Insight Dale Rodgers December 16, 2023 (Comments off) (298)

The A to Z of Supercars 2023

Dale Rodgers takes a deep dive into season 2023 with a comprehensive A-Z of everything Supercars.

Enjoy!


A – Adelaide 500.

The precinct was immaculate, the added features well thought out, and the concerts sensational. Having the likes of Richard Childress in the Erebus bunker, Dave Kindig and Kevin Schiele hosting the Kindig Custom Car Show bought a lot to the event. Oh, the 2 x 250 km races to close the season were also highly entertaining. In its second year since the hiatus, the crowds flocked to the parklands—a great way to finish 2023 and crown a new champion.

B – Bathurst

The event everyone looks forward to. Was it one of the classic 1000km races? Probably not, but it was made up for by watching the Gen3 Supercars attack Mount Panorama for the first time. Twitchy and clearly harder to drive than their predecessor, it was a showcase for the category.

C- Camaro

The winningest Gen3 car. Looked far more at ease with tyre life and race runs than its Blue Oval competitor. Dominated the season, and only in the final rounds, after substantial Mustang parity upgrades, did it look vulnerable. First Gen 3 Champion, but the final sixth-generation Camaro will come off the assembly line at the Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant in Michigan in January 2024. A Holden Commodore production problem raising its head again.

D – DJR

It is hard to believe that the most successful Ford team and the factory homologation team fell back into the pack in 2023. Was the workload for the team just too much? Was their on-track team performing at the very high levels of the past? The drivers seemed to struggle for much of the season, and tyre life was, like all Ford teams, a key issue. A win in Townsville was due to the extra set of fresh Dunlop’s in the #11 garage, but overall results were below average, and the team were beaten by Erebus, Triple Eight, Tickford and Brad Jones Racing. Both drivers will go around again in 2024, but the team need a big bounce back.

E – Erebus

We first saw Betty Klimenko back in 2011 with her GT team fielding Mercedes SLS AMG GT3s. The team was establishing itself in the emerging category when suddenly, at the end of 2012, it was announced she had purchased Stone Bros Racing and would introduce an AMG E63 into the Supercars world in 2013. So many thought this was an aberration, and it would soon disappear into the sunset. But just four years later, Betty and her team snared the Bathurst 1000 with David Reynolds and Luke Youlden, now Commodore mounted. The turning point was the decision to step back and let Barry Ryan, a tough, well-schooled racer, take the day-to-day running. In 2023, Erebus scooped the Supercars Teams Championship and won the Drivers’ Championship with Brodie Kostecki. E probably should be for ‘excellence.’   

F – Frosty

Team 18’s Mark Winterbottom delivered the first win in the team’s history at Darwin on a weekend when the smaller teams stepped up. Frosty was at his best, and the team’s Camaro seemed at home at Hidden Valley. In his fifth season with Team 18, this was a popular win, but Frosty did not trouble the podium again at any event during the year. Amazingly, it was his first-ever podium for Charlie Schwerkolt’s team.

G – Gen 3

A troubled birth. It was late to arrive and a rush beyond belief to get to Newcastle, but 25 shiny new Gen 3 cars did just that. The focus was on the cars this year as the drivers really took a back seat in marketing and promotion. Whilst there were more issues with this generation of Supercar than ever before, the consensus was that on track, they were a great spectacle. This was somewhat clouded by the fact that parity (see P) raged from early rounds, so much so that Ford Performance boss Mark Rushbrook was driven to comment in July.

“Am I frustrated with Supercars? Yes. Do we evaluate our future in Supercars? We evaluate our future in every series on a very regular basis, and we look for the ability to win races and championships.” Rushbrook noted. “What I will say about Supercars is … I said I am frustrated. But they are starting to make the changes. I wish they would have done it before the season started, but they are making changes now to try and improve the situation.”

Sabre rattling, maybe, but Ford did get the concessions and data sharing it was requesting.

H- Hidden Valley

Darwin in June is just the best place to be. The Darwin Triple Crown is one of the best events on the Championship calendar. A great race track always produces close racing, and the 2023 did not disappoint. Two ‘privateer’ winners in Mark Winterbottom and Jack Le Brocq made it a very special time for the pit lane. Plus, just when it looked like the Gen 3 Mustang might have hit its straps, race leader Cam Waters’ Monster Mustang went up in a ball of flames at the end of the main straight. And, of course, there is the Darwin Ski Club….

