Roland’s View: How not to run a Supercars test day

The Sydney Motorsport Park Gen3 Supercars test held on February 22, 2023. Image: InSyde Media

Several weeks ago I suggested that the relevant stakeholders involved in the homologation process of the Gen3 Supercar should get the job done behind closed doors and work collectively to reach a good outcome.

I sympathised hugely with the Supercars personnel who have been working away to conclude the process.

However, those same Supercars personnel let themselves, and the category as a whole, down enormously and unnecessarily last week at the Supercars SMP test day in a way that was simply amateurish and smacked of a complete lack of lateral thought.

They need calling out on this – give praise where it is due but don’t condone poor performance.

The fact is that, if the test day had been a ‘closed door’ affair with no interaction with the fanbase or the media, then Supercars could have conducted it any which way.

But it was billed as a public test and an opportunity for the fans and media to see all the actual Gen3 race cars in action together for the first time. Nothing wrong with that in itself, and many people did turn out (great to see) on an average day to witness the first mass roll out.

Supercars also drove their social media followers to the live timing for the test. Again, nothing wrong with that in itself.

Unfortunately, Supercars then courted totally unnecessary controversy and angst for themselves by not running the test in a way that gave the fans and the media a reasonably accurate picture of the competition that they can expect this season.

There were two major factors contributing to this. Firstly, the weight of the individual race cars varied by as much as 50kg and, secondly, there was no way that the average fan or journalist could tell what tyre was being used by which car at any one time.

Both these situations could have been easily dealt with so as to give everyone a proper feel for the level of competition rather than allowing some fans/media/drivers to fan the flames of parity inequity post-test – something that detracted from the spectacle of these great looking cars.

So why did the weight of the cars vary so much? Simply because Supercars didn’t give teams a minimum weight to operate to on the day. They had their scales set up and did weigh many of the cars during the day. Some of the cars were more complete than others, as Supercars was well aware of.

The cars are new, and for sure Supercars was still data gathering. They had two options open to them. One was to clearly and openly declare in a transparent and public way to all that the weight of the cars was yet to be determined and therefore any lap speeds had to be looked at with that in mind (in other words, they would be all but meaningless).

The other, better, option would have been to tell all teams pre-test that there would a minimum weight set for the afternoon of the test day. Teams should have been told to come prepared for this and Supercars should have erred on the side of caution and set the weight higher than it may well settle down to for Newcastle once they have a full data set.

In the absence of ballast, teams with lighter cars could have been told to run a minimum fuel load in the afternoon. Supercars had the means to police this as cars roll off the circuit and cancel any times for underweight cars so that the picture given to the wider world was more representative. Conversely, they could also highlight if a team was running unnecessarily heavy (sandbagging as it’s known) on a new tyre run.

They also had the means to check the tyre compound used each time a car rolled out. Simply stop the car at pit exit if necessary as is done in many places in the world. Then reflect the information on the live timing. And it’s only really new tyres that they needed to concern themselves with.

And if any or all of the above is simply too hard then just be clear and transparent from the off and let everyone know that the times achieved were meaningless for these reasons.

Instead of this, anyone looking from the outside in saw a totally inaccurate picture of the level of competition and parity to that which will be reflected when the cars hit the track for the first event. This resulted in Supercars fielding yet more controversial commentary around the parity process. Talk about self-inflicted wounds…

I have no idea whether either the Fords or the Chevrolets are going to have any discernible advantage one way or the other come Newcastle. Maybe one will be better in some circumstances than the other. Maybe the pendulum will swing. But I do know that some teams and some drivers will do a better job than others regardless of the make of car. And that’s the way it should be. Nothing should be easy at the top of any sport.

Hopefully Supercars have learned a big lesson about how not to handle the public introduction of a new car and we can all simply go racing in 10 days’ time.

Last week’s Roland’s View: Back off Bathurst.

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