 10x the skill. I don't mean that as a slight against our oval track racers, but turning right takes a different and more refined skill set than just turning left. Throw in elevation changes, a wide variety of tracks and I don't see how people can not like it.
    The drivers will be all new to you and the team names sometimes seem a little odd (Dodo Racing Team? Really?), but for any fan of racing and anyone willing to take the time to become familiar with it you will be pleased.
    Then, once you're comfortable with V8 Supercars you can start getting into it's little brother series, V8 Utes. Even more crazy, many of the utes still have the stock stereo in them. You won't see that on a NASCAR Cup car.

      1. Flying Lizard in ALMS is one my favorites. Especially when the announcers say, "And the Flying Lizard Porsche moves around the outside to take the lead." Good times.

    1. As a former NASCAR fan, you well know that many left turn only drivers have the "refined skill set" to turn right competently. Barring Montoya's gas mileage win at Sonoma the other year, no road racing ace has won a Cup road course race in decades. In the last 10 years or so, the Cup series road races have been dominated by a telegenic dirt track oval racer from Indiana, or a temperamental dirt track oval racer from Indiana, with one win by a dirt track oval racer who is popular with the ladies. The ringers have pretty much been made null and void in Cup.
      While there are some NASCAR drivers who openly dislike the road races, the majority have embraced them and improved that all- important refined skill set to the point where the specialist right-turners no longer have an advantage. Even 2-time V8 SUpercars champion Marcos Ambrose has said the competition level in NASCAR is far beyond what he has experience in his career.
      I understand you are on the Throw-NASCAR-Under-The-Bus team, but as a former fan, I implore you to try to maintain a little objectivity when comparing the two series.

      1. It should be noted that our criticism of NASCAR should be taken tongue-in-cheek. It's not the racing itself that's so bad — although it's really not that good, but it's not that bad either, except for the horribly restrictive rules — but largely the coverage OF the racing that's horrible. They play to the absolute lowest common denominator. I watch it from time to time, and I would not be at all surprised to hear one of them say something like, "Now, this is a T-I-R-E. It goes on the bottom of the car — that's the big loud thing with all the stickers — and goes round and round and makes the car go!" I think the race series is being dragged down by the horrible coverage they provide it with.

        1. +1 I used to enjoy watching NASCAR until they started dumbing it down with the commentary. Every week the same commentators are saying the same things. "Today's race will be won in the pits", "Fuel mileage is a great concern in todays race", Etc.
          The cars are so similar that there isn't any real racing until the last 20 laps. Anymore if I do tune in, it's only to watch the last 1/2 hour of the race.

  2. And now, a few photos of the ATCC's glorious past to celebrate this joyous news
    The Cutting at Bathurst, 1968
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3559/3385591789_e22ca43f68.jpg"&gt;
    The Esses at Bathurst, 1964
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3440/3386404616_60cc9ceeee_o.jpg"&gt;
    Norm Beechey's Holden Monaro at Surfer's Paradise 1969
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3580/3385588837_be11838e21_o.jpg"&gt;
    The late, great Peter Brock, Bathurst 1971
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3459/3727694484_f0f58bc97d.jpg"&gt;

    1. Just a few more
      Ian Geoghegan's Chrysler Valiant Pacer (with a Hemi 6, naturally), Bathurst 1970
      <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2634/3727694140_8389beb0c9.jpg"&gt;
      Allan Moffat's Ford Falcon Cobra, Bathurst 1974
      <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3569/3385582785_52539bba66.jpg"&gt;
      Colin Bond's Holden Monaro at the now defunct Warwick Farm circuit, 1968
      <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3545/3386396006_6f840fd95c.jpg"&gt;
      Bob Jane's Camaro leads Allan Moffat's Mustang at Bathurst (in the old days, the ATCC allowed foreign cars into the championship)
      <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3418/3726891375_fb727bcc4d.jpg"&gt;

      1. God I love the look of Moffat's Falcon Cobra.
        And no, it's not just because he's Canadian. That is an awesome looking car.
        Speaking of furrin cars being allowed… Mark Skaife (among others) used to drive a Skyline GT-R before the rule-changes made them ineligible! Watching those little cars mixing it up with big Fords and Holdens was pretty awesome to see.

