Perkins perplexed by need to paritise Gen3 engines offshore

Larry Perkins. Picture: Peter Bury Photography

Former Supercars team owner Larry Perkins says he’s bemused by a supposed need to send Gen3 engines offshore to achieve parity.

The respected Victorian was a stalwart of the Australian Touring Car Championship as an owner-driver from the 1980s until the 2000s.

Perkins would retire from driving at the end of 2003 while his team, Perkins Engineering, contested the championship until 2008.

Perkins Engineering remains today, albeit working primarily on restorations of cars, particularly historic and contemporary Supercars.

While the 71-year-old is somewhat removed from the Supercars scene nowadays, he has kept an eye on the developments surrounding Gen3.

Of concern to Perkins is a shift in the engine formula.

The underpinnings of the Australian Touring Car Championship, and later known V8 Supercars, came to be in 1993.

Then, the championship mandated a 5.0-litre V8 formula.

Since then, the status quo has remained; however, the advent of Gen3 is set to see Supercars move away from the uniform set-up.

Instead, a 5.4-litre Coyote has been tabled for the Ford Mustang. GM has yet to determine its set-up for the Chevrolet Camaro, though a 5.7-litre LS-based engine has been mooted.

Supercars will send off its Mostech Race Engines-built Ford engine and KRE Race Engines-built GM engine to Ilmor in the United States for paritising.

That, Perkins said, is dumbfounding.

“It did trouble me, I read a short time ago that there was talk about sending the parity issue or whatever it might be called in the engines to an overseas company,” Perkins told Speedcafe.com.

“And the overseas company in question, Ilmor, is a fantastically good company, but there’s something wrong with the thinking process.

“If Australian people in charge of a category that’s been so successful for so many years, think that it’s got to go offshore, I promise you, it will be a huge expense to the team owners.

“The budgets of Ilmor and the type of people they normally work with, and I’ll never speak badly about the company, but it’s nothing to do with the customer, which is the Australian team owners. Massively different budgets. I just don’t understand that thinking.

“I don’t understand how the teams have allowed that. They’ve been hijacked somewhere if that is indeed the case.”

In Perkins’ view, there are enough smart individuals in Australia capable of achieving parity, and sending the engines offshore is an unnecessary added cost.

“There’s many good engine builders in Australia,” he added.

“A lot of guys use Kenny Mac (Ken McNamara, KRE Race Engines) for instance and if he couldn’t come up with the right answers, well it would surprise me.

“When I read that I thought, ‘Hang on, somebody’s using someone else’s money’. It’s just doomed to fail.”

The 1993 season marked the first year of the 5.0-litre V8 formula

Central to the development of Gen3 is a reduction in costs.

Initially, Supercars targeted a turn-key car for $350,000; however, that figure now appears as if it will end up closer to the $400,000 mark.

Nevertheless, Supercars is focused on lowering running costs to teams through the development of crate-based V8 engines and other initiatives.

While the topic has been polarising, a move to paddle shift and electronically controlled throttle blip is hoped to cut expenses by reducing engine wear.

Nearly 30 years on from the revolution that saw the 5.0-litre V8 formula introduced, Perkins believes teams are still fighting for the same thing: cheaper racing.

“It does launch me back to 1993 when we ran a new category and the lead up to that was an intense slot of a negotiation and thinking by a small select few of us to arrive at what we wanted,” Perkins explained.

“We knew what we wanted; we wanted cheap race cars, we wanted the ability for smaller teams, if you like – in other words, non-well-funded teams – to be able to engineer their competitiveness without spending huge amounts of money.

“I believe today that hasn’t changed. Meaning the goal is; we want car racing, we want a good driver to rise to the top, we want teams that can think outside of the square a little bit without spending lots of money. If they can get a steal on the competitor, so be it, that’s been part of racing for many, many years.

“Then, it’s all about affordable racing and what the spectators want, because if you ignore the spectators and in other words, if you can’t deliver good racing, well you’ve achieved nothing.”

Perkins Engineering was active in Supercars until 2008. Picture: Perkins Engineering

Perkins fears that if costs explode then the ‘original’ teams including the likes of Brad Jones Racing and Dick Johnson Racing could depart like Garry Rogers Motorsport and Stone Brothers Racing did before them.

Matt Stone has succeeded the Stone brothers while Rogers remains active in motorsport, though he has no plans for a return to Supercars unless the championship becomes more affordable.

“You used to be able to be a backyard racer like indeed I was, and the Stone brothers started and Brad Jones started and we were all small teams,” said Perkins.

“The regulations have constantly changed to now where you’ve got to be a huge corporate of either personal money or whatever to be able to finance the direction the rules take it.

“The rules are the only thing that allow direction change. And so if you don’t control the rules and have no knowledge of how that works, it’s all going to fail and it’s just heading in the wrong direction.

“We had a lot of carry-over parts in ’93, it had to have carry-over parts, you had to have a timeline of usage of things.

“I believe the gearbox may carry over, but it needs a $10,000 or $12,000 modification,” he said in reference to the electronic actuator.

“If your game is or your aim is to make a category that suits the elite, non-racing people of Australia, in other words, corporate money, they then come and go when it suits them, whereas an enthusiast hangs around forever.

“Garry Rogers is an enthusiast, Brad Jones is an enthusiast. They’re forever. But when you get outside that sphere of money, sometimes in the boardroom they say, ‘Hang on, we’ve spent enough.’ And they pull it out. They don’t ask anyone, they just pull out and they go missing.

“So that’s the risk of the balancing line. And to me, it’s not a fine line, it’s a pretty simple line. Make it affordable, make it a reachable way. It shouldn’t be only the protected few who can win races.

“If it’s a small team or a team can engineer just through simple engineering, I don’t mean inventing a $3 million piston or something like that. But if they can engineer a gain, that’s part of the deal.

“Then you’ve got to see the driver can rise to the top based on his skill with relatively similar machinery. And if you have precisely the same machine, why even have then categories of cars, just have one car and all give them the same car.

“You’ve got to be careful what you’re trying to aim for here. The word competition is exactly that, competition happens at every level of the car racing, and that is competition of the mechanics, doing the pit stops or the competition of who adjusts the tappets best and so on.

“There’s competition everywhere, and that’s what it is. If you eliminate competition to where you’ve got to ring America to get parity of engines, you’ve already totally so lost the plot. I think it’ll just be doomed to fail.

“We had a great tide of success in the V8s, and I’ll always use the word V8s, from ’93 when the category came in right up to the mid-2000s, it was principally the same.

“The first change to the car when they put the gearbox in the boot and all that, that history has shown that it’s achieved nothing except make an awful lot of teams spend money. It didn’t enhance racing.

“You could go and ask any spectators that at Bathurst if he noticed the gearbox in the boot and so on, and none of them did.”

Perkins’ son Jack continues to race as a Supercars co-driver, and will team up with Erebus Motorsport’s Will Brown for the 2021 Repco Bathurst 1000 in October.

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