At the end of 2012, the landscape of Australian touring car racing changed as we know it. Since its inception in the mid-1990s, the V8 Supercars had remained an all-Australian battle between Holden and Ford – red vs blue, the oldest rivalry in the book. But perhaps in lieu of the financial instability of those two campaigners, with Ford ditching the Falcon in 2016 and Holden slated to go away altogether in 2017, the series opened its doors to the world in 2013, inviting in other manufacturers for the first time. After Nissan and Mercedes made their debuts last year, Volvo has jumped in this season – and thanks to Scott McLaughlin ‘giving it some jandal’ and claiming a spectacular 2nd at the opening round, the Swedish marque has made an instant impression.
That combined with Nissan’s consistent top-10s and Michael Caruso’s pole for the first race in the non-points Australian Grand Prix exhibition round proves one thing: you get what you give in V8 Supercars.
Nissan didn’t exactly hit the ground running last year and neither did AMG-Mercedes. But whereas Nissan steadily improved and became consistent visitors to the top-10 (and even grabbed a maiden race win through James Moffat at Winton), AMG-Mercedes struggled with results. Nothing so far this season has shaken the lingering belief that AMG’s lack of commitment to the V8s is to their ultimate detriment.
Mercedes are only a customer team for Erebus Racing – i.e. they let Erebus build Mercedes-badged race cars, give the odd bit of technical assistance, and that’s it. Nissan and Volvo, by contrast – as well as the front-running Holden teams and Ford Performance Racing – are full-on manufacturer outfits, with direct involvement from the factory. Obviously this costs more in time, money and R&D, but so far results are speaking for themselves.
Volvo has thrown themselves headfirst into their program, with the mighty Polestar Racing outfit – veterans for many years of Volvo’s factory touring car racing outfits – involved at every step of the way. Wisely, they also paired with a veteran team in Garry Rogers Motorsport, just as Nissan did with Kelly Racing. In hindsight it looks like Erebus Racing buying out ex-champion team Stone Brothers Racing and taking over the operation lock, stock and barrel was a mistake. Up until 2012, SBR was the only team really able to stick it to the Triple Eight/FPR duopoly on a consistent basis, so why not keep the elements that made that team so successful? Developing a brand-new car on a minimal budget with little to no assistance from the factory is enough of an uphill struggle – as they have found out.
So Nissan is putting a years worth of R&D into good practice and Volvo has watched with interest before jumping in. So what about other potential manufacturers?
Last June, senior figures at Jaguar sneered at the notion of their brand joining the V8 Supercars, despite offers from several teams. Senior marketing director David Blackhall called it ‘insane’ and asked, ‘I don’t know what it does for AMG to get flogged by a V8 Commodore every week’ (source: drive.com.au). The crux of his argument was simple: why should Jaguar risk their brand image, reputation and investment in a series where they are likely to be beaten by – in their eyes – crummy Holdens?
However, Blackhall also added ‘And Volvo will too, to be honest.’
That interview was June last year.
You might want to revise those comments, David.
And this is the thing. It will only become easier from here on in for other manufacturers to join. And if it’s easier to get up to speed, that means it will be easier for manufacturers to get success in a shorter space of time, therefore rewarding their investment quicker. Volvo watched from the sidelines, let Nissan make the mistakes and get up to speed, then jumped in. With every season that goes by, teams will have more data and knowledge. And with the Car of the Future platform being similar to the Next Generation Touring Car spec in BTCC, i.e. being fairly similar underneath to achieve parity, this all means that if Jaguar were to join the party now, it’s unlikely that they would be ‘flogged by a V8 Commodore every week’. Yes, Triple Eight are the dominant team right now, but that didn’t stop McLaughlin putting one over on reigning champion Whincup. Volvo and Nissan are proving that you get what you give in V8s – if you back a winning team and are prepared to invest enough work in R&D, you will be rewarded with a front-running car.
So come on Jaguar, time to reconsider? Or what about you Chrysler? I know you’ve been on the fence for a while…