The curtain may have only just fallen on the 2012 V8 Supercars Championship, but the category’s leading drivers are already looking ahead to the new Car of the Future era that will kick-off next season.
The introduction of the COTF marks the biggest technical shake-up to hit the championship in 20 years, and will make for a hectic Christmas period as teams ready their new contenders.
The incoming manufacturers Nissan and Mercedes-Benz bring with them double overhead cam engine technology, while all of the new cars will feature larger wheels and tyres, independent rear suspension, a transaxle gearbox, a mid-mounted fuel cell and a control chassis/roll-cage design.
Following great delays in firming the details of the technical package, five teams have already put their new generation cars on track, with three of those – Triple Eight, Ford Performance Racing and Kelly Racing – cutting demonstration laps of the Homebush circuit at the weekend.
Jamie Whincup, Mark Winterbottom and Rick Kelly had the duty of driving the respective cars around the punishing street course. Despite only completing a handful of laps, the now four-time champion Whincup managed to circulate within a second of the fastest time that a current car completed all weekend and was left highly encouraged by the experience.
“Our testing (at Queensland Raceway) has been quite interrupted and I had mixed emotions (about the COTF), but driving the car yesterday, it makes me really excited that these cars are going to be really good things,” he said afterward.
“I did a 1m28.4s, ragging it, bashing it off the kerbs. They are going to handle the street circuits really well and be fun to drive.”
The brief Sydney outing marked Kelly’s first laps in the Altima, which has so far completed just one shakedown and a five-day V8 Supercars aerodynamic testing program.
Running with its aero testing suspension and without the use of sixth gear, Kelly was forced to drive rather more conservatively than Whincup and Winterbottom, but said he enjoyed the experience all the same.
“The seating position in the car is a bit different, but apart from that, it already feels like home,” he said.
“It’s all working well and the guys back at the team, along with the help from Nissan, have been able to help us produce a good car in a very short time frame.
“With that little taste, I’m looking forward to getting into a real test.”
While it’s hard to expect Kelly’s new Nissan and the Erebus-SBR Mercedes entries to be competitive from the start of the campaign, the dominance of Triple Eight and FPR, which shared all 30 race wins during the 2012 season, looks likely to be challenged by a revitalised Holden Racing Team.
Like Triple Eight and FPR, the HRT has already completed its initial allocation of two ‘manufacturer’ test days with its first car – running that has left its high-profile driver James Courtney optimistic for the future.
“For me, when I jumped in, straight away it was a lot more to my liking and it’s a more natural way of driving,” said Courtney, who has famously taken just one victory since joining the team as the defending champion in 2011.
“There’s little characteristics that we can’t make this car do that I couldn’t make do with the other one. With the Car of the Future, it’s a lot more down that path. You can drive the car, as opposed to the current car which you have to stop-start – drive it on its nose rather than flow it.
“I’m pumped. Thank god I don’t have to drive the current car anymore and I can get on with the new one. I think you’ll find we’ll take a big step towards the front guys and hopefully we can start on a level playing field next year.”
The 2013 V8 Supercars Championship will get underway with the gruelling Clipsal 500 Adelaide from February 28 – March 3.