Supercars: At The Dawn Of A New Era
Australia's Premier Motor Racing Series Finds Itself In A Holding Pattern.
Australia's premier motor racing series finds itself in something of a holding pattern as season 2021 plays out. On the track, Shane van Gisbergen is seemingly cruising to his second championship, such is the New Zealander’s domination of the season so far. The reigning Bathurst champ is the undisputed class of the field, with his closest challengers being Red Bull Ampol Racing teammate Jamie Whincup and Walkinshaw Andretti United spearhead Chaz Mostert. All three drive Holdens, in what was meant to be the local brand’s farewell year, before Chevrolet Camaros replace the Commodores. More on that in a moment.
Whincup, statistically the GOAT with seven championship wins under his belt, is on his farewell tour, having announced his retirement from full-time competition.
He’ll slip into the team principal’s role at RBAR – aka Triple Eight Race Engineering – at season’s end. Not that Whincup wants to talk about his retirement, the 38-year-old eager to avoid having “a funeral tour”.
The Ford challenge has been significantly weakened this year after three-time and reigning Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin headed stateside after a call-up to the crack Team Penske in the increasingly competitive IndyCar Series. A Blue Oval successor to McLaughlin is yet to emerge, with neither of the new boys at Dick Johnson’s team, Anton de Pasquale and Will Davison, nor Tickford Racing’s Cameron Waters, yet to assert their authority as undisputed new Mustang kingpin.
Truth be known, Supercars racing – formerly V8 Supercars – is really just going through the motions on track in 2021. It’s a different story behind the scenes, though, as the category plots an uncertain future and competitors argue technical specifications.
Supercars’ world was turned upside down on February 19, 2020 when General Motors announced it would retire the Holden brand from the Australian market by year’s end. Thus, season 2020 was the last featuring Commodores officially representing Holden.
Supercars racing – formerly V8 Supercars – is really just going through the motions on track in 2021
Come October 2020, van Gisbergen and Garth Tander gave Holden a 34th Great Race victory, bringing down the curtain on 52 years of official involvement in the Bathurst classic and touring car racing generally. That same season-closing weekend saw the launch of Supercars’ Gen3 rules, Chevrolet Camaro announced to replace Commodore for 2022 as the category moves to two-door coupes from four-door sedans. General Motors gave its blessing for Supercars teams to use a facsimile of the road-going Camaro bodywork draped over a new control chassis, although the company won’t fund teams.
Supercars worked hard to get Camaro over the line for 2022. Doing so was an existential mission, given that approximately two-thirds of its fanbase identify as Holden fans. It simply cannot afford for this core segment of its audience to drift away. Series chiefs are banking on Commodore diehards transferring their allegiance to a different subsidiary of the American giant, even though many Holden fans were blissfully ignorant of their beloved ‘local’ brand’s true US ownership.
Loud V8s and rear-wheel drive will remain the sport’s foundations, but with provision for electric-assisted hybrid power systems in the future to make it more market relevant and therefore attractive to new manufacturers. Supercars says the aim of Gen3 is to enhance the racing spectacle, make building and running racecars more affordable for the teams, and improve the visual appeal of the cars by making them look more like the road cars. The latter is to avoid the deformed look of the existing Mustang racer.
Just which new marques and models join, if any – will be fascinating to observe. At this stage it will just be Camaro versus Mustang when the new era begins in August 2022, six months later than originally planned. With several teams still arcing up about the cost involved in changing over to all-new machinery, a further delay, to 2023, remains is a distinct possibility.
While Supercars’ short-term future is assured, the medium to longer-term future is far less certain. Three decades of Holden versus Ford is drawing to a close.