        1. Those GT-R's didn't mix it up, they cleaned house. The only cars capable of remotely keeping up were the Ford Sierra Cosworths run by Dick Johnson.

        2. I love Jim Richards' (who was driving with Skaife) quote when they won Bathurst in their GT-R and were being heckled by both Ford and Holden fans:
          "This is bloody disgraceful. I'll keep racing, but I tell you what, this will remain with me for a long time. You're a pack of arseholes."

        3. Nice looking car – The one that Mel Gibson drove (and later destroyed) in Mad Max looks like one of these. Excellent article by the way.

  3. If you haven't already noticed, my avatar is a Falcon GTHO "Super Roo."
    I am well pleased by this announcement. Looks like I'll have a reason to go back to Speed Channel since HD Theater now has all the cool car programs.

  4. I truly believe that if this shows well on Speed then the desire for our own series of domestic touring cars will come back and the SCCA will take another crack at the Trans-Am series (dreams). The Mustang, Camaro and Challenger are all ready and set to go we just need Jack Roush and guys like Paul Gentilozzi, Boris Said and Bryan Simo to come back and get this thing kicked off in the right direction. (Yes I know Trans-Am did run again this year but it's not the top tier series it once was)

    1. The last thing you want is SCCA Pro running things (see: World Challenge, if you can find it in 2010). Or Paul Gentilozzi, for that matter.
      In the cesspool that is modern US Motorsport, Koni Challenge is the closest you're gonna get to the spirit of the old Trans Am. Too bad its owners don't care whether it succeeds.

        1. Word of teams pouring out of WC makes me think they're going to struggle for double-digits next year.
          The Davis Mustangs are pretty hot, but I understand the costs involved were astronomically high, well above what a new T-A spec should be.

          1. Costs would be brought down with parts sharing if a new series was created and you got 8-10 cars running the same body and chassis work.
            I do find it kind of ironic that a series sponsored by Speed gets lousy time slots that don't get watched, I can understand a pull out due to sponsorship dollars. If it's an administration issue then the series should die to make way for something else.

  5. Regarding the BF and FG Falcons, it looks like there are a few minute differences. The FG has a slimmer grille (in the lead picture, compare the black Falcon with Bosch on the bumper compared to the silver car beside it), and the headlights taper more. On the back, the BF's taillights have flat bottoms, while they droop on the FG. Yes, I'm sitting in microeconomics right now, why do you ask?
    Meanwhile, I've never had the chance to obsessively follow V8 Supercars (like it deserves), but I caught it on Speed about 6 or 7 years ago, and immediately approved.

    1. There's much more of a difference in the road cars, it never really occurred to me that there was a problem in identifying the race cars. But I'm sure that your help will be invaluable for the uninitiated.

  6. Well done on the write up Dearthair. I've known about V8SC for about 4 years now and for the past 3 have followed it closely. I am myself a fan of this series although haven't had the time to view it like I did last year (I got a life somehow). What really amazes me about the V8SC series is the fact that they are driving extremely heavy cars at those speeds with next to no downforce, you watch closely and almost every corner they are sliding side ways on all four wheels. Just like Nascar though you need to be brought up driving them because it takes it's own skill set, if you look at James Courtney he ran JGTC successfully for a couple years before comming back and now he's a solid mid-pack driver because he can't drive without maximum grip.

  7. Great to see that there are fans in the USA. Marcus Ambrose still is missed here, hope he is doing well in NASCAR. You guys might like to know that the in car camera system was developed in Australia by network 7 for the Bathurst 1000. The American networks liked it, so the techs from 7 went over to the states to install it for Nascar.

  8. Exceedingly well written article you have here. As 1 blogger to another, I know how difficult and how much time it takes to conjure up something great. regard.

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