V8 Supercars: Don't fix what's not broken

I'm a bit concerned in what direction the series wants to go.

Not long ago on this very website we had contrasting opinions on the state of the V8 Supercar nation. On paper, it's a non-discussion. The series is only growing in stature around the world as a touring car series which provides consistently awesome racing, great competition and a fantastic array of colourful characters all doing battle in raucous hellhounds that didn't just drown out the F1 circus at Melbourne earlier this year, but openly sent them home with ringing in their ears.

If the BTCC went to a mostly pay-TV deal, it would be dead within five years.

Adam Johnson on new V8SC TV deal

But like a great rock band, all is not what it seems behind the scenes. Quite simply, a huge amount of this negativity is centred around V8 Supercars' inexplicable decision to go for a pay-TV deal with FOX from 2015. It bares a lot of similarities to the F1 deal with SKY Sports in the UK - and whilst yes, F1 gets a huge paycheque from SKY, one look at the comparative TV figures between free-to-air and pay-TV broadcasts is stark.

A lot won't pay

 

Fact is, there are a huge amount of people who just can't justify spending more and more money on TV subscriptions to watch sport - me included, being a skint graduate student. F1 can at least get away with it being as it is the premier motorsport in the world. But a national series? If the BTCC went to a mostly pay-TV deal, it would be dead within five years.

For V8 Supercars fans in 2015, they can expect a meagre six events on free-to-air TV. This is frankly pathetic. Surely it is no coincidence that the series jumping into bed with pay-TV deals are ones with negative rumours surrounding them (F1 and V8s), whereas series embracing free-to-air and even live online streaming (WEC, BTCC and GT3) are gaining strength. There is no faster way to disenfranchise hardcore fans then to make them pay more and more for something which started out as free - it breaks trust and suddenly throws a wall of 'us and them' between the series and its fans. No matter how you spin it, falling TV figures and dwindling spectator numbers is not the sign of a series on the up.

I want to see what I drive on the race track

And now this major wedge has been driven between V8 Supercars and it's fans, other problems are starting to arise. For a series which bases itself on purity and blue-collar racing, the current-gen V8 Supercar is going down like a cup of cold sick for veteran fans. Understandable really; the essence of touring car racing is seeing cars the fans drive to the track be the ones that race each other, and in BTCC, at least all engines are derived from manufacturer engines rather than specifically built for racing, like the Volvo V8 which has never been anywhere near a road-going S60.

The future of Holden and Ford

This of course brings us to the other major elephant in the room - the two biggest stagers in the series face very uncertain futures. The decades-old Ford Falcon will be gone in 2016, and domestic Holden production ceases altogether in 2017. Worryingly, recent proclamations from new CEO James Warburton seems to suggest a move away from V8s altogether, which surely is a non-starter. F1 tried telling us that sound and spectacle doesn't matter in motor racing, but for a series which bills itself on raucous spectacle, switching to a 2-litre hatchback formula will be an absolute death knell - the Australian Super Touring Cup in the late 1990s proved that. Not only will fans leave in droves, but can you imagine drivers like Shane Van Gisbergen being happy to drive FWD 4-cylinder hatchbacks? Didn't think so.

A return to its roots

With any luck, what should happen is more a return to the classic ATCC/Group A formula of the 1970s/80s, where a variety of engine types and car styles competed. V8 Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons/Mustangs scrapped with V12 Jaguars, BMW 635s/M3s, big Volvo saloons and turbocharged Ford Sierra Cosworths and Nissan Skylines. It retained identity by being not a supercar class like GT3, but being a sport coupe/touring/muscle car series, and a modern-day equivalent would perhaps end up similar to what we see now in Continental Tire Sports Cars and Pirelli World Challenge.

Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel

Adam Johnson

Of the current crop, imagine this for a hypothetical 2017 grid: Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro (or a Holden variant) and Nissan GTR versus the already existing Mercedes C-Class and Volvo S60. With potential for the likes of Chrysler, Honda and Jaguar to throw their hats into the ring, perhaps there is a way the V8 Supercars can march forward with identity intact and amps still cranked to 11.

The casual fan

V8 Supercars seem to want to follow NASCAR in a pursuit of the mythical brand of 'casual' race fan; one who seemingly can't pay attention for more than ten seconds before being distracted by a viral Youtube cat video, so we have to make every race incredibly short with gaudy names and increasingly convuluted formats. And for what benefit? Do these casual fans even exist? Well, the first V8SC race I ever watched was the 2002 Bathurst 1000. I was a mere ten years old, and you know what? I was engrossed for the entire six hours of racing. 

It would be an enormous travesty if V8 Supercars crumbles under its own hubris. No other series has been as consistently entertaining and produced as much fantastic racing as V8 Supercars. The formula is so perfect, it feels impossible to mess up. Now is not the time to reinvent the wheel, and crucially, now is not the time to disenfranchise your fanbase.

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About this article
Series Supercars
Teams Nissan Motorsports
Article type Commentary