Blast from the Past – The Supercars tracks of yesteryear

In two weeks’ time the 2017 Supercars season will reach fever pitch as the championship comes down to the wire at the brand new Newcastle street circuit. The Newcastle circuit is undoubtedly going to prove to be one of the more picturesque racing locations on the circuit and a worthy replacement for the at times dull Sydney Olympic Park race. The Olympic Park location isn’t the first track in Supercars history to make way for a new and improved location, in this article we’ll take a look at some of the rounds that are no longer on the Supercars calendar.

Calder Park

Calder was staple on the ATCC and V8 Supercars throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and along with Sandown was one of two championship races within a stone's throw of Melbourne CBD. The Supercars utilised the ‘road’ circuit at the facility, bypassing the iconic Thunderdome, a feature which many feel could have added to the variety of racing on the Supercars calendar and potentially lead to a NASCAR style duel format of racing. Unfortunately racing ceased at the venue after the 2001 event when the racing surface and facilities were deemed not up to scratch. The circuit was also the scene of one of the biggest touring car crashes in recent memory when a young Craig Lowndes and his VT commodore went cartwheeling down the front straight after making contact with Steven Richards and Garth Tander.

Oran Park

Another iconic Australian racing circuit, Oran Park played host to battles from Brock and Moffat through to Ambrose and Skaife before closing down in 2008 to make way for a housing estate. A favourite of many drivers, the short and narrow circuit included one of the only ‘over-under’ bridges in Australian racing. Now unrecognisable to the average racing punter, the only remaining indicator of racing ever taking place on the site is the motorsport related street names.

Hamilton Street Circuit

Running between 2008 and 2012, the Hamilton 400 took the place of Pukekohe on the Supercars calendar and provided a happy hunting ground for 6 time series champion Jamie Whincup, who took 2 of the 5 race victories at the venue. The racing itself at the track was interesting enough, however bubbling away behind the scenes was a massive debate within the Hamilton City council when it was discovered the event had been operating at a significant loss in its final 2 years. Subsequently the event was relocated back to Pukekohe where it remains today as the Auckland SuperSprint.

Mallala

Mallala Motorsport Park flew the South Australian flag in the ATCC right up until 1999 when it was replaced on the calendar by the incoming Clipsal 500, which itself was also filling the void left by the Adelaide iteration of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. The track received mixed reviews from competitors with Dick Johnson openly criticizing the track’s lack of facilities and bumpy racing circuit; however such remarks were uncommon from Johnson who was renowned for being not much of a fan of any tracks outside of Queensland. On the other hand, Jim Richards suggested the tight track would even the competition up, ensuring close racing at a time when the RS5000 Sierra’s were dominating the competition. Racing at lower levels still takes place at the circuit; however with the passing of longtime owner Clem Smith earlier this year, the future of racing at the circuit is unclear.

With a number of other circuits coming and going over the years including trips to Bahrain, Texas and local circuits such as Amaroo Park, Lakeside and the Canberra Street Circuit the Supercars championship has spread its wings far and wide, we’re just scratching the surface!

Which former Supercars or ATCC circuit was your favourite? Which would you replace on the current calendar? Head over the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments below.

The Introduction of the V6 Twin Turbo to Supercars

Way back in 2014, it was announced that Supercars (formally V8 Supercars) were going to open up their rules starting in 2017 to allow cars other than 4 door sedans and engines other than 5 litre V8’s into the category. Dreams of Camaro’s, Mustang’s and GTR’s instantly overcame the Supercars fan base. Fast forward to the 2017 season and no teams or manufacturers had taken up the offer to run a new car in the category. We have however, received an insight in to the future of the category via the Red Bull Triple Eight Racing Team, who have been developing both their ZB Commodore body and more importantly the 3.6 litre Twin Turbo V6 engine.

With a reported 475kw, the new powerplant was manufactured in Pontiac, Michigan before being shipped to Triple Eight Racing for testing in their Sandman ride day car. And while we will only see the engine on track in select events in 2018, preparations are well underway with all three of Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen spinning laps in the Sandman. So it’s all systems go from a development side of things, but how do the general punters feel about the move?

Well, it’s fair to say the public’s opinion on the issue is all over the place. Triple Eight Racing recently released footage of the Sandman cutting laps around the Norwell Motorplex in Queensland and opened the floor for feedback from Supercars fans. Some think it’s absolute sacrilege that anything other than a big V8 will grace the starter at Bathurst, Sandown or Surfers Paradise. Others were pleasantly surprised by the unique sound provided by the boosted small capacity V6. I’m sure that the very Facebook comments section below this blog will provide a wide array of opinions and beliefs on the topic!

