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The death of Holden has led to the demise of many things - from the Commodore nameplate to the iconic Lion badge. And now as the calendar turns into October, thoughts naturally turn to the Bathurst 1000, which raises the question; what happens to The Great Race without Holden?
Well, the minds at Supercars Australia (the governing body of the sport) have been busily working away ever since General Motors (GM) made the decision back in February. This week they unveiled their solution, a new rules package, dubbed ‘Gen 3’, that’s been designed to make the racing more exciting, cars cheaper to build and tempt more manufacturers into the sport to replace Holden, Nissan and Volvo, which have all come and gone this decade.
Supercars hasn’t revealed full technical specifications of the cars but has given a very clear indication of what we can expect. In basic terms, the V8 engines remain, downforce will be reduced by 200kg, weight will be cut by 100kg and the cars will be both 100mm wider and lower.
Plus, despite the carryover engines, Supercars says the chassis will be “hybrid ready” in an attempt to futureproof the sport amid the oncoming wave of electrified vehicles hitting showrooms in the next decade.
Crucially, Supercars has also worked to ensure that the cars will more closely resemble their road-going counterparts, after the controversial appearance of the current Ford Mustang. The bonnet, doors, roof and glass road and race cars must all be the same size under the Gen 3 rules.
“The Gen3 project will support the longevity of Supercars by increasing relevance to our fans and partners, reducing operating costs, and making the racing even fiercer,” explained Supercars CEO Sean Seamer.
“The cars will have a lot less downforce than the current car, making the racing more spectacular and putting more reliance on driver skill.”
One crucial new element of the Gen 3 rules is Supercars’ plan for a 'white label' V8 engine that it hopes will help reduce the cost of entry for new manufacturers.
So, will these new regulations open the sport up to new brands? Supercars is known to have been open to expanding the Ford/Holden rivalry for more than a decade, with Toyota, Kia, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all believed to have been targeted at various times – but, so far, without success.
The key change for Gen 3 is the reduction in cost which Supercars hopes reduces the barrier to entry for new brands. In fact, it’s believed the sport is no longer pursuing factory-supported teams but instead aiming for carmakers to give permission to use their model designs for racing versions.
The Supercars statement read: “Discussions to secure IP agreements with additional manufacturers are currently underway.”
Supercars wants to attract ‘hero models’, so the most likely targets will be the Kia Stinger, Toyota Supra and upcoming Nissan ‘400Z’ (based on the recently revealed Z Proto). So far none of those companies have publicly or privately demonstrated serious interest in joining the sport, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come if the right deal can be struck.
It’s worth noting that Toyota has deliberately not ruled out signing up, amid its recent push of exciting models and its high-performance Gazoo Racing brand, although that’s far from a commitment either.
In the meantime, Supercars has already secured a replacement for GM’s Holden brand… and it’s GM’s Chevrolet brand. The sport has secured the IP rights for the Chevrolet Camaro and preparations are already well underway to turn the American pony car into a race car in time for the 2022 season.
While it may seem an unusual move, given the Camaro isn’t on sale in Australia anymore and thus irrelevant to Australian buyers, GM Australia believes it can help launch the Chevrolet brand and its famous ‘bowtie’ badge into the local market, as part of the roll-out of GM Specialty Vehicles.
GMSV will sell both the Chevrolet Corvette and Silverado 1500 initially, with more Chevrolet products also likely down the track. interim managing director of General Motors Australia Kristian Aquilina, who oversaw Holden’s final years in Supercars, believes it’s important for the American brand to stay involved in the local racing scene after Holden is gone.
“The Camaro ZL1 Supercar will undoubtedly attract passion and excitement as well as showcase the Chevy bowtie that is integral to our new GM Specialty Vehicles business in Australia and New Zealand,” he explained.
It’s also worth noting that Chevrolet has given no indication the Camaro will be continued after 2023, so it’s probable that it could face a relatively short life as an Australian race car.
However, the deal with GMSV also opens the door for other GM products to take its place in future. For example, our recent reports suggest that Cadillac could enter the Australian market with the CT5-V Blackwing sports sedan, which would make an ideal on-track replacement for the Camaro.
With confirmation that it will have competition, at least from one brand, Ford Australia has reaffirmed its commitment to the sport with the Mustang.
As Ford Australia CEO Andrew Birkic said: “We’ve said before that Ford Performance exists to win races and series that matter, and the development of the Gen 3 rules is an opportunity to ensure that fans in Australia continue to enjoy a world-class Supercars series that delivers the spectacle and intense competition that has made it worth winning and, ultimately, great to watch.”
So, Bathurst fans can rest easy that the race’s future is secure for the time being.