SP Tools Racing's Maro Engel pilots his #9 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG V8 Supercar in Austin on Saturday.
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Awesome. Incredible. The ride of a lifetime. These are just a few adjectives that come to mind after a hot lap of Circuit of The Americas in a V8 Supercar:
Well over 600 horsepower in a car that weighs 3100lb – including the driver – makes for an exciting ride. A full field of 28 of these fire-breathing monsters from Down Under makes for a weekend you won’t want to miss.
V8 Supercars – the premiere racing series in Australia and New Zealand – has expanded its horizons overseas in recent years, and next month they will race on US soil for the first time ever, at Circuit of The Americas on May 17-19.
To generate some buzz among the spectators and motoring media, the V8 Supercars controlling body sent one of their cars to COTA several weeks ago – in fact, those of you that attended the MotoGP race last weekend have seen it turning a few demonstration laps between bike sessions. And once the motorcycle crowds had gone home, they invited the media to the track to meet the car, the organizers, and a couple of the regular championship drivers: James Courtney and Fabian Coulthard. (Yes, Fabian is related to that other Coulthard – he and David are second cousins.)
Some of you may have seen these cars on TV before. SPEED TV has been showing highlights packages of each round for the last couple of years, and I understand they will actually be broadcasting the “Austin 400” live from Austin. But if you haven’t had the pleasure, take a look at this highlights package from the 2012 season to get some idea of what we can expect to see:
For more than a decade, the series has been the exclusive realm of Ford and GM, represented by the Ford Falcon and the Holden Commodore respectively, but this year the series has once again been opened up to other manufacturers, and Nissan and Mercedes have already joined the fray with their Altima and E63 AMG.
US enthusiasts may recognize the Holden Commodore as the basis for the Pontiac G8 of a couple of years ago, and it will be making its reappearance in American showrooms later this year as the new Chevrolet SS. The rivalry between the two brands is ingrained in Aussie enthusiasts – you’re born Red or Blue and you stay that way for life, and fans have reacted with outrage and disgust if a driver “defects” from one camp to the other.
In recent years the cars have only used a few common components – most notably the transmissions and live rear axles – but for 2013 the category has moved to a more standardized platform in an attempt to reduce costs and increase competition. They call it the Car of the Future, and it utilizes a single common chassis, engine management system, drive train, independent rear suspension, brakes, and tires. The teams then graft on a modified production four-door body shell, and drop in a 5 liter (305 cu.in.) V8 motor from their respective manufacturer.
Limited to 7500 rpm by the spec Motec ECU, the official horsepower estimates are 625bhp, but it’s widely accepted that most of them are pumping out more like 650.
With the major components tightly controlled, the cars all perform very similarly. Indeed, at one of the most recent rounds in Australia, the entire field qualified within 0.8 seconds of the pole sitter. The organizers work hard to maintain this sort of parity, and have the ability to tweak the aero packages if necessary. However, unlike the British Touring Car Championship, there is no “success ballast” added between races.
With cars that closely matched, the emphasis is placed squarely on the drivers, and these guys are not afraid of a little bump and grind. It’s close, full-contact racing from flag to flag, guaranteed to keep to on the edge of your seat or on your feet.
In a nod towards the environment, the entire field runs on a spec BioEthanol E85 race gas produced from the molasses which is a byproduct of Australia’s extensive cane sugar production. We noticed that this gives the cars a very distinctive exhaust smell. The fuel is tightly controlled, and around 4,000 gallons have already landed in Houston en route to Austin for the race weekend.
The cars and equipment travel in two 747 freighter planes, and the teams and travelling media circus comprise around 400 people. Also descending on Austin will be an estimated 3,000 fans making the trip from Down Under for the race, so expect to hear a lot of “far south Texas” accents in town that weekend. There’s no organized downtown festival like there was for Formula 1, but Aussies know how to have a good time – it’s in their DNA – so watch out for some hard partiers on Sixth Street. Say “G’day,” but don’t challenge any of them to a drinking competition!