The Virgin Australia Supercar series kicks off this weekend and brings welcome viewing after the drought of the off period. The season has effectively already started with testing at Sydney motorsport park two weeks ago giving us an idea of the pace of the field readying for Adelaide in the first week of March.

But, before we get into the good stuff, some background to this form of racing. My interest in Aussie Supercars stems from the series being the most consistently competitive form of motor car racing on the planet and also, of course, it is the last real battleground in the traditional Ford vs GM tussle. One could argue that certain forms of same-make racing are as tight but that is missing the point, those forms of racing have no manufacturers war built into the process. Here we have two different makes in Ford and Holden (GM) who have been at one another for over 40 years, ( with the occasional dalliance of other makes during the period) and Nissan a third consistent player in the current format, snapping at their heels. Not only is the racing competitive but the fan base is massive and absolutely committed to their respective brands. I have made the pilgrimage to the No 1 Race of the year at Bathurst and I have not experienced anything like it anywhere, not only is the racing first class but the atmosphere and vibe are awe inspiring.

Surprisingly, here in South Africa, there are those that are not so taken by  V8 Supercars and are almost dismissive….in fact, a few colleagues have been critical of my support of an Australian race series and not being as enthusiastic about local racing. So here is my stance on this.

I am a motor engineer, an enthusiast and I appreciate the application of common sense. When you add the Ford vs GM (Holden) tussle to the blend and my background…this is the only form of motorsport that ticks all the boxes for me in the game. Sure, when you delve into the politics of the sport in Aus there is plenty of debate and a good deal of disagreement on many issues…that’s normal….The thing is though, it is organised, sensible, progressive and if anyone has any arguments of just how competitive the series is, do just one thing….watch the last race of the 2017 season at Newcastle….the championship was settled on the last lap!

The other reason I soak up the events is simply that the world is changing around us incredibly fast. Here is a motor racing series that, as I noted, ticks all the boxes and it is doing it in real time…NOW….So enjoy it because things will change and we have no way of knowing that the future will be as good.

How then do the Supercar administrators get it all done?

For the answer to that we need a comparison and unfortunately, the beleaguered F1 circus makes for a good contrast. Maybe an unfair comparison to some but my intention is not to criticise but to do just that…. Compare.

There are many elements making up these two types of race entertainment and amongst these are the two obvious characteristics on which both forms of motorsport need to deliver…..firstly the spectacle, call it the Ra-Ra or razzamatazz and secondly, naturally because we are talking about racing…the racing. It does not need a rocket scientist to work out where the two forms have laid their priorities. Supercars have a rock solid commitment to competitive racing and have set up the rules to ensure that that happens….leaving just enough flexibility for talent, commitment and endeavour to make the difference on the track. Sometimes the whole field of 26 cars is separated in lap times by around a second a lap….that’s tight. The Razzamatazz for Supercars, however, comes from the fact that it is just so competitive and here is the rub…..largely unpredictable…the promoters have built on that.

Formula one is by nature exactly the opposite ….The Razzamatazz is the core business and we are going through the precursor to this season right now. Massive column inches on every aspect of issues affecting the cars, teams, politics, drivers, colour schemes, new specs and of course track testing. It will all come to a head in Australia at the end of March and here is the difference…there we are only hoping for competitive racing. Unlike Supercars, F1 does not see competitive racing as the core of the business…if they did, the rules would be very different. Sadly the thing that brings us back to watch the next race is collective anticipation, which in itself is neither a good or bad thing….that’s just the way it is.

So let’s take a quick peek at the Supercar tech rules and the key issues.:

  1. The first step in the process for a competing manufacturer is to nominate a particular car for the series. This entails basic dimensional acceptance as well as extensive Aero package testing to arrive at specific drag and front/ rear downforce values.
  2. In the build of the car, the core is the same for all. A standard chassis/roll cage assembly is used by all teams onto which the respective body panels are attached to make up a Holden, Ford or Nissan. Interestingly wheelbase is common so where road cars differ, this is adjusted to meet the regs.
  3. The rear suspension incorporating the 6-speed transaxle is also common, as is gear ratio use.
  4. The front suspension must be a twin A-arm design but teams have the flexibility to design these as they wish within certain parameters, along with the use of stub axles or uprights to suit.
  5. Engines thus far are 5 Litre V8’s and are unique to each manufacturer but are controlled within certain BHP parameters….and this is the clever bit. Compression ratio is limited to 10:1 and engine Rpm to 7500Rpm, these two rules are smart in that engine durability is virtually assured. Camshaft timing is also regulated and again sufficient wiggle room is given to allow teams to work within the basic rule structure to improve performance. There is also an extremely smart regulated Bhp envelope which allows teams to move power curves to suit tracks/ driving styles….. we will cover this in future posts.