Alas, the V6 is on its way and you can’t help but wonder how it will stack up. Will it be a case of miscalculation, where the new option comes in and lays waste to the competition? Or will the engineers strike the perfect balance of power and controllability that ensures that the Supercars of the future are not all that different to years past? Time will tell.

Detractors will point to the Nissan Skyline’s of the early 90’s that were just about unstoppable at the hands of Mark Skaife and Jim Richards as to why mixing naturally aspirated engines and their force fed cousins is a recipe for disaster. They’ll also point to the fact that there won’t be a twin turbo production Commodore available to the general public as a reason for their lack of enthusiasm. But technology has come a long way in the last decade and it’s been quite some time since Supercars closely resembled any sort of production car. So in this writer’s humble opinion, providing the racing is still interesting, the crowds will flock and the modern day ‘Australian Touring Car Championship’ will live on.

What are your thoughts on the introduction of the twin turbocharged V6 to the Supercars championship? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook Page and let us know in the comments section below.

Aussie Cars in Computer Games

For many, racing video games are the opportunity to spin laps around the world’s most iconic tracks in cars they could only dream of owning. For others they want the opportunity to do burnouts throughout backstreets in a VS Commodore without having their pride and joy impounded. Fortunately for Australian gamers we’ve had and will continue to have the opportunity to do both! In this article we’ll take a look at some of the more popular video games that have featured Australian made cars over the years.

Dick Johnson V8 Challenge

The Dick Johnson V8 Challenge was the first mainstream, licensed game to feature V8 Supercars and was released in 1999 for PC. Features included four accurately modelled tracks and over 25 V8 Supercars making it quite an immersive experience for a solely Australian racing video game. While graphics don’t stack up well compared to today’s lofty standards, gameplay is impressive, providing a nice throwback to the racing of that era.

Need for Speed 3

Need for Speed 3 heralded the inclusion of the EL Ford Falcon, Ford Falcon GT and VT HSV GTS in the Need for Speed Series. It was a first for the series, as neither of the first 2 editions featured any Australian cars. By today’s standards graphics were average at best; however the game was a massive hit both in Australia and worldwide, with most key video game critics lauding the games ability to capture the intensity of car chases.

Gran Turismo Series

First making an appearance way back in 2002, the AU Falcon V8 Supercar of Glenn Seton and Neil Crompton made its way into Gran Turismo 3, a game which at the time revolutionised the racing genre on consoles. The car could be purchased for 1,500,000 in game credits or was awarded for victory in the Super Speedway Endurance Race. The first Australian car to feature in the ever-popular Gran Turismo series, the ‘Tickford Falcon XR8’ has since featured in all Gran Turismo titles alongside a host of other Australian race and production cars that have slowly been incorporated over the years. Featuring all the trademarks of V8 Supercars of the time, including noticeable over-steer as a result of the over-powered rear-wheel drive configuration, the AU was an accurate representation of touring car racing in Australia.

V8 Supercars 1, 2 and 3

Known as the Toca Racing series overseas, the V8 Supercar game took what Dick Johnson V8 Challenge started and supercharged it. By the time the third installation rolled around it featured 11 Australian V8 supercar tracks such as Mt Panorama, Eastern Creek and Surfers Paradise and the full V8 Supercar field as well as a host of international touring cars and tracks. Receiving positive reviews, the V8 Supercar Series stacked up well against gaming heavyweights Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsports.

Forza Horizon 3

Released in 2016, Forza Horizon 3 brought the fiercely popular series to Australian shores. An open world game, virtual versions of famous Australian cities and landmarks such as the Great Ocean Road, Byron Bay, Surfers Paradise and the Yarra Valley provide gamers with the perfect backdrop to race or cruise to their heart’s content. The car list is as extensive as you’d expect for a Forza title, and making appearances in the game are Australian classics such as the HQ Sandman, XY GTHO Phase III Falcon and VS GTSR as well as modern day rockets the HSV Maloo and FPV Pursuit Ute. Forza Horizon 3 is the most extensive gaming representation of Australian car culture and a must play for any automotive enthusiasts remotely interested in gaming.

Do you have fond memories of spending hours behind the screen spinning laps of Mt Panorama in an Aussie car, or perhaps you’ve enjoyed wreaking havoc on Australian roads in Forza Horizon 3? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know about your gaming experiences in the comment section below.

