What’s that you say? You don’t know about the Australian V8 Supercars Championship Series? And you call yourself a car guy.
The V8 Supercar Series, for those who aren’t familiar, is the premier Australian touring car series. Racing only with Australian-developed RWD V8 sedans, it features the current Holden VE Commodore (sold in North America as the Pontiac G8 GT), as well as the current (FG) and previous (BF) versions of the Ford Falcon. It is defined by aggressive, high-speed racing on short road courses, with talented drivers and a great deal of close-quarters overtaking. The cars use production car platforms with heavy modifications and unique engines and transmissions — the series requires 5.0L V8 engines and sequential gearboxes. It is further highlighted with excellent television coverage, with entertaining commentary from very knowledgeable hosts, and camera-work and editing worthy of an episode of Top Gear. The drivers are amiable, demonstrating great intelligence and humour, and show a great deal of respect for each other and for the interviewers who corner them in the pits. The interviewers, in return, are never afraid to ask the tough questions that have become so rare in televised sport: “Mark, you had a great start, but from there on your performance was terrible. Why did it seem like everyone on the field is faster than you today?”
In short, the V8 Supercar Series is everything NASCAR should be, but isn’t. And yours truly is hopelessly addicted to it.
The 2009 Season started this weekend, and fans were watching closely to see whether there would be a change from the end of the 2008 season. Last year, Jamie Whincup, driving a Ford Falcon for Team Vodaphone, was absolutely dominant through most of the season, taking the checkered flag in a vast majority of the races, and a top-ten finish in virtually every event. By the last few races, the only way for him to not win the overall championship was to rack up a string of DNF’s. While exciting for his fans, such overpowering dominance tended to detract from the excellent racing being displayed through the rest of the field.
For the 2009 season, Jamie Whincup debuted an all-new car, which led to a great deal of speculation that it would take a few rounds before his team managed to get all the bugs and wrinkles ironed out. That proved to be optimistic at best.
The season opened this weekend in Adelaide, Australia, with the Clipsal 500, and despite protestations that the car was not set up exactly the way he’d like, Whincup again showcased the skill of both himself and his team, posting the fastest time in qualifying, and walking away with victories in both Saturday’s Race One and Sunday’s Race Two, securing the maximum 300 championship points for the Round. Whincup’s closest rival, Garth Tander, again showed his impressive driving skill, but Whincup has been almost impossible to catch. One of the biggest factors remains the Team Vodaphone pit crew, who regularly gained Whincup and his teammate Lowndes as much as two seconds over their competitors last season. In this racing, two seconds could be several race positions.
If you haven’t already seen any of the V8 Supercars series, we strongly recommend you seek it out. It is carried occasionally on the SPEED channel in the US and Canada, and there are rumours it might also be available through fan-sites online. For ourselves, it will remain a major hindrance to having any kind of social life at all as we write off good portions of our Saturday afternoons by remaining glued to our TV sets.