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.:
- 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.
- 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.
- The rear suspension incorporating the 6-speed transaxle is also common, as is gear ratio use.
- 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.
- 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.
- Brake systems are also common and from established suppliers.
- 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.