Supercars' V6 Move Had to Happen
By now only the most casual Supercars follower would be unaware of Holden’s new twin turbo V6. Holden's intentions have been known for a while now, and Triple 8 had just released audio of the new engine. The V6 engine is the most divisive thing to happen to Supercars since the introduction of Car of the Future (now New Generation) in 2013. Despite what the naysayers believe, it’s also the most necessary change since COTF.
The introduction of smaller turbocharged engines were necessary and inevitable. There are only three cars available with a naturally aspirated 5.0 litre V8; the Ford Mustang, and Lexus RC-F and GS-F. Neither Ford nor Lexus have expressed any interest in running a factory Supercars team. Holden and Nissan are the only manufacturers involved in Supercars, and from next year Holden won’t have a V8 in its range. The only V8 Nissan is the Patrol. Manufacturers often want road car relevance, and, more importantly, they need to have an engine they can enter. With carmakers deserting V8 engines, Supercars have to be willing to accommodate other engines. It might even help draw in new manufacturers. Kia is interested in an entry in 2020. Alfa Romeo expressed some interest but has since lost it. More importantly for the sport’s immediate future, it has halted the existing manufacturer exodus. Without the ability to run a twin turbo V6, Holden would have walked. Without any factory competition, Nissan would have followed. That could have spelled the death of Supercars. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Supercars needs some degree of manufacturer support to function. A lot of fans also regularly complain that the cars are no longer relevant to road cars. This is what increased road car relevance looks like.
The argument against the V6 is often based on tradition. Supercars (previously V8 Supercars, and the Australian Touring Car Championship prior to that) have run 5.0 litre V8 engines since 1993. It makes it the longest period without a major change in engine regulations. 24 years is a long time in motorsport, so it’s easy to forget that before 1993, the ATCC was run to FIA Group A regulations and dominated by smaller turbocharged engines. Turbo engines won six out of the eight Group A championships. Group A was preceded by Group C (1973-84) which was dominated by V8s. Allan Moffat’s 1983 championship victory in a rotary Mazda RX7 was the only one not won by a V8. V8s have been a major part of Australian touring car history, but they’re not the be-all-end-all
Noise is the other contentious issue. People like the sound of a V8. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a personal preference for V8s, but that doesn’t mean the entire field has to be V8s. Triple 8’s V6 makes a good noise and will add some variety that’s missing now that Volvo and Erebus have withdrawn their flat-plane V8s.
Formula One made the switch from V8s to turbo V6s and got it wrong. Supercars didn't have to make the same mistakes, and they haven't. By leaving the timing of their introduction up to the teams and manufacturers and using the existing V8s as a performance yardstick, Supercars have got something right once. It’s not over yet. The engine still needs to undergo dyno testing and achieve cumulative horsepower parity with the V8s, something that will prove very difficult. They’ll need to get it right. If they don’t, and the V6 is more powerful, Ford will likely disappear as Prodrive and DJR Team Penske seek more competitive engines. If the V6 is slower, Holden won’t take it lying down. They’ll threaten to quit. Next year’s wildcard appearances will be a good chance for Supercars to get the parity right. Perhaps they’ll take Russell Ingall’s advice and abandon cumulative horsepower for balance of performance.
From F1’s turbo experience we’ve also learned that people don’t stop watching motorsport just because the noise isn’t as good. People watch racing for the racing more than they do for the noise. If you’re that upset by it, you can threaten to watch something else, but your choices at the moment are almost non-existent. Touring Car Masters is the only other series where the cars are predominantly naturally aspirated V8s. If you can tolerate getting up very early on Monday morning, you can watch NASCAR or Brazilian Stock Cars, but are you really going to do that? The few people who do follow through with their threat and then stick with it could be replaced by new followers anyway, drawn in by the more modern engines.
Like it or not, Holden’s twin turbo V6 is a necessary addition to Supercars. When the Holden V8 is phased out from 2019 people will miss it, but in time everyone will get used to it and move on. There will still be V8s for a few more years anyway. The V6 is adding to the experience, not detracting from it.