This weekend, Australia’s V8 Supercar Championship series is set to take over Texas’ own Circuit Of The Americas. This is an event that’s been in the works for several years, and for those of us who are enthusiastic fans of the series, it’s one we’ve been waiting for with quite a lot of excitement.
For those of you who aren’t quite such… enthusiastic… fans of the series, however, you may find yourselves wondering what all the hullabaloo is about. Why are there people excited about this, after all, isn’t it just Australian NASCAR?
Man, if anyone actually said that, step forward so I can backhand you.
V8 Supercars may well be the best race series in the world at the moment. I watch most of them, but V8SC is the only one that captures my attention to the point where I know the ins-and-outs of the behind-the-scenes politics and strategies. So for those of you contemplating some time spent in front of the TV this weekend, checking out the races just to see what all the fuss is about, allow us here at Hooniverse to give you a little primer.
First off, the series. It’s undergone some rather major changes this year under the banner of “Car of the Future”, and that’s had a lot of the bogans in Australia practically tearing their mullets out. It’s a long and involved explanation on that, but here’s the need-to-know summary. It’s nothing like that ridiculous “Car of Tomorrow” garbage that NASCAR implemented, but it is intended to make the V8 race cars a whole lot cheaper for teams to produce, and a whole lot more reliable and safe. Basically, instead of each team buying a factory-fresh Commodore or Falcon, then carving it up until nothing really remained, then trying to weld it all back together to make a race car, they’re going the other way around. There is a standardized roll cage that forms the backbone of the car, and then the Falcon, Commodore, E63 AMG or Altima bits are bolted onto that. This is what has people wailing and gnashing their teeth, but here’s the simple answer to that: ignore them.
Seriously, don’t even bother. They’re wailing about things that don’t matter. The racing has improved dramatically, and that’s the only thing that anyone needs to care about.
Now, about that. The racing itself. If you haven’t been watching the series, here’s a bit of a primer that will hopefully give you enough to understand what you’re watching. So far this season, all the rules have changed for what to expect. I’ve watched pretty much everything I’ve been able to find since about 2006, and have even managed to have multiple conversations with the drivers, looking for a bit of insight. And yet, after all that, even I can’t give you any solid predictions.
For the last few years, the series has been dominated by Triple-8 Racing, who were operating under the banner of TeamVodafone. This year, that sponsorship has passed away, and they’re now operating as Red Bull Racing, a transition which will probably seem somewhat amusing for fans of Formula1. Their dominion has been so overpowering that I had actually made a sport of cheering for Team Anybody-But-Whincup. He’s a boring driver, he has poor sportsmanship, and his ego is out of control. There was some hope that the Car of the Future would shake things up a bit.
Which is exactly what it did. Up until the last round of racing two weeks ago in Perth, there had been nine races with seven different victors. Friend of Hooniverse Jason Bright was actually doing the best of anyone, and that was the most interesting story of the series thus far. The Brad Jones Racing garage, out of which he and teammate Fabian Coulthard are supported, has been punching way above its weight class, and delivering knock-out blows that shook the whole series.
BJR is a totally independent team; many other privateer teams rely on cars from other shops — usually either Ford Performance Racing, Walkinshaw Racing or Triple-8 Race Engineering. This year, with the new Car of the Future format, there is less requirement to rely on these few super-teams for assistance. BJR, however, has done everything in-house for years, and that’s given them an advantage this year. They built their own CotF from the ground up, and being such a small team, everyone gets their hands dirty. So on race day, the team may be more familiar with their own car than anyone else on pit row, and that has suddenly translated into wins. So keep your eyes on car #8, the Team BOC Commodore of Jason Bright, and car #14, the Lockwood Racing Commodore of Fabian Coulthard.
Other teams to watch; for the Ford fans, keep your eyes on Mark Winterbottom. This driver of the #5 Pepsi Max FPR Falcon has incredible speed and potential, but hasn’t been able to capitalize. Frosty has been one of my favourite drivers for years, and this year he has stepped up the aggression a lot. Unfortunately that’s also costing him some of his races, and I’m a little bothered by the fact that he’s been quick to blame other drivers and equipment failures, and not himself. That’s not seeming like the Frosty of years past, but any time you change things up a few notches, it makes the race more interesting.
There’s also a ton of potential just waiting to spring forth from the two new upstart teams, Kelly Racing with the various Nissan Altimas, and Erebus Motorsport with the AMG E63’s. Neither team has seen any major success thus far, but there are these flashes of brilliance that make you sure there’s something big coming from them. Everyone’s fawning over James Moffat, mostly because his father Allan was an amazing driver in the former Australian Touring Car Championships. My tip, forget him. I see the most potential out of Lee Holdsworth. I predict he’ll be the first driver out of the two Upstart Manufacturers to take a podium spot.
And, of course, there’s Red Bull Racing. I’ve touched on them already, but they’re always strong, particularly since Whincup claims to finally have his “mojo” back. I suppose that remains to be seen, but it’s really hard to like the guy. The same is not true of his teammate however. Craig Lowndes is one of the all-time class-acts in the sport, and last weekend he passed Mark Skaife to become the winningest driver in V8SC/ATCC history. That man is Mr. Excitement. If there’s a way for him to blast around a corner with his tail-end out sideways, he’s going to find it, and use it. He’s worth watching just for the entertainment value.
Other than that, if we say too much more about the series, it will spoil the excitement for the uninitiated, and we really don’t want to do that. So sit back, grab a Foster’s, and trust us. You’re gonna love it.
Oh, and if you’re like most of us, and can’t be there for the race, never fear! We’ve managed to send our own Phillip Thomas to the race, and he’ll be writing up his experience for your enjoyment. Watch for that writeup early next week!
[Image Sources: V8Supercars and Jason Bright]