At a time when economy and efficiency are buzzwords in motorsport, when Formula One is accelerating towards a greener future and an all-electric racing series – Formula E – is on the horizon, it will perhaps soon be a novelty to have motor racing brought to you by a good ol’ fuel guzzling, ear splitting V8 engine. It will become a guilty pleasure of which fans will be forced underground to watch on the television race cars burn fuel as quick as they burn rubber, watched in the basement like a seedy film.
In Australia however – never the most politically sympathetic of countries – V8 is quite literally the name of the game…
‘V8 Supercars’; an Aussie institution, a battle ground spanning the length and breadth of Australia with territories further afield has fuelled the passion of millions of proud Bruces and Sheilas since the series’ inaugural season in 1997. Before then, the hurly-burly V8 featured in the multi-class Australian Touring Car Championship before the offerings of the V8 powered Fords and Holdens proved popular enough to warrant a single-class series of their own.
Although for 2013 Ford and Holden have been joined by Mercedes and Nissan – proof that the series is going from strength to strength – the sub-plot of the V8 Supercars has always been the battle between the blue of Ford and the red of Holden. Fans of either treat the matter like religion and once a Holden fan, always a Holden fan. Drivers who change allegiance do so at their own risk.
Of those drivers, many have become national heroes; to be a V8 Supercar driver is to be a V8 Superstar. In recent years it’s been all about one man, Jamie Whincup: four championship wins in the last five years sees Whincup one title away from equalling the record of most titles – including those won when the V8s were part of the Australian Touring Car Championship – set by Ian Geoghegan, Dick Johnson and Mark Skaiffe. To do that Whincup must see off stiff competition, not only from his Holden-mounted team-mate Craig Lowndes – himself a three-time champion – but also from the Ford squad of Mark ‘Frosty’ Winterbottom and Will Davison, as well as the only other man to win a championship in the ‘Whincup era’, James Courtney.
Year on year as part of that championship campaign the undisputed highlight is the famed Bathurst 1000: 1000 kilometres, 161 laps, up, over and around Mount Panorama; tackling fearsome corners lined with concrete walls, the undulations of the mountains natural course and dodging rogue Kangaroos. It equates to one of the most spectacular scenes in motor racing and remarkably, despite the distance, victory in the last five Bathurst 1000s have been settled by less than a second! This year it was Mark Winterbottom’s turn to claim his first victory at ‘The Great Race’, holding off Jamie Whincup by just half a second.
Like the track itself, the Bathurst 1000 has had its ups and downs: the five consecutive photo-finishes have made the race a must-see but like so many of motorsport’s great races, Bathurst has had its dark days: Mike Burgmann became the first fatality of the 1000 in 1986 when his Holden Commodore struck a tyre barrier at 167mph. Similarly, in 1994, Don Watson crashed his Holden and was killed and as recently as 2006 Mark Porter was killed during the Friday morning support race.
In 1992 however, Mount Panorama claimed the life of Denny Hulme, the 1967 Formula One World Champion: although Hulme made only the slightest contact with the wall, the New Zealander was discovered to have suffered a heart attack at the wheel. Hulme was pronounced dead a Bathurst Hospital following a second heart attack and motor racing mourned the loss of a champion.
A colourful field is always present and with their large, powerful and thunderous engines delivering wheel-wrenching power the V8 Supercars perhaps cater for the sensory overload aspect of motor racing better than any other series in the world and it’s aided by the often animated and always passionate pundits who commentate on each race. The video below is a snapshot of a typical race finish with typically exuberant commentary…
The V8 Supercars continues to grow and as the series reaches new audiences worldwide, more and more fans are turning to the series to quench their thirst for thrilling motor racing. So as motorsport’s governing bodies look towards alternative energies and a greener future, and as the purists get twitchy and protective of their beloved fuel-guzzlers, look towards Australia for a reprieve, a guilty pleasure; the rebellious V8 Supercars are here to stay.