The following is a special editorial by Jon Etkins, an Australian native and Austin resident who will be sharing his knowledge and passion for V8 Supercars with AGP.
Circuit of The Americas' announcement this week that V8 Supercars will be racing at COTA in May next year, may have some folks wondering what all the fuss is about – who are these guys, what do they drive, and why should I care? The short answer is that V8 Supercars are the Australian equivalent of NASCAR. But there's a lot more to it than that.
// The Cars
The International V8 Supercar Championship is the latest evolution of what started out in 1960 as the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC). Originally comprising showroom-stock cars from many different manufacturers, over the years the cars became purpose-built racing machines and all but two manufacturers dropped out.
From 1998 until this year, the series has been exclusively Ford vs GM, pitting Ford's Falcon against GM's Holden Commodore. 2013 will see the category expanded again with cars from Nissan (Altima) and Mercedes (E-Class AMG).
Like NASCAR, they're all V8-powered, but that's about where the similarity ends. While NASCAR takes a custom-made tube-frame chassis and covers it with a fiberglass body shell that only looks like a production car, V8 Supercars start life as a genuine bodyshell off the production line. As the name suggests, they all run a five-liter (302 c.i.) Ford Boss or GM small block V8 engine making over 600 hp on E85 fuel. Drive is through a six-speed sequential transmission manufactured in Australia by Hollinger, and a common spool rear differential.
// The Drivers
Most of the drivers will be unfamiliar to anyone outside of Australia, because the series has only recently started to gain international exposure through channels like SPEED TV. One name that may be familiar to American race fans is Marcos Ambrose, who won the V8 Supercar championship twice before heading to the States to drive NASCAR, and currently races the #9 Ford fusion in NASCAR Sprint Cup.
But while the series may not be well-known to international fans, it is highly regarded among race drivers in other countries. Many international stars from European touring car series, ex-Formula 1 drivers, and even the occasional NASCAR driver, head Down Under to co-drive V8 Supercars in the longer “enduro” races towards the end of the year.
Any list of notable drivers has to start with Peter Brock, who drove Holdens in a career that spanned 33 years and included 210 starts, 57 pole positions, and 37 wins in the ATCC. Other notables include Canadian Alan Moffatt, who campaigned Falcons and even a Mazda RX-7; New Zealander Jim Richards, who won championships in BMWs and Nissan Skylines; and Dick Johnson, who won five championships in Ford Falcons and Sierras.
The current driver lineup includes Craig Lowndes, who won the first V8 Supercar championship in 1999 and is currently running third in this year's series; Jamie Whincup, the current series leader; and Mark “Frosty” Winterbottom, who's currently second. Regular readers here on The Austin Grand Prix may recognize Frosty's name, as he recently visited COTA on a promotional visit, and gave the track a big thumbs up.
// The Series
Unlike NASCAR, which races primarily on oval tracks and only occasionally visits tracks with both left and right turns, V8 Supercars race on “traditional” circuits – a mixture of permanent purpose built race tracks and temporary street circuits. Originally only run in Australia, the series expanded to include a race in New Zealand in 2001, Singapore in 2004, Bahrain in 2006, Abu Dhabi in 2010, and now Austin in 2013. It is now recognized as a fully-fledged International Series by motorsport's world governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA).
The 2012 series comprises fifteen race weekends, which usually see two “sprint” races of between 60 and 180 miles (100 to 300 km), one on Saturday and one on Sunday. However, the latter half of the season also sees “enduro” weekends with single longer races of over 300 miles (500 km) which require two drivers per car. Many of the smaller teams combine forces for these longer races, but the top teams bring in the international co-drivers. The longest race of the year, the 620-mile Bathurst 1000, is known Down Under as “The Great Race”.
// The Bathurst 1000
The jewel in the crown of the V8 Supercar series, this classic race is is celebrating its 50th running this year. For 51 weeks of the year, the roads around Mount Panorama, in Bathurst, New South Wales (a couple of hours west of Sydney), are open to the public. But in October each year, they're closed off and the V8 Supercars descend on “the mountain”. To most Australian race fans, Bathurst is is the race of the year, with many holding day-long Bathurst-watching parties, complete with food, beer, and the Great Race on TV, not dissimilar to the F1 Watch Parties organized by The Austin Grand Prix, but longer, and usually involving more beer!
Which bring us to right now, because the 2012 Super Cheap Autos Bathurst 1000 is being run this weekend. For American fans, SPEED will be showing a two-hour highlights package next Sunday, October 14th, but fans who want the thrill of watching it live (beer and BBQ optional) can catch a live stream on their official YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/v8supercarsofficial.
// The Racing
One thing that V8 Supercars is known for is close racing. The combination of high power, closely-matched cars, on race circuits that require more skills than simply drafting, makes for some very exciting “dicing” throughout the field. A perfect example was the 2010 Gold Coast 600, with Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Ginsbergen rubbing paint and panels all the way to the checkered flag. Watch the last couple of laps below to get some idea of what to expect, both tonight from Bathurst, and next May at Circuit of The Americas.
See you there!