V8 Supercars is a Strong Series with a Few New Kid Quirks

After years of waiting, Australia’s V8 Supercars has finally crossed the other pond and introduced their fierce touring car series to the US. After a weekend at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas, I’ve had a good taste of the action… but they only teased us.

I don’t want to sound disappointed, because that’s not entirely the case, but I stopped keeping track of how many Australians were apologizing  to me for how “boring” it was. And if you’ve followed any of V8SC’s action and saw this weekend’s race, you may see why. It is to no fault of teams or drivers, they put on a helluva show and on pure style alone laid down some of the most entertaining racing COTA has seen yet. Snarling V8s with shotgun-blast shifting, and no fear of contact or regard for curbs as they flew across COTA on two, and at times even on a single tire trying to grasp the track for grip.

V8 Supercars is well known for their rowdy racing antics in their home races. The combination of relatively relaxed contact rules, course rules (However, they still have tight walls or tire barriers to keep them on course), sturdy race cars, and fantastic drivers culminates into a unique road racing series that doesn’t mind a lot a little bump and grind to make a pass. Part of the reason why people refer to V8SC as an Australian NASCAR is that like NASCAR, contact and crashing is a bit of an expected aspect in the racing. For the Austin 400, things didn’t quite line up to allow for that.

The new course still presents many challenges for teams and drivers, and a decision by V8SC on tires all conspired to deprive the drivers of the setting needed to bring out their aggressive racing. The drivers are deadly consistent with each other, with the top-ten qualifying runs often separated by tenths; when they’re extruded into a line of cars it’s hard for them to bunch back up into a dogfight. But when kept in a large pack, this consistency keeps the racing tight, entertaining, and aggressive; something we saw on race starts and after yellow flags when the cars were regrouped.I believe that course layout and tire choices were some of the factors that kept the racing civilized.  

The new course surface and layout(s) is still proving to be a big challenge to the various series racing COTA for the first time. This is the first time for the short “National Circuit”, which is a short cut that bypasses turns six through eleven from the “Grand Prix” circuit that has been used at every event so far, including the 2012 F1 race, and Grand-Am. The short cut diverts the course in the middle of the s-bends after turn two, and has a very fun looking left-right kink that also kicks the cars up and over the apex which dips in the middle of the kink before taking a quick left and aiming the cars back onto the old back-straight before turn twelve. The section slows down the cars and chokes them down into a single file, even though it was a super entertaining corner as the drivers cut the kink as tight as possible with their cars flying up onto two wheels, and sometimes even floating by with a single tire gripping the road. After riding with Fabian Coulthard during the preview event on the Grand Prix circuit, the long course would have been better for the racing action. The blind left of turn 10 is a test of driver mettle, especially when taken right: flat out. The back straight also provides fantastic passing opportunities, beginning with the hairpin of turn 11, and with the 180 mile-per-hour blast down the back straight into turn 12, the cars have to tank on the brakes hard and dig into the tight hairpin. Turn 12 with the back straight was one of the most exciting corners of Grand Am.

The road surface is still rubbering in, and with the National Circuit there was a lot of playing around with lines to discover the fastest route through the unknown piece of track, something that COTA’s relatively low-danger curbing and run-offs allowed a lot of. Those wide run-offs dropped the element of danger that keeps drivers fighting for position on their home tracks; at COTA any errors put cars gingerly off onto the run-offs and they would calmly jump back into the pack. This is a stark contrast to many of the home circuits with their tightly barriered courses where a little bump and grind will push a few cars into a wall, and into each other. 

The combination of the new surface and still-new layout (regardless of the shortcut) made setup decisions tough for many teams who were fighting various handling problems while dealing with the provided hard-compound tires. With concerns over tire degradation with the technical track, V8SC tested the waters with hard compound tires throughout the weekend. What they learned, however, was that the tires held up much better than expected. With some tire degradation comes opportunities for passing as drivers wear their tires at different rates depending on driver style and strategy. With all drivers wearing tires fairly equally, there didn’t seem to be much of a chance to upset the balanced and consistent field as the races wore on. 