As noted, currently all are 5Litre V8’s but that is set to change to optional twin turbo V6’s of a similar Bhp profile next year.

  1. Brake systems are also common and from established suppliers.
  2. For the rest, wheels, tyres and safety issues are the same for all cars.

There is obviously much more detail than the above but suffice to say that two critical aspects of vehicle performance are addressed. Firstly on the issue of reliability… the probability of component failure in race cars fitted with differing components for each car will be exponentially higher than when using critical parts fit for use from known suppliers and where these are confirmed through testing.  In this aspect, things like Gearboxes, clutches, Brakes, wheels and tyres are common or sufficiently similar to provide first-class durability and help immeasurably to ensure that cars finish races.

The second, and most significant issue is keeping the cars within a competitive performance window….with vehicle set-up and driver talent providing the main difference.  The Supercar guys have nailed this aspect spectacularly.

For the record, F1 through the FIA is attempting to introduce regulations which will improve the competitive profile of the sport from 2020 and this has got up the noses of the prima donnas in the game Ferrari and Mercedes. These two are, by nature of the money expended, wanting to maintain the tech advantage and would want to keep that hold over the less well endowed. So the dynamic in F1 is unlikely to change and we will continue to hear the ‘sandbagging’ comments from Merc about the threat from XY and Z….while they continue to run at the front with no real change likely….I sincerely hope I am wrong and we will cover this in greater detail in an F1 Post in two weeks… However….. back to Supercars for 2018….

Testing at Sydney Motorsport Park                  

All eyes are on the new ZB Commodores with the Holden teams have switched to the new machine and the final timesheets look good.  The ZB is looking competitive but McLaughlin in the DJR Penske Falcon was quickest very early in the session, until a shunt caused by a tyre failure.

1.Tim Slade ZB Holden

Tim Slade in the Brad Jones Freightliner Racing ZB Holden quickest and, significantly, beating the quickest practise lap some 2 tenths faster than the previous best time set in 2016.