The BJR Transporter

Back in the 60s, if you went car racing, chances are you would fill your race car with everything you needed for the weekend. What you couldn’t fit would be strapped to the car somehow, before you hit the road and drove it and yourself to the race track to go racing. Oh how times have changed!

This week, we’re going to see how a modern professional V8 Supercar Race Team, and to be more precise, the Brad Jones Racing Team, moves their expensive, powerful and precious cargo around this huge country of ours to compete in the fiercely competitive series.

Team BOC’s "B-Double" transporter will typically travel about 50,000km per year. This amount of travel in this behemoth of a truck won’t get you much change from $100,000 in running costs alone.

Up front and pulling the total load of about 58 tonnes is the Freightliner Argosy prime mover. At $375,000 new, the Argosy needs to deliver and fortunately, it does in spades. It gives drivers all the creature comforts needed for long days on the road. The 110 mid roof cab has the lot. From the Ezyrider II high back air suspension driver’s seat with lumbar support, 51” double bed sleeper compartment and air adjustable tilt and telescopic steering column, to dual air conditioning, cruise control and a chrome and leather steering wheel. All this luxury sits over a 15L, 560HP engine and 18 speed manual gear box.

As impressive as the Freightliner Argosy prime mover may be, what it pulls is just as impressive. The two trailers are each split into two compartments. Trailer A is used for carrying the heavy equipment when on the move and transforms into the engineers briefing room and office when parked up for race meetings. Trailer B’s front section is used as the driver's area where they can store their helmets, driving suits and race gear. The mid-section is the workshop area and includes a lathe, vice and work benches and the two race cars travel nose to tail on ramps above the workshop area. The underbelly of the B trailer features 16 lockers loaded with spare gear boxes, diffs, jack stands, car set up equipment and consumables.

The entire outfit, worth about $1.5 million each, (and BJR run two!) is packed to the rafters with enough parts to completely rebuild the cars, including spare engines, gear boxes, diffs and every other body part. At a race and you need a spark plug? Have no fear. Each transporter carries ten boxes of them! How about a wheel? Well, each transporter has 64 spare wheels and tyres, just in case. Need some tools to change a tyre? Will 15 fully equipped tool boxes, along with gas canisters, air jacks and panel beating equipment help? An impressive setup I think you would agree. Next time you’re watching your favourite driver spraying champagne in celebration on the podium, now at least you’ll have more of an idea of how they got there. 

Behind The Wheel

Screaming down Conrod Straight at 300 kph in a 650 horsepower V8 Supercar is not the time you want to be reaching for the windscreen wipers, or anything for that matter. At those speeds, you want both hands firmly on the wheel, and this is the philosophy behind the modern day V8 Supercar steering wheel.

Many of us would be familiar with the personal controls incorporated into our steering wheels, although it wasn’t that long ago when the horn was its only additional feature. Nowadays, you can find cruise control, controls for music and maybe hands free phone functions. Step into the world of V8 Supercars, and it’s an entirely different ball game.

Allowing the driver to have both hands on the wheel while attending to vital tasks throughout a race is a huge leap forward in driver safety. Well over a dozen controls that would normally require a “hands off” approach can now be safely performed by the driver with just the flick of a finger.

Controls for the headlight, windscreen wipers and radio buttons are all fairly simple and within easy reach, but it’s the amazing array of race only controls that separates these V8 brutes from even the most modern day road cars. The pit switch for instance, which limits a drivers’ speed in pit lane. Or the cool suit, helmet fan and drink switches. Temperatures inside a V8 Supercar are stifling, often reaching over 50 degrees. Cool suits, helmet fans and driver hydration are essential and can all be controlled by the driver’s thumb to keep him as comfortable as possible.

Then there’s the controls for the mini dash display perched towards the top of this amazing piece of technology. Drivers need to be able to process and monitor huge amounts of information. From speed, gear selection, RPM, oil pressure and brake rotor temperature to lap times and G-forces, all this information and more is available to the driver via the steering wheel.

And finally, if that wasn’t enough, at the very top of this marvel of motorsport is a row of coloured lights, all displaying to the driver even more information on the performance of the car. Revs too high, the lights will tell him. Pit lane speed too low, the lights will tell him. Front left wheel starting to lock under brakes, the lights will tell him.

A lot to take on board when you’re covering over 80 metres per second, but not for the men that wrestle with these monsters at every race. Indeed, Will Davison says it “makes life a lot easier”.