I – International

The field has been reduced to 24 Teams Racing Charters. Shuffling around Tickford’s downsizing allowed the Blanchard Racing Team to expand and Supercars to ‘park’ the 25th TRC. Why twenty-four, well it is the ideal number for fly-away events, according to those who know. Since RACE became the new owner of Supercars, international racing is firmly on the agenda. The Singapore Grand Prix was touted but squashed by the Singapore race organisers; a return to the Middle East is also under consideration. But where Supercars will eventually expand is anyone’s guess. Fan anger on social media is quite clear on this matter. New Zealand, however, is locked and loaded for 2024.  

J – Jones

Team owner at Brad Jones Racing, Brad has seen his squad once again have a roller-coaster season. But there were some very positive signs. As the only four-car squad to head into 2024, Jones was pleased with Andre Heimgartner’s performance. The Kiwi joined the team in 2022 and has stepped up as a true team leader. He finished the year in seventh overall, beating both DJR drivers, which adds some perspective to his performance. But Jones and his BJR team sometimes seem stretched with the two tail-enders in Macauley Jones and Jack Smith. There will be a change in 2024 with Smith stepping down, and only Heimgartner and Middy’s sponsored Bryce Fulwood confirmed. Of note for BJR, however, was their overall Supercar Teams Championship position of third outright. And that is only for the #8 and #14 cars. Beating the likes of Tickford, DJR, and WAU must be a nice Christmas present for Brad.       

K – Kostecki

The Brodie version. Had never won a Supercars race until 2023 and walked off with the Drivers’ Championship. A pretty impressive stat. Dominant driver and team for 2023 and a rare time when a privateer wins the Supercars Gold. Brodie is a 110% racer – he lives and breathes it, and this win is totally deserved.

L – Larko

Another stellar year from the world’s biggest Ford fan. Mixes insights with a dose of Oz humour and is often the star of the FOX Sports team. He humbly accepted the Supercars Media Award, saying, “This is very cool… if I put my hand on my heart, this one’s for the fans because they had my back a little while back.” He was, of course, ditched a few years back in one of the great Supercars mistakes. Thank God reason prevailed.

M – Mustang

Ford’s pony car was a great-looking beast compared to the out-of-proportion previous Supercar incarnation. It just did not perform as good as it looked in the first 75% of the season. Was this Ford’s collective fault? No. Ford Performance Racing, DJR and Herrod Engines are a pretty smart group of people and presented a car to the Supercars Technical Department who then set about ensuring parity between in and the GM Chev Camaro. Not for a moment is this an easy task, but it was clear very early on that the cars were not ‘equal’ or as equal as they could be under the Supercars VCAT aero homologation testing. By April, we had Centre of Gravity tests, and two triggers for aero and engine upgrades occurred later in the year. The Mustang looked a better horse to be on in the last two rounds, but it was a very frustrating and political year for the blue oval.

N – New Zealand

Supercars had been working hard on a return to New Zealand, and racing across the ditch is by far and away the most important ‘international’ market. Hampton Downs was an early favourite, but the circus will race in Taupo next April. The 3.2km track is located in the central region of the North Island and joins Pukekohe and Hamilton as hosts of the Australian series.

O – Officials

The key positions in the Supercars Championship consist of Race Director – James Taylor, Medical Delegate – Dr Carl Lee, Driving Standards Advisor – Craig Baird, Safety Car Driver –   Jason Routley and Media Manager – Paul Glover, to name but a few. All these people operate at a very high level and deliver a world-class series. In addition, there is a huge band of dedicated people behind these positions, as well as hundreds of volunteers. We do not go racing without this team and the wider Supercars family.

P – Parity

The most dreaded word in Supercars land, but this year, it was the word on everyone’s lips. There is no doubt that despite lengthy engine testing coupled with the Supercars Vehicle Aerodynamic Controlled Testing (VCAT), the nature of the tests just did not bring these two cars close enough in aero and engine performance. Arguments raged all season, and Ford was given two upgrades as ‘triggers’ came into play. Only towards the end of the season did the cars look equal, and that was on two road tracks.     

Q – Qualifying

The formats were very entertaining. F1 style knockouts, The Top 10 Shootouts, a TV winner, and at some tracks, the closeness of the grid was mind-blowing. At Symmons Plains – 0.66 of a second over twenty-five cars, even at Sandown, it was only 0.98. But although the grid was exceptionally close in qualifying, the race pace and tyre life between the two marques was telling. But the format is right.

R – Randle

Thomas Randle clearly likes South Australia. His performances at The Bend, start line crash in 2022 aside, have been first-class. And he put on another fine display at the Adelaide 500 with a podium on Saturday and Top 10 on Sunday. Randle hit his straps in 2023, and with a trimmed-down Tickford and a fast teammate, 2024 could be a breakthrough year. He is good with the media and has staunch support from Castrol. One to watch.  