Here is a breakdown of the times set at the end of session

  1. 14 Freightliner Racing Tim Slade Holden Commodore ZB 5000 41 39 1:28.6157 R*
  2. 12 Shell V-Power Racing Team Fabian Coulthard Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 35 34 1:29.1050 0:00.4893
  3. 23 Nissan Motorsport Michael Caruso Nissan Altima 5000 29 28 1:29.1445 0:00.5288
  4. 97 Red Bull Holden Racing Aust Shane Van Gisbergen Holden Commodore ZB 5000 31 30 1:29.2111  0:00.5954
  5. 8 Blackwoods Racing Nick Percat Holden Commodore ZB 5000 42 40 1:29.2150 0:00.5993
  6. 17 Shell V-Power Racing Team Scott McLaughlin Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 13 5 1:29.2801 0:00.6644
  7. 19 TEKNO Autosports Jack Le Brocq Holden Commodore ZB 5000 39 38 1:29.2863 0:00.6706
  8. 1 Red Bull Holden Racing Aust Jamie Whincup Holden Commodore ZB 5000 19 17 1:29.3771 0:00.7614
  9. 6 Monster Energy Racing Cameron Waters Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 35 34 1:29.4327 0:00.8170
  10. 5 The Bottle-O Racing Team M.Winterbottom/D.Canto Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 42 36 1:29.4342 0:00.8185
  11. 21 CoolDrive Racing Tim Blanchard Holden Commodore ZB 5000 40 39 1:29.5692 0:00.9535
  12. 25 Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing J.Courtney/J.Perkins Holden Commodore ZB 5000 53 49 1:29.5719 0:00.9562
  13. 35 Bigmate Racing Todd Hazelwood Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 26 19 1:29.5785 0:00.9628
  14. 888 Autobarn Lowndes Racing Craig Lowndes Holden Commodore ZB 5000 34 33 1:29.6125 0:00.9968
  15. 7 Nissan Motorsport Andre Heimgartner Nissan Altima 5000 33 32 1:29.6130 0:00.9973
  16. 230 Milwaukee Racing Will Davison Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 35 33 1:29.6140 0:00.9983
  17. 78 Team Harvey Norman Simona De Silvestro Nissan Altima 5000 42 41 1:29.6773 0:01.0616
  18. 99 Erebus Motorsport Anton de Pasquale Holden Commodore ZB 5000 29 27 1:29.7224 0:01.1067
  19. 18 Preston Hire Racing Lee Holdsworth Holden Commodore ZB 5000 45 44 1:29.8156 0:01.1999
  20. 15 Nissan Motorsport Rick Kelly Nissan Altima 5000 39 37 1:29.8259 0:01.2102
  21. 9 Erebus Penrite Racing D.Reynolds/L.Youlden Holden Commodore ZB 5000 24 4 1:29.8682 0:01.2525
  22. 2 Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing S.Pye/W.Luff Holden Commodore ZB 5000 7 1 1:29.8923 0:01.2766
  23. 33 Wilson Security Racing GRM Garth Tander Holden Commodore ZB 5000 28 24 1:30.3892 0:01.7735
  24. 56 Tickford Racing Richie Stanaway Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 36 35 1:30.6018 0:01.9861
  25. 55 Supercheap Auto Racing Chaz Mostert Ford Falcon FG/X 5000 47 46 1:31.0944 0:02.4787
  26. 34 Wilson Security Racing GRM James Golding Holden Commodore ZB 5000 10 8 1:31.5595 0:02.9438

Fastest Lap Av.Speed Is 159kph, 105% time Of fastest lap Is 1:33.0465

Current Practice Record Is 1:28.8272 Set On 27/08/2016 By Chaz Mostert In A Ford Falcon FG/X

A few notables:

Shell DJR Penske seem to have started where they left off last year with McLaughlin threatening and, only having completed 13 laps before the tyre failure which ended his testing, put in his quickest on lap 4 of his stint. A shot across the bows early in the session!

A ZB Holden at the top in testing shows that the new car is no slouch

The 888 & Red Bull guys are in a spot of bother with work to do. Their cars needing pace.

Nissan at 3rd in the time sheets with Michael Caruso gives them a boost and hopefully not a flash in the pan as has happened with this team quite often.

The Adelaide 500 – previously known as the season opening Clipsal 500… Featuring that fabulous…TURN 8

The start to the year is always spectacular in Adelaide with my favourite turn in the series outside of those at Bathurst, being turn 8. So often in past races, has a flat-out sideways slide at 200Km/h close to the wall resulted in either chaos or overtaking under brakes into 9. There have been final lap squabbles between these two turns more often than not and let us hope this year will not be any different. Watching the lads take out their left side door mirrors against the wall seems almost like a national sport.

Van Gisbergen vs McLaughlin – Hit the button to view the video

It is open cards time and true to Supercar tradition, to predict the outcome of the first encounter is impossible. The DJR Penske Shell Falcons are on a roll from last season and no doubt have continued the sterling work done in 2017. Let’s face it, only fate combined with the lack of an ice cool head in the last race at Newcastle prevented McLaughlin from winning the title and I have absolutely no doubt that this young man is going to make his mark again this year…he is just plain fast. Have a peep at this clip from 2014 at the Adelaide track…and at the age of 20in Volvo taking on Whincup the master. His team mate Coulthard is the perfect back up and must say that the team looks to be settling well together..I have one word for this outfit for the year…Ominous.

