When Will We See a Mustang in Supercars?
When will we see a Mustang in Supercars? It’s a subject that keeps coming up in Australia’s motorsport media, but there’s been nothing from Ford teams Prodrive Racing Australia and Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske. Most recently News Corp wrongly reported that Prodrive Racing Australia would debut a Ford Mustang in the Supercars championship series next year. If they are running Mustangs next year it's the world's best kept secret, and News Corp are correct purely by chance. There's not a shred of evidence to suggest Mustangs will be on the Supercars grid next year. If it does happen, it wouldn't be the first time a Mustang has competed in the Australian Touring Car Championship. Dick Johnson Racing ran Zakspeed Mustangs in 1985 and 1986.
We won't see it in 2017, there's not enough time. It took Nissan and Kelly Racing 11 months to put four Altimas with all new chassis and engines on the ground. They were underpowered and unreliable on debut. Erebus built three AMG E63s with all new engines and chassis inherited from the stillborn Stone Brothers Racing Falcons in six months, but they were unreliable, underpowered and and lacked drivability. Garry Rogers Motorsport and Polestar prepared two Volvo S60s with new engines and existing chassis in nine months. These cars were competitive and reasonably reliable. Prodrive wouldn’t have to develop a new engine, but they would have to redesign the body. The Mustang would be the first coupe in Supercars, which would make this a complex task. One car would need to be complete by January for aero testing, and ideally have four cars ready for the Clipsal 500 in the first weekend of March. Work started on the FG-X Falcon in October, which carried over the roof, doors and windows, and Prodrive still only had two FG-Xs and two FGs at Clipsal last year.
Over the last 20 year or so of the ATCC, teams have occasionally run older models for a few years past the end of production, but this has become rare in recent years. In 1999, the year the AU Falcon was introduced, and one year after the VT Commodore, there were still a number of EL Falcons and VS Commodores. Some of the VS Commodores lasted into 2000. In 2009, the year the FG Falcon was introduced, three BFII Falcons entered the championship, and in 2010, the grid consisted entirely of VE Commodores and FG Falcons. Supercars will allow the Falcon to compete next year, but what about in 2018? Will Supercars make them run something else? Ford might cover the cost of developing the Mustang to get the old Falcons off the grid, but then they could also just wait until parts sourcing becomes too difficult. It depends how long Ford is willing to wait.
Earlier this year, Prodrive team principal Tim Edwards stated that they would not switch manufacturers for less than $10 million, and acknowledged that that was unlikely to happen. This figure was a rough estimate of how much it would cost to develop a new car and engine as competitive as their current Falcons. Looking at Nissan and Volvo, that’s probably the right amount. Switching to Mustangs wouldn’t be cheap, but it would allow them to carry over their Ford engines and come with the sponsor appeal of a massive fan base split only two ways. A new manufacturer would mean dropping down the grid and losing supporters to DJR Team Penske. Further demonstrating their commitment to Ford, Prodrive recently registered the road car business PRA Garage, PRA Garage then trademarked the Tickford name. Looking to replace the income they used to receive from Ford, Prodrive are set to revive the Tickford name to sell modified Mustangs and Rangers, with a view to have a full range of performance Ford cars. They’re not interested in working with other brands. “People associate us with Ford product and we have no plans to work on anything else” said owner Rod Nash. By trademarking the name Tickford, PRA has essentially taken over their predecessor. From 1991 to 2002, British tuning company Tickford Vehicle Engineering built performance Falcons and Fairlanes in a joint venture with Ford known as the Ford Tickford Experience (FTE). In 2002, Rival British company Prodrive bought FTE and Glenn Seton Racing to form Ford Performance Vehicles and Ford Performance Racing. In late 2012 Prodrive sold FPV to Ford and in early 2013, FPR to Rod Nash and Rusty French. Prodrive also have backing from the Bayford Group Ford dealers, who appear to have increased their presence on the cars lately. You also can't rule out a return to full factory or dealer backing. Ford have a history of pulling out of the ATCC and rejoining later on.
What about the other Ford team in Supercars, DJR Team Penske? A Mustang Supercar probably won't come from DJRTP alone, but they would likely be involved in the project if it were initiated by PRA. DJRTP doesn’t have the capacity to do it alone, and given the current performance of their cars, would be more inclined to switch manufacturers. While they couldn't execute the project without significant help from PRA, co-owner Roger Penske could be one to initiate the process of producing a Mustang Supercar on behalf of both teams. Penske has connections to Ford through his NASCAR team and last year gained permission from Ford in the US to run the blue oval logo on their two Falcons, team uniforms and merchandise. There's a good chance then that Penske can get permission for Prodrive and DJRTP to race Mustangs. Ford Australia would probably prefer they replace their Falcons with Mustangs anyway, so not being able to get required intellectual property permissions from Ford isn't likely to be a barrier.
One thing that could prevent the Mustang from entering Supercars is it not fitting over the control chassis. Length and width aren't an issue. The Mustang has the right footprint. However the lower coupe roof could be an issue. Currently the lowest car in the series is the Nissan Altima at 1470mm. The Mustang is only 1367mm tall. The Mustang also has more ground clearance, so all of this is in the body.This height difference will have to be made up by reducing the clearance between the roll cage and roof or having the body sit slightly higher than the sedans do. Considering the way that the wheel arches are flared on the existing sedans, there is scope for this to work without looking weird. If it doesn't work, then we'll have a Mondeo Supercar instead. We could also get a Mondeo if Prodrive and DJRTP go to Ford and that's all they offer. Given that the competition is the Commodore and Altima, a Mondeo wouldn't be a surprising choice from Ford.
No we won't see a new Ford in Supercars next year, but 2018 is a possibility. Prodrive and DJRTP will need to decide early next year if they plan to run Mustangs in 2018 and get the IP permission from Ford. You can expect something to happen before 2020 though as it will become harder to find bonnets and lights for the Falcons. be it a Mustang, Mondeo or something that isn't a Ford.