The formula for tin-top magic


Not broken, not fixed - V8 Supercars provide classic thrills (pic alistair_35)

The ever entertaining V8 Supercars hit the sterile yet spectacular Abu Dhabi track a couple of weeks back to show other series how racing should be done. The closing laps of the second race were thrilling as Jason Bright tried valiantly to wrestle the lead from the champion James Courtney. Cue door banging, corner cutting, slicing and dicing, all played out to a soundtrack of thundering V8 power. Glorious. See the action for yourself here.

Meanwhile over in the Swedish Touring Car Championship they’ve been dithering over what rules to run in 2012. The land of the hardly-ever-rising-sun has eventually decided that NGTC, the rules package currently heading to the BTCC and WTCC, is the right direction for a series that is slowly gathering more talent and more momentum. Meanwhile Germany’s DTM and Japan’s Super GT are thrashing out a new formula together and they are eyeing the creation of a US touring car category associated with Grand Am, the endurance series that hangs gamely from the coat-tails of Nascar.

The Swedes have made a couple of u-turns over the adoption of NGTC for 2012. At first they wanted NGTC but with rear wheel drive for all, while the BTCC originally proposed a version of the rules that outlawed this traditional set up in favour of an entire grid of reasonably-priced cars driven from the front only. Screw you BMW!

Luckily the Brits saw sense and the cars will be true to the layout of their showroom counterparts, so rear wheel drive will be allowed and Gerry Marshall has stopped spinning in his grave.

The Swedes have followed and adopted this more agreeable version of NGTC, the formula that promises a cost of £100,000 per car and a power-to-grip ratio similar to the successful Super Tourers of the ’90s. There have still been voices of descent in Sweden with reigning champ Richard Göransson saying that he needs more power to his elbow, “If we are to introduce new regulations, I would like to see more spectacular and faster cars,” I like the cut of his gib, “during the nineties, when touring car racing was at its peak with Super Touring, it was not common (to see) a road car with 300 bhp. Today 300 bhp is common among road cars and a car with 500 bhp is something special in road cars. We need to have the very top end of cars when racing in the top level of racing, not cars that are slower than the cars of the road.”

So what we need is 500 bhp in cars that the public aspire to own and want to see thrashed. Cars like Mercedes, Audis, Beemers or Japanese-born Nurburgring munchers. Maybe Mr Göransson should start talking to fellow former Swedish champ Mattias Ekstrom about life in the DTM?

In Gran Turismo 5 you can enter your Lexus ISF or your BMW M3 into the DTM, just as it should be. The relevant organising bodies clearly got a Playstation for Christmas as they have finally realised that if they work together they can get all these star cars together, albeit in carbon-fibre sillohuette form rather than pillaging the forecourt. With the possibility of German, Japanese and even American touring cars all singing from the same spec sheet we could be in for a saloon-shaped treat come 2012. But can a purpose-built racer ever be considered a true touring car? I’m sure the Argentinians would say yes, their TC2000 series is a big draw using similar yet simpler rules, but many aficionados won’t stand for imitators when there are plenty of thrilling road cars to plunder.

The fortunes of all these touring car series have fluctuated; the WTCC entry list is underwhelming this year and not so long ago the DTM disappeared entirely. Of course the BTCC has seen driving etiquette plummet like shares in BP and its standing as an national series with international significance has waned slightly over the same period. Gone are the days when there was always a queue of drivers outside the stewards office, like seeing unruly school boys waiting for a thrashing by the headmaster. I’d wager that a few works efforts may have been perturbed at the prospect of all their investment being bundled into the gravel traps of Great Britain by Jason Plato without him getting so much as a detention after class. Rubbing is racing, I know that much, but punting is not passing. It seems slower production models make for more crash-bang-whallop while high-speed, high-tech carbon (fibre) copies of road cars can equal more processional racing and lessens the connection between winning on Sunday and selling on Monday.

So both sides of the touring car argument have their downsides. Which brings us back to the Aussie V8s. Production cars, rear wheel drive, muchos horses under the hood – the recipe sounds right. The current specs for the V8 Supercars has its roots in the old Group A that brought us the legends of the Sierra Cosworth and the BMW M3. Their first cousins twice removed settled in Australia and have made quite a name for themselves since. Unlike the other series mentioned there has barely been a wobble in the popularity of touring cars because it was never broke so nobody ever tried to fix it. Maybe these ambitious touring car series should take the V8 Supercar rulebook down to their local photocopiers and hand a few copies around?


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