The news today that Shane van Gisbergen is quitting the Australian V8 scene and returning home is obviously rocking the V8 Fans to the core. But below is a piece I wrote two weeks ago for the NZ Motor Racing Weekly email letter. I believe the glory days are over — and not just because Tony Cochrane is no longer involved.
I think the name V8 SUPERCARS is barfbag territory because there’s nothing “supercar” about a field of highly modified Commodores and Falcons. But there is no denying that this Australian saloon car racing category has been one of the most successful classes of racing in the global history of the sport. If there were doubters when the Aussies decided to drop capacity classes and restrict their leading saloon car class to just two makes, then we have forgotten in the absolute celebration of the success of the racing.
But now, changes are on the way. Next year sees the “Car of the Future” and the introduction of Nissan and Mercedes-Benz through AMG.
Why the need for change when, on the surface, everything seems so hunky dory?
It’s the state of the global car market that’s driven these changes. For the past decade the skids have been slowly but surely slipped under Commodore and Falcon. By global standards the market for these two cars is too small to justify their existence and what market there is has been shrinking. If it wasn’t for heavy government subsidies, it is doubtful that we would have a Commodore or Falcon today.
But while there are economies of scale, there is also a shrinking market for large cars. The Falcon is basically a dinosaur tarted up with fresh scales — it’s an old car, there will never be another all new Falcon, the end is nigh and been clearly signalled. Commodore is a newer design and has some shelf life left yet — but sales have sagged terrifyingly — particularly for Falcon.
Compounding all of this is that the marketing experts have started to sniff a touch of staleness about the racing category and there is a need to act sooner, rather than later.
So with the end of Falcon being signalled and a question mark over the longevity of Commodore, how do you retain something like the basics of a successful formula, but freshen it up?
The Commodore/Falcon arrangement worked so well because these are real cars — and you have the basic tribal affiliation of the fans. This is the automotive equivalent of Celtic versus Rangers. But other manufacturers don’t have “real cars”, so you change the regulations to allow other manufacturers to create cars — as they have done with NASCAR.
For more than a decade Australian V8 Supercars has traded heavily on the base emotions of the Ford versus Holden loyalty — it’s not sophisticated, but it has been enormously successful.
So, how is the army of Ford and Holden fans going to react to the introduction of, at least, Nissan and Mercedes/AMG? Ask Jim Richards and remember the reaction when he won Bathurst in a Nissan! Ford and Holden fans turned out to be a bunch of arseholes. Do you think they have changed? Are they going to be happy if Nissan and Merc’/AMG win races from next season?
Of course if the races are dominated by Ford and Holden they will be happy — but will Nissan and Merc’/AMG continue to back losers? Unlikely.
And then what happens when the Falcon disappears? Will the fans be happy with a one-make series? Of course not.
Nothing stays the same forever — the Aussie V8 Supercar (barf) Series has been incredibly successful, but change is about to happen and success cannot be guaranteed.