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Is V8 Supercars headed for a crash? Why the future of Australia's biggest motorsport category looks uncertain | Opinion

The future of Supercars looks uncertain after a turbulent 2023 season.

Aside from newly crowned champion Brodie Kostecki, there aren’t likely to be too many people that will look back on the 2023 Supercar season with true happiness. Instead of being the exciting start of a new era, this year’s championship turned into a stressful, complicated and, at times, ugly mess of complaints around the new Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang.

It got so bad that during the Bathurst 1000, the biggest race of the year with the most eyeballs on it, the sport was seemingly blindsided by reports Ford was considering quitting the category. This was despite Ford management - both in Australia and the US - loudly and repeatedly questioning the equality of the new cars.

It’s symptomatic of the ‘bubble’ the sport exists in, with a group of competitive teams and individuals all focused on the singular goal of winning the next race and rarely (if ever) stopping to look up and see what’s going on around them. Because if they had they would have seen frustrations from the one car company with a significant financial investment in the sport was becoming incredibly frustrated.

But that was only part of the story, and certainly distilling the 2023 season to ‘Ford whinged because it wasn’t winning’ misses the larger and more serious point.

From bad to worse

Even from the first race of the season the cracks were starting to emerge. Defending champion Shane van Gisbergen was publicly slammed for criticising the new ‘Gen 3’ cars by Mark Skaife, who awkwardly is both a board member in the sport’s management as well as its most prominent television commentator - which creates an obvious conflict of interest.

It resulted in van Gisbergen refusing to talk to the media after winning the race the next day, which set the tone for the rest of the season.

It quickly emerged that the Ford was not as competitive as the Chevrolet on the track. Not by a large margin, but in a sport decided by fractions of seconds, a small difference can quickly snowball into a big one.

Seemingly unwilling to get into a regular series of parity adjustments between the cars, as it had done previously when the former Mustang was faster than the last Holden Commodore. In management’s defence, it was right to take a more measured and scientific approach this time around. But eventually the tide began to turn and by Bathurst in October, Fords had only won two races - one of which was after the first-across-the-line Chevrolet was disqualified.

Aside from newly crowned champion Brodie Kostecki, there aren’t likely to be too many people that will look back on the 2023 Supercar season with true happiness.

When I wrote about this topic in October, revealing the level of frustration within Ford, it was dismissed by many as the ‘blue side’ whinging that the Chevrolet was better.

Of course they were complaining! Who wants to spend millions of dollars to get beaten by a rival spending a fraction of the money?! In fact, the Chevrolet Camaro program was overseen and primarily funded by Supercars itself, with General Motors providing only limited support.

Ford is interested in selling Rangers, Everests and Mustangs, not Silverados and Corvettes, so getting publicly beaten by Chevrolet is not a good business position. Especially when all the data Ford was seeing was showing a deficit to their on-track rival.

Justifying Ford’s position and making the sport look bad for dragging its feet, when another parity adjustment was made post-Bathurst Ford won the next two races.

The debate isn’t whether Ford is whinging or not, it’s what is Supercars prepared to do to keep the Blue Oval involved in the sport? Clearly, a lot. A Mustang and Camaro will be shipped to the USA after the season for the sport’s first ever official wind tunnel testing and further analysis to even up the two cars.

Where to from here?

For more than 60 years the Australian touring car championship (what Supercars was previously known as) has been the test bed for the cars Australians buy. Or at least that was the original intention, but it’s something the sport has drifted away from more and more in recent years.

The decision to replace the Holden Commodore with the Chevrolet Camaro made sense from the point-of-view of retaining some level of presence from General Motors. However, the Camaro is not only not sold in Australia, but North American production of the car will cease in January 2024.

It undercuts the sport’s insistence that the ‘Gen 3’ rules were about maintaining a production relevancy, with the Camaro having the same amount of local relevance as the Commodore. In fact, the only thing more relevant about the Camaro than the Commodore is that the Chevrolet brand is active in the Australian market, albeit selling Silverado pick-ups and Corvette sports cars.

Supercars seemingly learnt some hard lessons in 2023 and is making progress to keep Ford happy and involved in the sport.

In the short-term there’s nothing that can be done. Not only is there no obvious alternative (either the Silverado or Corvette would make an appropriate Supercar entry), but millions of dollars have been invested in developing the Camaro for racing in Supercars and scrapping them is simply not an option.

The other issue is Supercars has seemingly dropped off the radar of most other car brands. Nissan has come and gone, burnt by the sport’s internal politics. Volvo was a short-term project by a motivated senior executive. Mercedes was never officially involved. Lexus considered it but never committed. Then there’s the likes of Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, MG and Mitsubishi which are popular brands but none of which have a suitable road car that can be converted to racing.

Even if they were interested in racing, the obvious dissatisfaction from Ford, a brand that has been loyal to the sport for decades, is probably a turn-off.

Supercars seemingly learnt some hard lessons in 2023 and is making progress to keep Ford happy and involved in the sport. There are still some big questions to answer if the sport is to thrive in the future, but for 2024 the goal should be an exciting season of racing with the focus on the track action and not the off-track politics and drama.

Stephen Ottley
Contributing Journalist
Steve has been obsessed with all things automotive for as long as he can remember. Literally, his earliest memory is of a car. Having amassed an enviable Hot Wheels and...
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