S – Sandown 500

‘S’ is also for the smile that was on the faces of fans and teams alike as the iconic Sandown 500 returned to its rightful place as the precursor to Bathurst. Just how long we can see this event continue is anyone’s guess, but it must have full industry support whilst we have it. The fact it is not on free to air TV is a travesty. The 2023 chapter was another cracking race, with Triple Eight and Erebus duking it out until the final laps. Let’s hope we can eke out more!   

T – Tyres

Every category of motorsport is now heavily tyre-reliant, particularly in race conditions. Dunlop provides an outstanding service to Supercars in Australia, but all too often, we hear drivers and engineers banging on about lack of tyre life or their inability to press on due to having to conserve the rubber. Is the answer to reverse recent decisions and throw more tyres at the cars? Is it compound-related? Or are the cars now so aero-efficient that mechanical grip is compromised? The new Gen 3 cars looked more nervous, providing a better spectacle and rewarding drivers who understood how to manage their tyres. This will be interesting as the cars evolve in 2024.

U – Utes

SuperUtes. After such a lacklustre beginning, the SuperUtes bounced back into life with a new Chevrolet’s 6.2-litre LS3 engine, and a more aggressive look and track stance. Plus, grid sizes around the twenty mark were a good thing. It was sort of back to the future of the original Holden and Falcon battles with Super Utes climbing over each other, in the sand traps and on their side. Entertaining and a good comeback for the category.

V – van Gisbergen

He is the standout of the modern Supercars era. However, he clearly did not enjoy the level of previous years with the 2023 Gen3 Supercar. He lives the sport, and when not in the Red Bull Ampol Camaro, he is chasing time stages in NZ rallies, bashing around in a Sprintcar and, oh yeah, zipping across the Pacific and braining the NASCAR establishment with a win in his first-ever Cup Race in Chicago. He is an interesting character, shying away from the media and the sponsor side of the business, but the Shane we saw after winning in Chicago was a Shane everyone liked. Let’s hope we see a lot more of that as he leaves our shores for NASCAR.

W – Wind Tunnel

Finally, the Gen 3 Supercars are undertaking a full aero session in the Windshear Wind Tunnel Testing Facility in North Carolina. CEO Shane Howard said, “Supercars has never undertaken full-scale wind tunnel testing previously, however with the introduction of Gen3 has come the most significant change in the sport’s history. As a technical parity category, we strive to ensure that we can provide as much information as possible to teams that are now using more control components than ever.” 2024 will determine the success.

X – Xiberras

Peter Xiberras took a huge dive off a cliff a couple of years ago, scooping up the worst-performing outfit in Supercars – Team Sydney. He clearly had a plan, as well as the cash and a total commitment to succeed. A Top Fuel Dragster competitor, Xibeeras has ended his second full Supercars season with an improvement on 2022, but not yet where he believes he can get to. Staff changes are inevitable as teams grow, and Nulon Racing has seen more than its fair share. But that is no excuse from Xiberras. Speaking to the V8 Sleuth, he said he had seen progress.

“That progress is clear in the stats alone – in 2022, we enjoyed two top 10 Shootouts and (seven) top ten race finishes. In 2023, the Nulon Racing Camaros had no less than ten top 10 Shootout appearances and brought home fourteen top ten race finishes.” Xiberras commented.

Still, the drives finished 16th and 19th in the points, so the mountain is still to climb.

Y – Young Guns

Matt Payne, Broc Feeney, Thomas Randle and Will Brown all featured in the season’s results. And given the new champ is only 25 years old, the category’s future is very bright. Now is the time for Supercars to let Gen 3 take its course and throw marketing capital at promoting the young stars of the Championship. These guys all can win in the future, but the public must learn who they are.

Z – A Zak and a Zack

Two young stars showed their metal in the Super 2 Series. Zak Best took the ex-DJR Anderson Motorsport Mustang into the final round at Adelaide, leading the Super 2 points by a slender thirty points over ultimate winner Kai Allen. Whilst his Adelaide weekend fell apart with a penalty in Race 1, Best has done enough to show he is one of the new breed of Super 2 drivers knocking on the door of the main game. He has enjoyed three enduro campaigns with Tickford, so will be hoping to continue that journey. Namesake, well close to Zach Bates, comes from a rich motorsport heritage. Son of Rick and the nephew of multiple Australian champion Neal Bates, the nineteen-year-old has had a very solid rookie season in the WAU-run Commodore. Fifth place in his rookie year puts him in good stead for 2024.    

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