John Maricic, V8 Supercars Australia correspondent
With the start of the 2012 V8 Supercars Australia season upon us, talk amongst the fans, teams and the industry alike is about the Car of the Future. NASCAR referred to their package back in 2006 as the Car of Tomorrow, although not everyone took them seriously. The talk was that their cars would all look the same except for the odd decal to distinguish them. Also, concerns centred on the fan base, would they be driven away from the sport that has been number one for so long.
Not many asked the question would it attract the fans, particularly with Toyota entering the series. Some said that the Japanese manufacturer had no place in the sport. This caused even more controversy as NASCAR rules stipulate the vehicles that compete must be based on American vehicles. Some had short memories; Toyota not only built the cars in the US but also took out the Craftsman Truck Series that year having entered only two years earlier.
There is 80 percent of the market that we need to embrace.
Others thought it would result in a decline in television ratings and that the mega sponsors that NASCAR enjoy would look elsewhere to spend their dollars, but they didn’t. Why, because motorsport is big business and you don’t walk away and when things fall over look at coming back, it will only cost you more.
So what has V8 Supercars done? To start with they employed our most successful touring car driver, Mark Skaife to head the project who with his team designed a safer, more competitive and a cheaper car from the ground up, which is part of the long-term strategy.
So what is the difference? To start with the Car of the Future will have a smaller, lighter roll cage/chassis, the glass windscreen will be replaced with poly carbonate, the engine has been moved back 100 mm and the fuel cell placed in front of the rear axle which will now be fitted with a transaxle gear box and differential and supported with independent rear suspension. To hold it on the road, they have upgraded to 18 inch wheels, thrown on bigger tyres and matched them with bigger brakes. With more grip and less weight and the safety factor thrown in the racing is expected to be more competitive and exciting. The cars will look the same or near as possible to the one you can buy off the showroom floor. The big advantage over NASCAR is for those teams not at the pointy end of the competition will receive a huge benefit in the reduction in costs which should level out the playing field.
The average V8 Supercar these days costs around $600,000 which can make or break the smaller teams. The Car of the Future is not expected to cost more than $350,000 and this sits pretty with the intended round increase in the championship predicted in the future. This is where the boss of V8 Supercars, Tony Cochrane steps in. His plans are to continue to move forward and sell his brand to the rest of the world. Already V8 Supercars have raced overseas with limited success in terms of fans, so will we see this continue or will there be V8 Supercar franchises operating throughout Europe and the United States. I guess that is something we will have to wait and see.
Like most businesses in this competitive world it’s about sustainability and longevity. V8 Supercars is evolving and looking to the future. As Skaife put it, "There is 80 percent of the market that we need to embrace”. The series, whether V8 Supercars or not, will not survive on the continued rivalry between Ford and Holden, it has to give. These days fans opt to support a driver or a team rather than our current manufacturers. You only have to drive out of any car park on any race weekend and you will understand what I am talking about. Not everyone is driving out in a Holden or a Ford. They will be in their Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Nissan and Toyota, or whatever they are driving at the time or can afford.
You don’t need to encourage the fan, it’s the manufacturers that have to be encouraged and Nissan have been the first manufacturer to jump at the opportunity announcing their partnership with Kelly Racing for next year.
We asked Team Vodafone, the number one team in the paddock, what their intentions were and at this stage they have no plans to change from Holden, bearing in mind they raced under the blue oval badge until the end of 2009 and easily made the transition. Dick Johnson Racing has this year announced its commitment to an all Ford four car team, so there is less likelihood that he will be in a position to swap anytime soon.
Over the next couple of seasons if another one or two manufacturers come on board the category will be in a much stronger position, and others will, they are already knocking on the door.
Many fans are looking forward like V8 Supercars to turning back the clock. Remember the 1998 AMP Bathurst 1000 when Jim Richards and Rickard Rydell won in a Volvo S40, or 1991 and 1992 when Jim Richards and Mark Skaife took back to back wins in the Nissan Skyline GTR, or John Goss and Armin Hahne taking the chequered flag in 1985 in the Jaguar XJ-S.
The list goes on and only time will tell if V8 Supercars are on the right track.