The public address system booms out across the concrete jungle that is Sydney Olympic Park: “There’s more drama here than a whole series of Home & Away!” This is motorsport, Aussie style.
Suffering withdrawal symptoms not just from the end of the northern hemisphere’s circuit racing season but also from some proper-sounding, naturally-aspirated racing V8s, GRR has fled south to the sun for the final round of the Australian V8 Supercars series.
This is the NRMA 500 on a ‘street’ circuit fashioned out of access roads surrounding the huge stadium that takes centre stage on Olympic Park, 40 minutes west of Sydney and scene of so many Australian triumphs at the 2000 Olympics.
NRMA, known unkindly as Nothing Really Matters Anyway, is Down Under’s version of the AA. Apart from the traditional Holden versus Ford rivalry the weekend of racing (6-7 December 2014) promised a chance for Jamie Whincup to go into the record books as Australia’s most successful racing driver ever – and also for Sydney to suffer another apocalyptic late afternoon storm. Both were duly delivered.
The V8 Supercar Championship is the premier form of motor racing in Australia, and which likes to think of itself as the best touring car category in the world. Not sure about that, but what we are sure about is that Sydney Olympic Park is a long way from being a great motorsport venue. The concrete walls are high and spectator viewing poor. It’s a vast site and the fans struggle to fill it, so it’s no surprise that atmosphere suffers. It reminded me of a hot day in the NEC car parks in Birmingham.
The series is still primarily a Holden versus Ford battle (one of the most partisan motor sport rivalries anywhere in the world) even though these days Mercedes-AMG, Nissan and Volvo make up the numbers. ‘New Generation’ regs that came in last year are aimed at making it easier for more teams to take part with a greater variety of cars.
The latest V8 Supercars are cheaper to build and easier to repair, and they are lighter, safer and stronger, with a transaxle and independent rear suspension (!). Despite the different names and sedan body styles, all chassis are dimensionally identical. Most important, Aussie musclecar DNA – rear drive and front-mounted V8 – is and will remain a prerequisite. That’s great news if a tad ironic given that both locally-produced Commodore and Falcon V8s are faced with the axe in 2016.
‘New Generation’ might appear a misnomer to European eyes for cars that weigh 1400kg and use 5.0-litre naturally-aspirated V8s with around 635bhp at the back wheels. But the cars sound magnificent, and make a fine sight as they struggle to get all the torque down. And an even finer sight as, in best Aussie touring car traditions, they attack the corners two (or three) abreast, often with more wheels in the air than on the deck.
Before the storm hit, the racing was fast and furious, what one could see of it at least. Jamie Whincup in his Red Bull Racing Holden Commodore came home first on the Saturday but could only manage fourth on the Sunday, both races being red flagged when the deluge hit. It mattered little since the ‘Grand Commander’ had already sewn up the 2014 title.
With six V8 Supercar championships behind him Whincup is now one ahead of Dick Johnson, Mark Skaife and Ian Geoghegan, and, say the pundits, has a place in the Australian motor racing hall of fame likely to be his for some time, perhaps always.
Others in the championship? Shane van Gisbergen was second, with Mark Winterbottom third. Fabian Coulthard, DC’s cousin, finished the year in eighth spot.
You can see highlights of the final race here.
Post-race, we bumped into Richie Crampton, enjoying off-duty time in the paddock. His claim to fame? What about 0-329mph in 3.71 seconds. The second fastest top fuel dragster run over an eighth of a mile in history, Richie’s 10,000 horsepower run at the NHRA meet at Pomona a few weeks ago crowned a remarkable year that also saw him win the US Nats at Indianapolis in September. Not bad for his rookie year…
He is clearly a bloke in need of a ticket to the Festival of Speed. Come and give us a demo Richie? ‘I don’t know if I could but I would love to give it a shot. I am a huge fan of Goodwood.’
Photography: Mark Horsburgh, Bob Murray and V8 Supercars