How the V8 Supercars Championship Series Works

Shane Van Gisbergen drives the #9 SP Tools Racing Ford during qualifying for round nine of the V8 Supercar Championship Series at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on Sept. 17, 2011 in Phillip Island, Australia. See pictures of NASCAR.
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If you haven't heard of V8 Supercars, or if you think they're just a type of car with a V-8 engine, it's probably because you don't live in Australia -- or New Zealand or Abu Dhabi or one of the small but growing number of countries where V8 Supercar racing has become one of the hottest motorsports since, well, NASCAR in the U.S. Like NASCAR, V8 Supercar races use modified versions of actual production automobiles, in this case the Holden Commodore and the Australian version of the Ford Falcon, to even the advantage between contenders in grueling races that can run several hours and hundreds of miles in length. Although there are several racing series involving V8 Supercars, the largest and most popular is the V8 Supercars Championship Series. These races are held as part of multiple events -- 15 in 2012 -- and take place at a number of tracks, including events in every state in Australia.

V8 Supercars are recognized by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) as an International Championship series (as opposed to a National Championship series). For an international championship, though, the V8 Supercars Championship series has been largely isolated to a single part of the world: Australia and the Middle East. This will change in 2013, though, when the V8 Supercars Championship Series comes to the United States -- specifically, to the new Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, Texas, where the races will continue to be run for at least the next five years.

The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) is also known for overseeing Formula One racing, which includes the Grand Prix series of events. If you think of V8 Supercars as the NASCAR of Formula One Races, you're not far off the mark, which would make the V8 Supercars Championship series the Grand Prix of stock car races. As with NASCAR, the "stock" cars used in V8 Supercar racing are customized, but there are strict rules for that customization, stricter even than those for NASCAR. The idea is that the advantage goes to the best driver, not to the most expensively built car, and the rules for customizing the cars guarantee that no one car or make of car will dominate the event. The engines, the body, the weight, the suspension, the tires, the brakes -- all are tightly regulated by the V8 Supercar Project Blueprint.

In the following pages we'll show you how V8 Supercars got started, how the Championship Series works and when it will be arriving at a major racetrack in the United States.

A History of V8 Supercars

Greg Murphy drives the #11 Pepsi Max Crew Holden during the Bathurst 1000, which is round 10 of the V8 Supercars Championship Series at Mount Panorama on Oct. 9, 2011 in Bathurst, Australia.
Greg Murphy drives the #11 Pepsi Max Crew Holden during the Bathurst 1000, which is round 10 of the V8 Supercars Championship Series at Mount Panorama on Oct. 9, 2011 in Bathurst, Australia.
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The history of V8 Supercars goes back to 1960, when it was known as the Australian Touring Car Championship. Until 1968, it was a single race, not a series. The first was held on the Gnoo Blas circuit in Orange, New South Wales, and the winning driver was David McKay, who went on to become a racing journalist for the Australian Daily Telegraph. The car he drove in the winning race was a Jaguar Mark I. Many different types of cars have won the Australian Touring Car Championship over the years, but in 1995 the rules were changed to specify that only two makes of cars were allowed: the Holden Commodore, a General Motors car made exclusively in Australia, and the Ford Falcon. (Although the Falcon is made in the United States too, the version used in V8 Supercars is the Australian model.)

Why the Commodore and the Falcon? Part of the reason may be that these muscular 8-cylinder vehicles are the two most popular passenger cars in Australia. They're particularly popular as police cars and taxicabs, because of their durability and powerful engines. And, on the Touring Car circuit, they've gained quite a reputation as race cars.

In 1997, the Australian Vee Eight Supercar Company (AVESCO) was created to run the series and find ways to expand its popularity. One of these, in 1999, was to change the name of the series to V8 Supercars. Interest in the sport also began to spread and races began to be held in other countries, particularly in the Middle East. Future hosts of V8 Supercars are expected to be South Africa, India, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong and the U.S.

There are several key events in the V8 Supercar Championship series. These include the Bathurst 1000, held every October on the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, New South Wales; the Clipsal 500 held on the Adelaide Street Circuit in Adelaide in March; the Phillip Island 500K held at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Victoria in September; and the Sydney Telstra 500 at Sydney's Olympic Park, which is the grand finale event of the season, held in December. The Sydney Telstra 500 is the newest of the Australian V8 Supercar events.

But what about the Supercars themselves? We know that they have to be either Holden Commodore or Ford Falcon models, but what else does it take for a car to qualify as a V8 Supercar? There are some pretty strict rules. We'll look at them on the next page.

The Making of a V8 Supercar

Jamie Whincup drives the #88 Team Vodafone Holden during practice for the Bathurst 1000, which is round 10 of the V8 Supercars Championship Series at Mount Panorama on Oct. 8, 2011 in Bathurst, Australia.
Jamie Whincup drives the #88 Team Vodafone Holden during practice for the Bathurst 1000, which is round 10 of the V8 Supercars Championship Series at Mount Panorama on Oct. 8, 2011 in Bathurst, Australia.
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Starting in 1995, it was decided that V8 Supercar racing would be restricted to two models of car, the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon, both of them Australian-built models. But these aren't the out-of-factory models. They're customized for racing. However, there are very strict rules for how the cars can be customized. The intent behind these rules is simple. V8 Supercar racing is meant to be affordable, so that drivers and their sponsors don't have to spend millions of dollars on custom-designed state-of-the-art race cars. And V8 Supercar racing emphasizes the drivers, not the cars, so the cars need to be as standardized as possible to keep the playing field level. It's how the car is driven that counts, not how it's built.

