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Chrysler announced its decision to leave Australia this week, at the same time it emerged the brand seriously considered taking on Holden and Ford in the Bathurst 1000.
First revealed by former V8 Supercar team owner Garry Rogers during an interview with the V8 Sleuth podcast, a Chrysler insider from the time has shed more light with CarsGuide on just how serious the discussions were back in 2012.
Leonore Fletcher was Fiat Chrysler Australia’s head of communications at the time and was closely involved in the discussions between the American car brand and the local racing team.
The Supercars series was introducing new regulations for the 2013 season, dubbed ‘Car of the Future’ which allowed more technical freedoms and abolished the restrictions on new brands entering the sport.
These new rules were appealing to Chrysler because it would have allowed it to promote its 300 sedan against its in-market rivals, the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon. Ms Fletcher said the launch of the 300 was held at the Phillip Island racetrack, which promoted a feeling within Chrysler that the car would be well-suited to a V8 Supercar program.
“There was a great deal of enthusiasm for it within the company,” Ms Fletcher told CarsGuide. “There was a lot of discussion about it.”
FCA was run by Clyde Campbell at the time, who was a big proponent of motorsport to promote the various brands. He was responsible for entering a trio of Fiat 500-based Abarth 695 hot hatches in the 2014 Bathurst 12-hour race.
Importantly though, the discussions about entering V8 Supercars weren’t strictly a local project, with FCA taking the idea to its direct superiors in China, as well as Chrysler’s global HQ in the USA.
It’s unclear exactly how far along Chrysler’s V8 Supercar plans progressed, with Ms Fletcher unable to reveal any commercial secrets from the time. However, it’s likely that the company’s American operations could have played a major role in ensuring the 300 SRT became a winner on the track.
Chrysler’s Mopar division has extensive experience with motorsport in NASCAR, sports cars, drag racing and other categories.
The sticking point, as with so many motor racing ideas, came down to money. Chrysler Australia couldn’t secure enough funding to enter the sport.
“Ultimately it came down to budget,” Ms Fletcher revealed.
While she wouldn’t reveal the planned budget, CarsGuide believes it was as much as $8 million, which would have been split across funding for Garry Rogers’ team and marketing and promotion around the program.
Chrysler did get involved in V8 Supercars, but only as the sport’s official safety car provider in 2013 and ‘14.
The return of Chrysler would have been a major boost for V8 Supercars, reviving the rivalry between the ‘Big Three’ brands from the 1970s. Back then the Chrysler-built Valiant Chargers raced against the Holden Torana and Ford Falcons at Bathurst and other tracks around the country.
The V8 Supercars’ Car of the Future roles did attract Nissan as a factory-backed team as well, while a Mercedes-AMG E63 model also hit the grid, but without any support from the German brand in Australia. However, all three of those models no longer compete, with just Ford Mustangs and Holden Commodores on the grid.
Supercars will introduce new regulations for the 2023 season, once again in the hope of attracting more brands, but at present only the Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro are set to race. However, the rules - dubbed ‘Gen3’ will allow other car makers to race V8-powered coupes if they want to join in the action.