The Future of Ford in Supercars
Eight Ford Falcons will contest the 2018 Supercars championship. Two more than last year, despite the fact that production of the road car ended in 2016. Speedcafe’s Mark Fogarty recently stated that he believed 2018 would be the Falcon's last year. I'm not so sure.
The ZB Holden Commodore will replace the VF this year for one reason. Holden wanted it to. There are myriad factors keeping the Falcon in Supercars. One key reason is that Ford isn't involved in Supercars. Ford paid Tickford (at the time known as Prodrive) to develop the FG-X aero package in late 2014 but hasn't provided any sponsorship since. Tickford’s current plan is to continue with a Ford product beyond the Falcon, but nothing has been confirmed. Roger Penske has publicly stated that he would like his team to continue with Fords, but again, nothing has been confirmed. The hold-up is the cost of building a Mustang, or, more realistically, Mondeo Supercar. and need to obtain permission from Ford to do it.
Ford has shown no sign of returning to Supercars. The best that Tickford and Penske could hope to get from Ford is funding to homologate the Mustang or Mondeo, motivated by a desire to get the Falcon off the grid. Ford won't want to be associated with a model that they don't sell anymore. Right now though, Ford is either hoping that someone else does it for them or okay with the Falcon continuing to race into at least 2019. Then again, maybe that's exactly what they want. If the Falcon, rather than the Mustang or Mondeo is racing in Supercars, then they can more easily distance themselves from a sport that they might not want to be associated with. But Ford is desperate to not be known as the Falcon company anymore. It would be beneficial to them to assist with removing the Falcon from Supercars.
While it's possible that Ford sees value in one-off sponsorship to replace the Falcon, It's hard what else Ford would gain from re-entering Supercars on an ongoing basis. Facebook comments would suggest that manufacturer supporters haven't noticed that Ford has no actual involvement. Team and driver supporters don't care that much about manufacturers. The Mustang is already the highest selling sports car in Australia and the Ranger the biggest selling dual cab ute in Australia. Buyers of vehicles in two market segments are the ones most interested in Supercars. This could change if a new manufacturer, or Nissan, snaps up Tickford or Penske. In that situation, Ford may look to secure the Supercars presence it can currently take for granted.
But let's assume for now that Ford has no interest in coming back under any circumstances. What does that mean? For a start, it means that the Falcon would probably stick around for as long as it’s competitive. Tickford manager Tim Edwards has stated on multiple occasions that, as much as they’d like to do a Mustang, they won’t replace the Falcon as long as it still works. The FG and the BA/BF both raced for six years. The FG-X has only done three. The incoming ZB Commodore will need to achieve aerodynamic parity with the FG-X and Nissan Altima, so there’s limited scope for it to improve on the VF. It’s hard to see the FG-X suddenly becoming aerodynamically uncompetitive this year. The other possible way the ZB could deliver Holden teams an advantage is if the body is lighter than the current car. The VF already enjoys a weight advantage over the FG-X through its aluminium bonnet. The bonnet is taken from the road car, and on the Falcon it’s steel. Under this scenario, the Falcon may well see out the current technical regulations.
Supercars are currently developing the next generation car, which might debut around 2022 or 23. When it comes, Tickford and Penske will need to design new cars anyway so the Falcon will have to go then. But lasting that long will be a tall order. The longer the Falcon runs, the harder sourcing production-derived parts will become. Ford has a policy of keeping a spare parts inventory to last 10 years after production ends. 2023 is within that range, but it will still get harder with time. Replacement bonnets aren’t as important for road cars as they are for race cars. Supercars could give Falcon teams concessions allowing them to produce their own replica parts, but they’re very keen to have a Mustang on the grid. Tickford and/or Penske would have to be on the brink of folding.
There is also the possibility that Tickford,.Penske could both lure a new manufacturer into the series and take their respective customer teams (23Red for Tickford, MSR for Penske) with them. Kia has expressed an interest in entering with the Stinger, but not before 2020. If Kia’s in talks with either team, they won’t want to switch from Falcon to Mustang in 2019. Alternatively, Nissan could back one of the two Ford teams from 2019, replacing or in addition to Kelly Racing. Tickford has a road car business offering performance and appearance upgrades for Mustang and Ranger. Moving away from running Fords in Supercars may not be a massive priority for them, but they wouldn’t turn down the right offer. Edwards once gave a hypothetical figure of $10 million to cover the cost of changing cars and engines without going backwards in performance. Penske has no links to any car manufacturers in Australia. Since they entered Supercars in 2015, rumours have placed them with BMW and Lexus. Kia is a possibility, but they are believed to have held talks with Walkinshaw, Prodrive and Garry Rogers Motorsport only. In the US, Penske runs Fords in NASCAR, Chevrolets in IndyCar and will soon field Acura Daytona Prototypes in the IMSA Sports Car Championship.
We're facing the very real possibility of there not being a single Ford on the ATCC/Supercars for the first time ever. Ford's constant presence is a remarkable achievement given its support is best described as intermittent. In the late 1960s, they supported Allan Moffat and Pete Geoghegan in the ATCC and ran a factory team in the Australian Manufacturers Championship, but withdrew their support in 1975. When Moffat started running a Chevrolet in the Australian Sports Sedan Championship alongside his Falcon ATCC efforts, Ford offered to sponsor his ATCC team through the dealers if he stopped racing the Monza. They withdrew their funding again in 1979, only to get behind Dick Johnson in 1980. Their involvement during the Group A period from 1985-92 was minimal. When Group A was replaced with 5.0L V8s, Ford initially split their sponsorship between DJR and Glenn Seton Racing. GSR became the factory team in 1996. Prodrive bought GSR in 2003 and continued as the factory Ford team until the end of 2014.
Supercars has proven it doesn’t need Ford to draw a crowd, but we have no idea what would happen if there were no Fords. It's probably not any cause for concern. Would people really stop watching if there were no Fords? Would they start following Superutes instead because it has Rangers? For the most part, no.There are three main types of Supercars fans. Those who follow a manufacturer, driver or team. According to a poll conducted last year, fans are more or less equally divided between these groups. This means that maybe 13-15 percent are Ford supporters first. There’ll be some initial shock but everyone will move on eventually. Having Ford back in an official capacity would provide some stability. In the sense that if Holden or Nissan dropped out we’d still have two factory teams. But you could say that about any new manufacturer. Supercars could go down the path of paying Ford or Tickford and Penske to keep Fords in the championship, as Formula 1 does with Ferrari’s historic bonus payment. But it’s not likely they can afford to, and soon Holden and Nissan or their teams will come looking for historic bonuses. This is not an avenue Supercars should explore.
There remains every chance the Falcon will remain in Supercars in 2019. Beyond that, it’s hard to predict what will happen. Ford isn’t coming back, but Supercars will survive just fine without them.