2. McLaughlin Shell DJR Penske Falcon

The DJR Penske Shell Falcon


So…what do we have from the other teams. The talk is that the ZB Holdens are already showing signs of being more consistent than the old cars. The VF has a reputation for being very sensitive to set-up, often being difficult to get into the right performance window. Once in, they performed brilliantly but in doing so also seemed to be harder on their rubber than the Fords. We are talking tenths here folks and when a tenth of a second can move you from the front to the third row or lower, the ability to set a car up easily for a track/driver is critical. If this turns out to be a positive then we are likely to see Holdens doing better in qualifying, something that seemed to be waning in the last races of last year.

3. Van Gisbergen ZB Holden

The New RB livery on the ZB Holden Commodore. We will see exciting stuff from Gizzy


Who is quickest in the Holdens then? Clearly the most aggressive and consistently fastest is Shane van Gisbergen…what can I say?? Does this bloke not understand that at some time he needs to clear the red mist and just… drive. I am certain he would have taken Bathurst last year had he not had brain fade at The Chase. So….if he settles down and engages an excellent working brain he will be my bet for Holden man of the season. Whincup will be there raking in points and will be a contender for the title…that’s what he does… but my real concern is our friend Craig Lowndes. What exactly is the point of 888 having such a talented (and expensive) package running in the mid-field? No guys, please find the ‘on’ switch, this guy has more racing talent and experience than is being shown and the reason I am up in arms is that nobody else seems to be really upset at that wasted endeavour.

4. Dave Reynolds Erebus ZB Holden

The Dave Reynolds ZB…have a feeling this machine may just upset the applecart on occasion


Last comment on the Holdens. My choice for the year is the Davey Reynolds Erebus outfit….because they are the perfect underdogs. Committed…yes and a little ‘off the wall’… I love it. At the end of Bathurst last year I detected a very distinct apprehension amongst many. Dave is without question a controversial character and has found a home in an equally unusual outfit. I have not been so pleased to see a team win… ever…clearly there is a mound of unfinished business somewhere.  Whatever the situation, I will be following this team and their toil at every race, a report at each venue and I wish them well.

The Prodrive (Tickford for 2018) Falcons were somewhat overshadowed by the Shell outfit last year but nevertheless this team was more often than not, on the money. It is a big team and maybe that could be a bit of a boat anchor in their endeavours going forward. The established top guns in Winterbottom and Mostert had better hang on to their hats because Waters and Stanaway are driving brilliantly and have a composure about them that will put them in contention. The unlucky restart in the last laps at Bathurst taking Waters on a detour that broke his wing prevented the lads from being right in the mix at the end. We also have not heard the last of the Waters and ‘rainmaster’ Stanaway should that grouping persist in the enduros at the end of the season. The engines on these cars also just seem stronger than the other Falcons…it is probably just my imagination but they sound slightly different, particularly on trailing throttle. Will pay closer attention this year.

5. Cam Waters Falcon

Cam Waters Falcon – This is a combination to watch…a cool demeanour

Lastly the Nissans here is an admission…a personal one.  Whilst I make no bones about my historical connection to GM and a full commitment to the ongoing Ford vs Holden on-track battles, if I was to choose another make to enter the fray, it would in fact be Nissan. The reason for this is a 20 year stint at the local Nissan outfit in which I was fortunate enough to hold key positions on the tech side of the business…its personal you see… we are allowed these allegiances …it’s not bias.  My hope therefore is that the brand becomes consistently competitive. Surprisingly, running the only multivalve engine in the series it is apparent that this is their weakest link. It is absolutely incredible that the other two protagonists running ‘old tech’ pushrod two valvers are up around (and above) the 630Bhp mark with relatively fat torque curves and the Nissans apparently not quite there. Again this is big team  with all four Nissans under one roof.

6. Caruso Nissan

The Caruso Nissan Altima…Lets hope they can get those extra valves to work

Word is that work is being done to fix this and to get the chassis up to scratch in a concerted effort to move the mark from mid-fielders to on-par runners up front. Again I wish them well and hope that management changes brought in last year at Corporate level bear fruit…. 3rd at the test runs in Sydney is a good omen.

Adelaide will have two races, one each on  Saturday and Sunday  and the nice part is having practise and a top ten shoot out for each.

There we are then…this is a wound up clock-spring ready to unravel and lets have good, clean, fast and competitive….racing.

Enjoy! I’ll be placing updates on my Facebook page regularly so be sure to comment.