POLL: Supercars’ Gen3 gearstick decision

Shane van Gisbergen changes gears with a stick. Picture: Fox Sports

Following the news that Supercars has dumped its plans to introduce paddle shift with Gen3, we ask what you think of the decision, in this week’s Pirtek Poll.

How the new breed of Supercar would change gears has been one of the biggest issues in the category for more than 12 months now, with the mechanical stick becoming an endangered species.

Indeed, it seemed for much of that period that a move to paddle shift and auto blip was inevitable, but that will in fact not be the case.

Notably, that means that drivers will not only still push or pull a gearstick to move through the cogs, but will also have to heel-and-toe on the downshift.

From the off, that being the discovery of a tender which described an “E-shift system” as “likely” in Gen3, it was apparent that the vast majority of drivers wanted the status quo.

Shane van Gisbergen and Nick Percat were particularly vocal, notwithstanding that the former drives for Triple Eight Race Engineering, the General Motors homologation team and hence an integral part of the Gen3 project.

Aside from a number of current full-time drivers, others to have expressed their support for the gearstick and heel-toe include three-time Supercars champion-turned IndyCar driver Scott McLaughlin, team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, and retired Bathurst 1000 winners Greg Murphy and Paul Morris.

Essentially, their argument boils down to the talent required to drive the car and, in the case of the incumbent drivers, their own personal enjoyment of driving.

While an upshift is a clutch-less process in a Supercar, typically with the assistance of the shift cut, the down-change necessitates that drivers ‘blip’ the throttle in order to match the speed of the engine to that of the transmission, and hence avoid locking the rear wheels.

It is a skill generally considered the hardest to master in the domain of manual transmissions, given the dance it forces drivers (left-foot brakers excepted) into with their right foot.

Furthermore, heeling and toeing creates scope for manipulating the downshift to cause some lock-up which helps rotate the car, hence creating passing opportunities.

Said heel-toe dance is also considered by many purists to be entertaining, as evidenced by the regularity with which Supercars’ own television department regularly points an incar camera at a driver’s footwell to capture the feet/feat.

VIDEO: Russell Ingall explains heel-and-toe downshifting

Dean Fiore blips the throttle as he downshifts at Bathurst in 2019. Picture: Fox Sports

Invariably, however, mistakes will be made, causing engines to be over-revved.

That increases costs for teams, the main argument for a change to paddles and auto blip.

While Walkinshaw was a clear advocate for preserving the skill of the heel-and-toe, and said he knew only of Triple Eight as proponents of a change, that is not quite the case.

Then outgoing Triple Eight team principal Roland Dane spoke in such a way at last December’s Bathurst 1000 that suggested some of his peers were keen to automate gearshifts in order to save money.

While he expressed indifference then, he too said he was a supporter of paddle shift for cost reasons in a Reddit Q&A in August 2021, and Speedcafe.com had the same view put to it, off the record, by another team boss last year.

Extending the cost-saving argument, an automated downshift would make a Supercar easier to drive not just for those who do so for a living now, but would-be overseas drivers who have not grown up with that style.

That increases the pool of available drivers, putting downward pressure on the wages of the incumbents through the forces of supply and demand.

It would also raise the possibility of some exciting overseas additions to the category and, for that reason, the potential for some gain in the overseas fanbase tuning in to watch Supercars.

Those who could conceivably one day become fans of the category even in its home market may not even have a concept of manuals, rare as they are in road cars nowadays, and might even prefer to see paddles.

That said, in a world populated by any number of GT3 and TCR competitions, Supercars can present itself as being relatively unique in global motorsport, with a rawness which is no longer found in many other categories, a point made by Mark Larkham in yesterday’s announcement.

Interestingly, along with that announcement, Supercars was keen to emphasise on social media that it had taken the wishes of its fans into consideration.

“Dear Fans,” read a post on its official Instagram account.

“We heard you.

“Always yours, Supercars.”

 

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What do you think? Did Supercars make the right decision to keep the gearstick, and all the driving challenges that come with it, in Gen3?

Cast your vote below in this week’s Pirtek Poll.

Pirtek Poll

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