Inside Line

Ford and GM nameplates synonymous with V8s are as much the future of Supercars as they were its inspiration

Mark Fogarty

HAT DO you call the game played in the AFL? Aussie Rules, right? And the round-ball version of football?

Soccer, of course. In the same way, Supercars is synonymous with V8s. Well, when it comes to names, all this is not the case according to the governing bodies of Aussie Rules, soccer and V8 racing. Officially, three of the nation’s most popular sports don’t recognise their popular names.

Many years ago, the AFL rebranded the game known for decades as Australian Rules Football, changing it to Australian Football. More recently, the FFA shunned soccer in favour of its international descriptor, football. And only last year, V8 Supercars became simply Supercars in anticipation of the Gen2 rules.

Supercars wanted to appear more market relevant.

Big fail. Everyone still calls them ‘the V8s,’ just as Aussie Rules and soccer remain entrenched in the vernacular. To the fans, the media and especially the wider public, these traditional tags endure because they encapsulate each sport’s distinctiveness.

Dropping the V8 label diminishes Supercars’ identity. V8 sums up the tradition and emotional appeal of the category, which is why it is such a useful shorthand reference. From a marketing perspective alone, V8 Supercars is far more evocative and V8s is a catch phrase understood by all. V8 engines wrapped in recognisable body shapes is the racing’s USP, so why downplay its primary appeal? And the fact is, until next year, there are only V8s on the grid. Supercars bosses maintain that removing V8 from the title is part of the Gen2 plan to attract new manufacturers, removing the over-arching stigma of ‘old tech’ bent eights.

But while encouraging twin-turbo V6s, it’s acknowledged that the traditional 5.0-litre V8s will remain the most prevalent powerplants through the life of the current regulations until the end of 2021. The new-look twin-turbo V6 Commodore will join the field next year, although Triple Eight’s trio may be on their own as latest indications are that the other Holden teams will stick with the proven VF V8 package in 2018. Nissan is evaluating W its future in Supercars from 2019, with a switch to a twin-turbo V6 in a new sedan shape likely if it continues.

And that, at this stage, is a very big ‘if’. Just as there’s no guarantee Holden will stay beyond its threeyear commitment to the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.

So, in terms of the foreseeable future, with no new manufacturers on the horizon, V8-powered models are set to predominate – or at least make up a sizeable chunk of the field – for a while yet. If necessary, the current V8 Commodores, Falcons and Nissans can soldier on until the rules change. If DJR Team Penske and Prodrive Racing Australia can finally gain Ford approval, if not financial support, to develop a Mustang Supercars racer – which now won’t happen until 2019 at the earliest – it would still use the tried-and-true V8.

Also, we’ve yet to hear what Holden’s turbo V6 sounds like. If it’s aurally inferior – which it almost certainly will be – then the fans may vote with their feet and their remote controls against a move away from V8s.

All in all, it makes no sense to take the V8 out of Supercars – just as it is a folly to neglect the Ford versus Holden rivalry. The sport’s rulers have under-estimated how pervasive – and popular – red against blue still is. Commodore vs Falcon remains, numerically as well as emotionally, the foundation of the following. Despite the radical shift in the car market, the battle between V8 Fords and Holdens continues to be the main attraction. Enthusiasts applauded the addition of Nissans, Mercedes-AMGs and Volvos, but for the mainstream audience, it’s still all about blue vs red. It’s tribal, like ingrained footy team rivalries.

The Mercs and Volvos came and went – and in the wider world, nobody lamented their demise. The irony is that the fierce battle so far this season is between a dead car and a dying car. V8 Falcon vs V8 Commodore still excites diehard fans and casual followers alike, even though the Aussie family Ford has ceased production and the homegrown Holden is doomed come October.

What that tells you is Ford and GM nameplates synonymous with V8s are as much the future of Supercars as they were its inspiration. It’s time to rethink the rules to encourage costeffective V8 racers that resemble affordable, sporty road cars without relying on manufacturer backing. Those days are gone.

Supercars is about entertainment, not market relevance. Just give the people what they want. M