Supercars – A Definition

V8 Supercars is a touring car racing category based in Australia and run as an International Series under Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) regulations. As well as enjoying popularity in Australia, it has a considerable following in New Zealand, and is steadily growing in popularity across the world where television coverage allows.

V8 Supercar events take place in all states of Australia, as well as rounds in the Northern Territory, New Zealand and Bahrain, with Abu Dhabi joining the calendar in 2010. V8 Supercars have drawn crowds of over 250,000 spectators. The 2007 season was held over 14 race weekends on various purpose-built racetracks and street circuits in the aforementioned countries. Race formats range from sprint races, with either a 100 km or 200 km race on Saturday and one 200 km race on Sunday or two; 250 km races over the weekend (Adelaide and Sydney), or endurance races such as Bathurst, which runs over a 1000 km race distance, and Phillip Island, which runs over 500 km.

The V8 Supercars themselves take as their basis either the Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore. Although they bear some resemblance to the production models outwardly, they undergo a high degree of modification to suit the motorsport application. They are strictly governed in all aspects of performance in an effort to keep all the drivers on an even footing to create closer, more exciting racing. Because of this, entire fields of 29 drivers are separated by just one second over qualifying laps at some events.

Historically, the Falcon and Commodore are the two most popular passenger cars in the Australian car market. Rivalry between the two makes is a major aspect of the sport’s appeal.

In January 1993 the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport replaced the existing Group 3A Touring Car category (formerly based on FIA Group A rules) with a new three-class Group 3A. This encompassed:

  • Class A for Australian-produced 5.0 litre V8 engined Fords and Holdens
  • Class B for 2.0 litre cars complying with FIA Class II Touring Car regulations
  • Class C, valid for 1993 only, for normally aspirated two-wheel drive cars complying with 1992 CAMS Group 3A Touring Car regulations.

Cars from all three classes would contest the Australian Touring Car Championship as well as non-championship Australian touring car events such as the Bathurst 1000; but for the purposes of race classification and points allocation, cars competed in two classes:

  1. over 2000cc
  2. up to 2000cc

Existing normally aspirated cars such as the BMW M3 could continue to compete under the Class C clause, unlike the turbocharged Ford Sierra and Nissan Skyline GT-R models which the new rules excluded from the category. However the M3 received few of the liberal concessions given to the new V8s and, with the Class C cars eligible for 1993 only, the German manufacturer’s attention switched to the 2.0 litre class for 1994.

From 1995 the 2.0 litre cars, now contesting their own series as Super Touring Cars, became ineligible for the Australian Touring Car Championship. They did not contest the endurance races at Sandown and Bathurst, leaving these open solely to the 5.0 litre Ford and Holden models.

The category acquired the moniker ‘V8 Supercars’ in 1997 after event-management company IMG won the rights to the series in 1997 after a bitter battle against CAMS and the ARDC, and led the championship on a rapid expansion. Network Ten began televising the series in the same year, taking over from Channel Seven. The Australian Vee Eight Supercar Company (AVESCO) was later formed to run the series directly and later became an independent organisation from its IMG origins.

AVESCO introduced carnival street-race V8 Supercar events such as the Clipsal 500 and strove to turn Australian touring car racing into a world-class product. The name “Shell Australian Touring Car Championship” was replaced by “Shell Championship Series”, now called the “V8 Supercar Championship Series”. In 2005 AVESCO changed its name to V8 Supercars Australia.

In the Group 3A / V8 Supercar category, from 1993 to 2008, Holden drivers have won nine Australian Touring Car Championships/Shell Championship Series/V8 Supercar Championship Series titles and Ford drivers have won seven.

The V8 Supercar
The regulations aim to balance the desire for technical competition and fast vehicles with a requirement to keep costs reasonable. Racing is close, and the cars bear some resemblance to production models. The recent application of “Project Blueprint” – introduced at the beginning of the 2003 season (where both makes of car were examined to ensure parity) the racing between Holden and Ford has become closer than ever (reducing the risk of a one make dominated series).

Unlike other forms of motorsport (such as NASCAR) where competitors build cars from space frame construction, V8 Supercars are still based on production road cars. Each V8 Supercar is based on a current-specification VE Commodore or FG Falcon production bodyshell, with an elaborate roll cage constructed into the shell from aircraft-grade, 20 mm thick tubing. In 2007 specifications both the Commodore and Falcon have adopted E-glass front mudguards in place of the production steel items, in order to save costs.

The VE Commodore was initially rejected from taking part in the series due to its wheelbase being longer and wider than the BF Falcon. For the model to be homologated, V8 Supercar granted the Commodore a custom fabricated bodyshell into which a limited number of production bodyshell panels are incorporated. As a result, the roofline is lower than production and the rear door is shorter such that externally the rear doors, roof and rear quarters all consist of specialised custom coachwork panels.

Similarly, the longer wheelbase of the FG Falcon (over the BF) requires a comparable custom-fabricated shorter body, and the FG is also shorted in the rear door and lowered in the roof line compared to the road going model.