In 2003, Project Blueprint was introduced to V8 Supercar racing. Project Blueprint lay down certain rules that were intended to keep the races as close as possible, so that the cars would have roughly the same racing capabilities. Here are some of the key restrictions imposed by Project Blueprint:

  • The Body: In the racing world, it is common to build the body of a car based on space-frame construction, in which a series of struts are laid out in a geometric pattern based on triangular shapes. This keeps the bodies of the cars rigid but light. (Space-frame construction is used in buildings as well as in vehicles.) Space-frame construction is not typically used in production models, however, and is not allowed in V8 Supercars, which are based on standard Commodore and Falcon bodyshells.
  • Engine: V8 Supercars must have a front engine with rear-wheel drive. It should be a Ford or Chevy 5-liter engine capable of producing between 620 and 650 horsepower and with a compression ratio of 10 to 1.
  • Aerodynamics: The aerodynamics packages used on V8 Supercars must all be similar, using the same types of spoilers, air dam on the front and side skirts.
  • Brakes: Brakes are steel brakes as opposed to carbon brakes.
  • Suspension: The front suspension uses a double-wishbone design while the rear is a solid axle suspension.
  • Tires: Driving teams are allowed a set number of tires for each race, with one set allowed to be of a softer construction than the Dunlop control tire used as a standard for the vehicles.
  • Price: So how much can the V8 Supercar teams spend on their vehicles? Exact figures are not available, but are estimated at around $600,000 per car, with $130,000 going to the engine. V8 Supercar teams use two cars and keeping these cars in running order for an entire championship season can cost as much as $10 million. So while V8 Supercar racing may be more affordable than some other forms of racing, it's still pricey.

V8 Supercars Come to America

Steven Johnson drives the #17 Jim Beam Racing Ford during qualifying for race five of the Hamilton 400, which is round four of the V8 Supercar Championship at Hamilton City Street Circuit on April 16, 2011 in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Steven Johnson drives the #17 Jim Beam Racing Ford during qualifying for race five of the Hamilton 400, which is round four of the V8 Supercar Championship at Hamilton City Street Circuit on April 16, 2011 in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

In July of 2010, developers announced plans to build a world-class 3.4-mile-long racetrack just outside Austin, Texas. The name of the track, which is scheduled to open in 2012, is the Circuit of the Americas, and its developers stated intention is to make it "the United States' new home for the World Championships" of the racing world. They've already signed up Formula One racing, making it America's home for the Grand Prix. And they've made a five-year deal with V8 Supercars to run the V8 Supercar championship races in the U.S. from 2013 until at least 2017. The Circuit of the Americas is planned as a state-of-the-art facility that will not only attract racing fans from all over the world but will also be home for conventions, conferences, live entertainment and a museum.

Texas Governor Rick Perry and Queensland (Australia) Prime Minister Anna Bligh were present at the event announcing the V8 Supercars agreement. Circuit of the Americas President Steve Sexton stated that he believes "Austin is poised to become the premiere North American destination for international motorsports." Governor Perry also emphasized that "Texas is quickly becoming the nation's place for big sporting events as well."

The V8 Supercars events will be carried live on Speed TV in the U.S., which carries the Australian events on time delay.

Although the V8 Supercar Championship series has already taken the Australian racing world by storm, its introduction in the United States should greatly increase its following and turn it into an event to rival NASCAR and Formula One. Ironically, the idea of extending V8 Supercar racing to North America was initially rejected by the organizers of the Championship Series, but its increasing popularity with major racing drivers, many of them champions of the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One races, has apparently persuaded them that coming to America is a good idea. General Motors is also strongly supportive of V8 Supercars new American presence. Ford will no doubt follow suit.

If racing fans don't already find their sporting cup running over with Formula One, NASCAR, the Indianapolis 500 and other U.S.-based racing events, V8 Supercars should be just what they need to fill those hours that would otherwise be spent on non-racing activities. And the racing world in general can only benefit from the increasing popularity of this new series of championship events.

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Sources

  • Circuit of the Americas. "Circuit of The Americas is the United States' new home for the World Championships." (Oct. 31, 2011) http://circuitoftheamericas.com/overview.html
  • Crash.net. "V8 Supercars to race at Circuit of The Americas." (Oct. 31, 2011) http://www.crash.net/v8+supercars/news/170791/1/v8_supercars_to_race_at_circuit_of_the_americas.html
  • Noah, Joseph. "Australia's V8 Supercar series coming to America?" Autoblog. (Oct 31, 2011) http://www.autoblog.com/2011/06/06/australias-v8-supercar-series-coming-to-america/
  • V8 Supercars. "Sydney Telstra 500." (Oct. 31, 2011) http://sydney.v8supercars.com.au/
  • V8 Supercars. "V8 Supercars History." (Oct. 31, 2011) http://www.v8supercars.com.au/results/history/tabid/88/default.aspx