Q&A: Mark Skaife on the COTF

The COTF prototypes

The COTF prototypes

V8 Supercars’ Car of the Future program has been thrust into the spotlight following its official launch at the Sydney Telstra 500 this morning.

CLICK HERE for Speedcafe.com’s news story on the launch

Project leader Mark Skaife fielded questions from the media – including Speedcafe.com – following the unveil of the Ford and Holden prototypes.

QUESTION: Can you sum up for us the key changes from the current cars to the COTF?

MARK SKAIFE: It’s very much V8 Supercars DNA – we didn’t want to change it too much. It’s very much evolution not revolution – that’s the basis that we’ve worked on. However, the car is lighter, it has got better weight distribution, independent rear suspension, revised fuel cell layout to move it in-front of the rear-axle centreline, and bigger wheels and tyres. The cars, in terms of how they perform, are a bit more Porsche-like, a bit more real racing car like.

Q: What does that mean on the track in terms of racing?

SKAIFE: It’s endeavouring to improve the quality of the racing. You want to have more than one line on the race track. The cars now are heavy, they’re understeerers with live rear-axles… there’s old technology there that needs to be more modern. If you do that in the right way, and this is not just Mark Skaife saying it, but Mark Winterbotttom, Rick Kelly, Jack Perkins, Scott McLaughlin – all the kids that have had a run in this car – they all endorse that.

Q: What has been their feedback about the car?

SKAIFE: They absolutely love it. Mark Winterbottom and Rick Kelly are two of the best drivers in the field, and they got out with a big smile on their face – they couldn’t believe how good it was. They drove the car at Phillip Island, the fastest track that we go to, and Winton, which is one of the slowest, and to have those guys only 0.01s apart in the two cars was fantastic news for us. Those cars have done 5,000km now – we can hand the whole project over to the teams, the project is done.

Q: What’s your feeling on another manufacturer joining the series?

SKAIFE: Absolutely rock solid.

Q: By 2013?

SKAIFE: By 2013. And there’ll be more after that.

Q: Why not take the opportunity to change the look of the cars while you were doing this?

SKAIFE: We didn’t want to affect the parity. The two aero kits that are currently used, the Ford and Holden aero kits, they’ll be the basis of what we use for the new manufacturers. That was the great thing about the Winton test when the two guys were exactly the same speed – that proved for us that we were able to roll the parity out of the current technology into the new technology and maintain it.

Again, the look and the feel of the car didn’t need to be changed very much, and the way the parity was assessed needed to be done in a very educated way.

Q: What’s the actual cost difference between the current spend and that under the COTF rules?

SKAIFE: Our cost target for this car is that you’ll be able to build a rolling chassis for $250,000. You’ll be able to build four cars for the price of three.

Q: What has been the cost for V8 Supercars to turn this from paper to reality?

SKAIFE: I’m not going to tell you that. But it’s a very important step for us because it’s a real cultural change. You’ve got to remember that through the history of racing in this country, manufacturers have homologated their own cars to go racing.

With this car, what we’ve done is homologate the Ford and Holden cars – that’s been done by us, and will be done by us for a new manufacturer. What we want to do is reduce the cost of entry for a new manufacturer, and that’s why we’ve chosen to build our own cars.

Q: With the chassis, will teams still make their own cars?

SKAIFE: There will be seven or eight ‘accredited vehicle builders’. So the teams that currently build cars, we want to encourage them to continually build cars. They’ll either get a flat-pack of materials, or buy the kits in some form and then do the rest of the assembly. There are a few different ways that the teams will go about building them.

Q: In terms of chassis design, it’s absolutely fixed – there’s no room for development within in the structure?

SKAIFE: Chassis design is fixed, that’s done, but there’ll still be freedoms. The front-suspension for instance is very similar to today. The freedoms in the independent rear suspension will see control pick-up points, but also control rear-uprights. How you join the dots from there in terms of roll-centres, squats, cambers, toes… all that can be changed.

So the engineering part in terms of the way we go racing will be very similar to today. We don’t want to dumb it down, but we also don’t want to have a new R&D path that will cost us money.

Q: Are the new cars going to be safer than the current ones?

SKAIFE: These cars will definitely be safer. 100kgs of weight makes a big difference in vehicle safety. Side-intrusion will be the best we’ve ever had – it’s been accredited by the FIA through the crash testing we’ve done with the cars. The collapsible steering column, moving the fuel tank in-front of the axle centreline in the cars… they’re really key technical changes in terms of safety.

Q: Where does your involvement in this project sit among your career achievements?

SKAIFE: It’s one of the most demanding projects that you could ever be involved in, because you have to have stakeholder buy-in, and you have to make sure you make the right decisions for the sport. This whole thing is core to the business plan, and for us to be able to facilitate that is massively important for the next 10 years.

Q: You’ve worked through so many factional disputes along pitlane, do you feel now that with what you’ve shown them today at the launch that they’re happy? Or are you still going to have this bitching from the side?

SKAIFE: No, no, there’s no bitching from the side. For us, they’re going to be able to build four cars for the same price as three. They’re going to be able to repair the cars cheaper. If other manufacturers come in, the teams will be the main beneficiaries of that. The sport will be in the best hands has been in. This is exciting stuff.

See below for Speedcafe.com’s Sydney Race Guide

See below for Speedcafe.com’s photo gallery of the COTF’s on track today
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