The news that Nissan will enter V8 Supercars in 2013 with a four-car squad run by Kelly Racing was a surprise to all but a few in the know, particularly the size of the deal. The long-awaited third manufacturer breaks the hitherto sanctified Ford/Holden duopoly, something that had been unthinkable for diehard Holden and Ford fans until now.
And not too long ago that would have been unconscionable for Holden and Ford, too. Both manufacturers have rattled their sabres loudly whenever there was talk of an interloper treading on their coveted territory. ‘We’ve poured millions into V8s’ they would bleat. A third manufacturer would be getting a free ride on their investment and intellectual property, they would argue. Threats of walking away were usually enough to quieten things down.
But for years now, as economic conditions bit hard and sales of Falcon and Commodore models slumped, Ford and Holden have been winding back their support of V8 Supercar teams. Once, virtually all teams had some level of financial backing from manufacturers but these days only the elite and ‘factory’ teams get the major share of Holden and Ford’s shrunken war chests. And because it’s going to save them money, that’s one of the reasons why Holden has welcomed Nissan’s entry – albeit grudgingly (Holden wouldn’t even name Nissan in its ‘welcome’ press release, instead referring to them only as a ‘third manufacturer).
“Understandably, V8 Supercars has seen the need to alter its requirements to encourage more manufacturers into the category to keep it relevant,” said GM Holden chairman and managing director Mike Devereux.
“… Another manufacturer does not waiver our commitment; in fact we are excited about the challenge and it will add yet another chapter to our proud motorsport history. Holden is Australia’s car company and V8 Supercars will remain the quintessential Aussie motor racing series. We have the very best teams and the finest drivers, so we say – ‘Bring it on!’.”
And it will be on, but whether it is from the first race remains to be seen.
Kelly Racing, a new team – which has probably the most advanced race facility in the southern hemisphere – wasn’t getting financial support from Holden, despite the pedigree of its drivers and some good results in 2011. So it makes sense for them to jump the Holden ship to Nissan, despite the team’s canny commercial boss, former HSV/Holden Racing Team head John Crennan, adamantly saying the team would stick with Holden. Until now. Perhaps this Nissan move is a ‘thumbed nose’ to Holden for its lack of backing? Or a master stroke.
I was surprised that Nissan was the first manufacturer to put its hand up. I thought Chrysler, with its long muscle-car heritage and ballsy Hemi V8-powered road cars, was a more obvious fit than a high-tech, tuner-style car maker like Nissan, but it seems an announcement about the American car maker also joining the V8 gene pool with Garry Rogers Motorsport may be imminent.
But five manufacturers will be the maximum, stressed a beaming V8 Supercar supremo Tony Cochrane after what could turn out to be his biggest coup.
The reason Nissan (and Chrysler) can enter V8 Supercars now and not earlier is the cost-saving Car of The Future (COTF). It’s the category’s new technical blueprint for 2013 onwards under which teams finally do away with using road car body shells with roll cages welded in, in favour of panels hung on more high-tech identical space-frame chassis.
This means any car body that has the right dimensions (or close enough – the current Falcon and Commodore are shortened 100mm to fit on the mandated wheelbase) can be plonked on this new chassis. Engines are another thing. Holden and Ford will persist with 5.0-litre pushrod V8s, which may have to be de-tuned to be on par with Nissan’s sophisticated but smaller quad-cam V8.
Of course, the Nissan V8 Supercar – sounds funny, doesn’t it – will need to be homologated before it can grid up in 2013 and that means passing performance and aerodynamic tests to ensure parity with the Holdens and Fords, and that could get ugly.
You may remember that V8 Supercars was riven by parity arguments in the late ’90s and early noughties; a lot of bickering went on over airdams and wings and which brand had an advantage. Just getting four cars to the grid in time for 2013 will be a major technical achievement for Kelly Racing, something co-team owner/driver Todd Kelly acknowledged days after the big announcement. It’s not going to be all plain sailing for Nissan.
And then there’s the fans. The last time a Nissan did well in Australian touring car racing – the AWD Skyline dominance in the early ’90s – the more militant fans reacted rather unpleasantly. One of the aims of adding Nissan to the roster will be to garner a new generation of fans unfettered by old allegiances. I don’t know if it will sell Nissans, though – V8 Supercars hasn’t done much for Ford or Holden sales lately – but Nissan is obviously confident.
This whole thing is deja vu to me. In the late ’90s I edited the weekly motorsport paper Auto Action during an important time for the fledgling V8 Supercars series. Having seen off the threat from the 2.0-litre international Super Touring category (which included Nissan), V8 Supercars was in a rapid development phase under the rambunctious Cochrane and his shrewd group of managers. But even back then there were rumours of more manufacturers coming into V8s. Push-politicking by nefarious forces to bring Holden and Ford to heel? Maybe.
In 1999 (I think) based on good pitlane scuttlebutt and nods and winks, I briefed Auto Action artists to design a front cover with computer mock-ups of three potential new V8s: a Mitsubishi Magna, a Toyota Avalon and a Nissan Maxima. Okay, it was a slight beat-up, but they looked great and it created some controversy for a while. And we were 30 percent right – just 13 years too early.
Steve Nally is a freelance motoring writer and former editor of Australian motorsport weekly Auto Action.