Despite some of these challenges, the drivers put on a wicked show for everyone. What aggression they lacked in fender-into-fender contact, they put into the car and course. They are very keen to find the fastest line possible, even if it means getting airborne. The drivers enjoyed the course’s challenging layout, even if a little frustrated with the road to finding a solid setup for the weekend. “We’ll come back next year,” said Whincup, “We’ll change it up a bit, maybe we’ll throw some soft tires on, maybe we’ll take the mufflers off. It’s a bit embarrassing being so quiet compared to the support categories.  We can do plenty of things to spice it up for next year.”

And at the end of the weekend, that is what the inaugural Austin 400 is: a learning experience. With just under 67,000 in attendance, with about 10% of those being Australians, we had a solid turnout of local race fans. The series has a lot to bring to US race fans. We now know what these Aussies need to thrive, and I look forward to next year being an epic return. V8SC has caught the attention of US race fans who would normally not come to a roadrace, in particular NASCAR fans. With a solid push into US race culture (Like I’ve said before, a Ken Block-style assault into the media) and a few changes to the recipe with the course and tire decisions, V8 Supercars looks to be one of the most fun racing series offered in the US. The teams were awesome to joke with in paddock, the cars are epic to watch fly across curbs, and the drivers are fierce in their racecraft. The perfect storm is brewing, it just needs the right day. 

For now though, here’s some cool wicked photos from the weekend. Hit up my Flickr for higher res photos and desktop-sized goodness. 

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19 responses to “V8 Supercars is a Strong Series with a Few New Kid Quirks”

  1. vwminispeedster Avatar

    Great shots Phillip!! Next year we'll have to hook up for some BBQ. I miss it already.

  2. rwb Avatar

    Great story, and excellent pictures.

  3. HTWHLS Avatar

    Love the action shots with 3 wheels in the air!

  4. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
    C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    I will definitely attempt to make it down there, next year.
    Fort Worth is only a two hour drive…
    Okay, like 3.25 if you don't want to risk jail time in Waco.
    Personal best, however, is 2:14, though that was almost 30 years ago…

    1. JayP2112 Avatar

      The 130 tollway shaves some time off for sure.

  5. Newport Pagnell Avatar
    Newport Pagnell

    Love this and Aussie Rules Football.

    1. Maxichamp Avatar

      Awesome handle. I just read that AM sold 43 cars in 1993. Was it just one model? Do you have a breakdown?

      1. P161911 Avatar

        You might find this interesting: http://www.productioncars.com/production-numbers/

  6. scroggzilla Avatar

    Nicely done, Phillip.

  7. MVEilenstein Avatar

    Great pictures, and a great review; thanks for sharing.
    It wasn't the best show they've ever put on, but it was still an excellent race weekend.

  8. Rover1 Avatar

    Just as what could only be described as a successful international marketing campaign, (this race series) starts to spread around the world;comes word that one of it's stars, the Ford Falcon is to be axed. Brought down by the 'Not invented here' syndrome of Ford USA and it's ensuing myopia. Contrast with General Motors Holden and the worldwide success of the SS/GTO/G8/Omega/Lumina/VXR8/Commodore and it's sister under the skin, the Camaro.

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      That rumor pops up every few months, and every few months Ford rolls its eyes again and says, "No, we still plan to produce the Falcon!". The problem is that there are so many sites out there that are repeating the rumour, it's easy as hell to find a hundred pieces of "supporting evidence".
      Here's the short version. I've spent a great deal of time, and had quite a few drinks, with some of the senior design engineers for Lincoln. They have their eyes firmly affixed on the next-generation (because there will be one) Falcon platform as a candidate for a flagship RWD full-size sedan. The goal is to develop a platform that is flexible enough to underpin the new Mustang, the Falcon, the new Lincoln flagship, and potentially a halo sports car to sit above the Mustang, within the Lincoln brand-line. What that does mean, however, is that the next Falcon will not be developed alone in Australia; it will be a World Car, as Ford wants everything in its lineup to become.

