For the past 20 years the major Australian sedan car racing Championship has been the exclusive domain of just two makes of car – Ford and Holden. A formula devised to rein in costs after the ruinous expense of Group A, the cars were to be (and remain) four-door sedans, with five-litre V8s, fuel injection, rear-wheel drive and based on a production model.

V8 Supercars, in the beginning, were built from production body shells. Later, the practice became to build an integrated roll cage and space frame with body panels hung off them. Then there was a shift to a generic template, much like NASCAR.

Other makes were always welcome in V8 Supercars and the talk was always of Toyota joining in, despite the Japanese giant’s constant protestations of disinterest.

Todd Kelly tests the new Nissan Altima V8 Supercar
Todd Kelly tests the new Nissan Altima V8 Supercar

Photo by: Nissan Motorsports

From 2013, though, the cars will have some fundamental changes. But that’s a story for another time. But it’s inspired two new players into the game; Nissan and AMG/Mercedes. The Nissan effort will be run by Kelly Racing and will consist of four cars, based on the shape of the Altima, a car not yet actually sold in Australia. They’ll have quad-cam engines, unlike the Ford and Holden / Chev pushrod motors. Similarly, the Mercedes engines to be employed by the amalgamated Erebus Racing and Stone Brothers Racing will be multi-valve units.

Whether the strongly partisan fans will accept the new players remains to be seen. There have been threats to burn merchandise due to the Kelly Racing move to Nissan and certainly, people remember well the last time a Nissan won a major race – the 1992 Bathurst 1000, when Jim Richards was less than polite to the spectators.

Kelly Racing is the domain of brothers Todd and Rick, both successful as drivers (both have won Bathurst and Rick has also won the Championship), based in Melbourne. They run four cars – two for themselves and two for a ‘satellite’ team – all out of the one factory.

Stone Brothers racing is also a pair of brothers, Jim and Ross. The Stones are New Zealanders and have a very long pedigree in racing car engineering – dating right back to working for Bruce McLaren. Erebus Racing has done very well in GT racing in Australia, running SLS GT3s. Their alliance with Stone Brothers brings the AMG brand to V8 Supercars, although this will be a customer team, rather than the Kellys’ Nissan ‘factory’ effort.

Erebus Motorsport owner Betty Klimenko and V8 Supercar Chairman Tony Cochrane announce the AMG V8 entry
Erebus Motorsport owner Betty Klimenko and V8 Supercar Chairman Tony Cochrane announce the AMG V8 entry

Photo by: Edge Photographics

V8 Supercars (the organisation) will be applying restrictions to the new engines to ensure they don’t produce more power or torque than their competitors.

The Car Of The Future is more a ‘pure’ racing car than the current one. It will have an independent rear suspension, as opposed to the live axle in use now. The fuel cell is moving to inside the wheelbase and the engine back and down by 100mm (four inches). The car will be lighter and better-balanced. Add to that bigger wheels and brakes and the drivers expect the new car to be up to a second a lap faster than the current car, but harder to drive.

So it was that the Sydney 500 was touted as the last-ever Ford vs Holden race. The race is run on the streets around the Olympic Stadium – a narrow, bumpy, concrete-lined track measuring 3.42 kilometres. The track is, as street courses will be, unforgiving and in the three years it’s run to date, nobody had won twice – even though there have been two races each year, until this year when Craig Lowndes became the first to win twice.

Of course, it’s NOT the last Ford vs Holden race – that battle will continue, just with two makes added. It’s so much more than a race meeting. Sure, there are two races for the V8 Supercars, each of 250km. Actually, make that four races, as the second-division Dunlop Series is for superannuated V8 Supercars and several top teams run development drivers in this. Then there are a pair of races for the Australian GT Championship (GT3 –spec) and a pair of races each for the Porsche Carrera Cup and the V8 Utes.

In this 50th year celebration, Allan Moffat and Colin Bond with the original 1977 winning Ford Falcons at Bathurst
In this 50th year celebration, Allan Moffat and Colin Bond with the original 1977 winning Ford Falcons at Bathurst

Photo by: Edge Photographics

Ah yes, the Utes. The Ute (short for ‘Utility’) was an Australian invention in the 1930s. A car up front and a tray body behind, they’re a popular choice for trades people and these days, are seen as a bit of a sports car, with both Ford and Holden making performance models.

The Ute series runs these vehicles in pretty close to road spec, on R-spec tyres. As one person once said, they’re driven with a great deal of ‘verve, dill and scaring.’ Due to their tendency to impact on one another and indeed on trackside objects, they’re popular with the spectators.

There’s also a car show, lots of displays, merchandising (this year’s must-have’ was cardboard cutouts of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes), all the usual non-racing stuff to keep the kids happy between races.

Again, typically of a street circuit, the General Admission areas are pretty ordinary when it comes to viewing – debris fences line the track and your view is only of a small section, although you can get surprisingly close to the cars – just a few metres in some spots. Best bet is to fork out for a grandstand seat where you can see more of the track and one of the big screens showing the action. There’s a train station right next to the track – trains run every few minutes, or if you’ve travelled to the race from away from Sydney, there are hotels also right next to the track – some with views from windows or balconies of the action!

And this year, at least on the Friday (practice) and Saturday, it was hot. Really, really hot. Over 100 degrees Farenheit and humid with it. Conditions certainly took their toll on spectators and after Friday’s practice, drivers were dreading the morrow. Cabin temperatures are often 50% above the outside air temperature and Jamie Whincup, fastest in Friday practice and Champion-elect said ‘We’ve all got cool-suits – fingers crossed they’ll work. Even with a cool suit it’s hard work.” Will Davison added to this, saying “When you switch off the suit to get out of the car, the heat hits you.”

Alexandre Premat, Fujitsu Racing
Alexandre Premat, Fujitsu Racing

Photo by: John Maricic

The heat ended the race of Alex Premat, the Frenchman collapsing about three-quarters through Saturday’s race, after running will earlier. Premat, who runs in marathons and competes in triathalons, was still sick on the Sunday and didn’t take part – a blow to the struggling driver’s prospects of keeping his job.

Second place-getter Tim Slade admitted to having run out of water (to drink) with 20 of the 74 laps remaining. While not blaming this for a driving error that cost him his maiden race win, it can’t have helped.

Fellow driver Michael Patrizzi’s water cooler failed, meaning he had hot water to drink – not too bad for hydration, but hardly refreshing (maybe some tea bags in it next time?)

The last-ever race for exclusively Fords and Holdens went to Will Davison. That means that Ford won the first and last-ever Championship races for the formula – John Bowe having won back in 1993 at Amaroo Park, also in Sydney – now a small number of luxury houses, but anyway.

The V8 Supercar Championship will kick off in Adelaide in March – also on a street circuit, probably with high temperatures and with a risk of driver fatigue and carnage. The more things change, the more they stay the same?