A standard “aerodynamic package” of spoilers and wings, a front splitter/air dam and side skirts are supplied to the teams of each make. Testing is conducted so that in principle the two makes have similar aerodynamics. However the test is only conducted at one particular speed and with the cars set to the lowest downforce configuration, leaving room for controversy.

The minimum category weight is 1355 kg (without the driver)

A V8 Supercar must have a front-engine design and rear-wheel drive. Every car is powered by either a 5.0 L Ford “Windsor” SVO or 5.0 L Small Block Chevrolet race engine (depending on the make) which is capable of producing between 460 and 485 kW (620 — 650 bhp) of power, but generally quoted as a little over 450 kW (600 bhp) in race trim. Engines have pushrod actuated valves and electronic fuel injection. Both Ford and Holden engines are based on racing engines from their respective US parent companies. Engines are electronically restricted to 7,500 rpm.

Broadly speaking, the engines have a capacity of 5 litres, with 2 valves per cylinder. Compression ratio is regulated to 10.5:1. From the 2009 season onwards, cars run on E85 fuel consisting of 85% ethanol, which while reaping the benefits of a fuel largely made from a renewable resource has seen a marked increase in fuel consumption. EFI configuration is that of individual throttle bodies (albeit throttle actuation is linked/synchronised) and one injector per cylinder.

Engines typically produce approximately 50 less bhp when raced at the Bathurst 1000. This is done both to gain necessary engine longevity on the endurance race as well as to improve fuel efficiency, and moderate the number of potential refuelling stops. The advent of E85 fuel however has reduced the importance of fuel efficiency as a typical Bathurst stint has been reduced from approximatly 31-32 laps to 22-23.

Some common components
All cars in the category use identical spool differentials, brake packages and gearboxes. The category uses a 6-speed Hollinger gearbox (Australian made), in either the ‘H’ pattern or as of 2008, a sequential pattern. Differential ratios used throughout the season are 3.75:1, 3.5:1, 3.25:1 and 3.15:1. The 3.15:1 ratio differential was introduced in 2005 to be used at Bathurst – cars with this ratio can now exceed 300 km/h on Conrod Straight (this has yet to be demonstrated, although Perkins Engineering claims to have exceeded this speed multiple times in the 2005 event). The theoretical maximum speed is 306 km/h at 7,500 rpm. All cars have a 120 litre fuel tank, the previous ‘Bathurst Tank’ was a 36 Gallon (159 L) tank.

Basic front-suspension configuration is double wishbone (made compulsory for both makes through Project Blueprint), whilst rear suspension is a “live axle” design, using 4 longitudinal links and Watt’s linkage for lateral location. Both suspension systems are similar to those fitted to the EL Falcon.

Front- and rear-brake disks have to be made out of ferrous material (steel brakes as opposed to carbon brakes). Maximal dimensions for each disk are 376×35.56 mm (diameter x thickness).

A Dunlop “control tyre” is supplied to all teams. Throughout the year, there are restrictions on the number of testing days (6 per year), along with the number of tyres used during those days. For race meetings, teams are allocated a set number of tyres for the entire weekend, with the number available for each race depending on the type of race (sprint or endurance).

The series adopted a softer, higher performance “sprint tyre” during the 2009 season — although it was not used during every race meeting. The idea is to allow every driver to use one set of those softer tyres, that can be used at the team’s own discretion. A source of controversy is that the soft tyre set is allocated per weekend, meaning each driver has to chose which race they wish to maximise their performance, with the other race potentially sacrificed. It has added an element of contrivance to race results with front running competitors languishing downfield through no fault of their own, and allowing midfield drivers to win races.

Reported to be approximately AU$600,000 per car and AU$130,000 per engine. Teams spend up to AU$10 million per year running their two-car teams. TEGA introduced a salary cap of AU$6.75 million in order to keep costs down in 2007, called the Total Racing Expenditure Cap (TREC). It was scrapped after only one season.

Three separate V8 Supercar series exist. The primary series is the “Level One” championship called the ‘V8 Supercar Championship Series’. A “Level Two” championship, referred to as the Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series, was originally intended for privateers who formerly raced in the Level One series but have been left behind by increasing pace of the professional teams, however, some “Level One” teams run secondary teams in the Fujitsu series to “blood” new drivers or as a secondary income stream for drivers without a team of their own. The only way to compete in the “main game” is to purchase a licence from an existing team (TEGA are no longer involved in creating new licences for V8 teams).

A third series for older V8 Supercars, the Shannons V8 Touring Car National Series, was held for the first time in 2008. Running on the programme of the Shannons Nationals Motor Racing Championships, V8 Supercar Australia have no involvement in the running of this series.

Talk is underway with the Supercar Championship authorities to have a circuit tournament set up in Asia. Predominantly in China where the sport has gained a boom in popularity after a Supercar race featured in Asia.