      1. Rover1 Avatar

        Well that is good news if it happens but it doesn't tie in with the press release from Ford http://corporate.ford.com/news-center/press-relea… and the front page news in every single newspaper in Australia and here in New Zealand over the last day.
        I certainly hope that the short version above does happen. It certainly makes the most sense of all the suggested outcomes and keeps the very well developed Falcon platforms I.P. which does of course include the necessary 4WD and diesel versions as well as a compact and cheap IRS .We have been told though that the Falcon name will be finished.

  9. PushrodRWD Avatar

    I enjoyed the races but I still felt a bit let down. The format was not interesting and the short track and short races were a bit boring, especially when I watched my recordings of the races when I got back home. I wrote it off as a “demonstration event” where we get to get a feel for them and they get a chance to try out something here. I was also a bit bummed that there was no (reasonable priced) team paraphernalia. The place was awesome, the drivers (from all of the series), their crews and the staff at COTA were all great. Hats off to all the Aussies that came over to visit us as well. I definitely need to get to Bathurst sometime.
    Big missed opportunity for GM too. Having the Chevrolet Racing propaganda trailer and not having one of the new SS cars! Having a production car and one of the NASCAR “versions” on display would have drawn lots of attention to the new (-ish for us) product. Sure it would have been a bit of competition for attention with Cadillac, but if would have attracted the Chevy crowd. On that subject GM needs to make a Chevy line parallel to the CTS line. Maybe a Chevelle SS Wagon, Sedan, and Coupe with an LS3 (LT1) and nice, but not schmancy, interior and a modern (not retro) exterior, would be cool. While I am on my delusional fantasy they need a Sportwagon version of the SS, with a manual transmission. I might even trade in my G8 and Z28 for one of those. Yeah in Perfect Blue and keep it badged as a Holden and under $40k… (the voice in my head is becoming more and more like Ren in Space Madness, while doing donuts in front of 300 Renaissance Ctr…. )

    1. phillipthomas25 Avatar

      This weekend was a learning experience. That's why I find races at COTA so interesting, they're not just struggling with normal setup issues, but they're establishing knowledge for a new and always-changing track. Even when series figure out the line, the grip surface changes every round.
      I don't think pre-production SS Chevrolets are ready,

      1. PushrodRWD Avatar

        The place is great and I have no doubt that next year will be better. The headliners should be a bit more exciting than the support races though.
        They have some pre-production cars. They have at least one that isn't done up as a Daytona pace car. They brought it to Daytona. Sure Daytona was a bigger audience but I would think that there would be more folks, proportionally, that would buy one at a V8 Supercars event. The V8 Supercars series is what made me interested in my G8 in the first place.
        <img src="http://www.newcarsrev.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/2014-Chevrolet-SS-Daytona-500.jpg"&gt;
        If the mixed the series and had a NASCAR SS, a Holden Commodore race car and the new SS all lined up it might connect the dots for folks that these are performance cars. I still have people that think the G8 is a big version of the G6 or a Pontiac badging of the Impala.
        <img src="http://www.speedwaymedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/2014-Chevy-SS-Daytona-500-053.jpg"&gt;

        1. phillipthomas25 Avatar

          Huh. Well maybe someone with GM marketing could answer. (Hopes this call goes to the gods of General Motors)

  10. Otto Nobetter Avatar
    Otto Nobetter

    V8SC is something "New" on this side of the Pacific, but of course has a huge following in it's native land.
    Just found this video-onboard with Jamie Whincup. Commentator is discussing the Driver Display-some good info(dont watch thru the windshield-keep your eyes on the display) I read somewhere that the driver can change the Brake Bias and Rollbar(swaybar) settings while he's doing 20 other things. V8SC-Come Back to the USA, PLEASE!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozOutbhDBKY

    1. phillipthomas25 Avatar

      Adjustable brake bias and sway bars are pretty standard racecar stuff at this level.