There is a common theme in society that the biggest and baddest make the most noise. Yet without the work of sometimes hundreds of ‘smaller’ people behind the scenes, there would be no noise. The big event would not happen. And such is the case with V8 Supercars. While the main races are rightly the big attraction, there is simply not enough length in one race, even an enduro like the Sandown 500, for a full day’s entertainment. So, like other categories around the world, there are support races, break-time entertainment displays and other things.
The support races kicked off on Sunday with the Touring Car Masters. Essentially a category for old-school American and Australian muscle, it’s a great sight to behold and an amazing cacophony of sounds. Where else can you find Australian Ford Falcon GTHO’s, Porsches, Mustangs and even an American Falcon Sprint, all doing battle on the track?
And do battle, they do. As you can see from the dents in this stunning ’69 Camaro SS, drivers don’t hold back, even if the iron they’re wielding is sometimes valuable and hard to replace.
Some of that may have to do with the drivers involved. While it’s a mixed bag, the top guys are ex-V8 Supercars winners like series leader John Bowe and his arch-rival Jim Richards (above). And while they may be pushing 60 or over, nothing has dulled their competitive spirit.
The only fly in the ointment for this round was that Bowe, who had accidentally run over a pit marshal’s foot and knocked her over on Friday, was excluded for the weekend and thus had a V8 Ute Series driver, Stephen White (below in the Dunlop machine), jump into his 69 Mustang TransAm, nicknamed Sally, instead.
Speaking of V8 Utes, if you love crash-bang racing, this is the series for you. Outside of demolition derby events, I have never seen a motorsport series that treats its cars as badly as this one. It’s like they are disposable items.
In some respects, this is understandable, as the base cars are relatively cheap. AU$30,000 or so gets you a low-kilometre example and it’s not a huge amount more for a new one. Plus, parts are incredibly easy to come by and thus inexpensive as well. That said, winning cars routinely sell for over $120,000 second-hand, so it’s not exactly a ‘low-cost’ series.
Irrespective, the drivers go hard at it. Panels are crushed, wheels dented and light clusters shattered with alarming regularity. For example, the orange Falcon Ute above had just gone off, then come back on, only to be punted into the grass again by the red car in the foreground. And such contact and aggression is not a rare occurrence.
Drivers didn’t need the help of others to go off-course, either. Race one saw at least eight drivers miss their braking markers at turn one, and go careening into the gravel at various points.
Eventually, it got to the point where one marshal said, “You’d think they’d have got it right by now. They’ve had three day’s practice”.
Alas, her words fell on deaf ears, as drivers continued to outbrake themselves again…
… and again.
It wasn’t just turn one where drivers fell foul of high entry speeds and ‘brave’ braking points. Shooting at turn nine on Friday, I saw this Falcon Ute come flying into the gravel…
Settling just in time to see a Holden Ute get squirrelly in the chicane beforehand, lose braking traction and come to rest beside it a lap later. Given the section was under yellows at the time, I did wonder about the driver’s vision, but like I said, V8 Ute drivers are aggressive.
Of course, racing did actually occur in between the crashing and banging, with Rhys McNally (below) winning the first Sunday event and Nathan Pretty taking out race two.
After the V8 Utes came the wondrous Formula 5000’s.
These monsters of yesteryear were a sight for sore eyes. However, with their thunderous five-litre V8’s, the Formula 5000’s may not have been a sound for sore ears; while they sounded glorious, they were also the only cars at the event to truly necessitate earplugs for me. Of course, my hearing is half-gone thanks to motorsport anyway, so please don’t take that as meaning you shouldn’t wear earplugs when at a motorsport event.
Whatever their sound level, the fact remains Formula 5000’s are some of the fastest and most spectacular race cars on the planet. How fast? Well, despite being at least 30 years-old, they can lap Sandown at around the same pace or even a second-a-lap faster than a current V8 Supercar. It’s truly heady stuff.
Of course, with age also comes slightly elderly handling. As Andrew Higgins found out in his lovely ex-Andretti Lola T400.
Luckily he was OK, but it very nearly could have ended in tragedy, as another car had to pull an emergency swerve to miss him just moments after this shot was taken.
Once all the smoke had cleared, a few other entertainment options revealed themselves. The first was the spectacular aerobatics display from Red Bull Air Race competitor and professional stunt pilot Matt Hall. Now, I have been to airshows in the past, but this display was easily the best I’ve ever seen. Some of the twirling, twisting movements at the apogee of the climbs were just intense, looking for all the world like he was about to plummet from the sky. Yet Matt remained in control at all times, wowing the crowd. It was great to see.
The second came in two-wheeled form via stunt motorbike displays from Stuntz Inc. and Showtime FMX. Sadly, I was too far away to have a hope of getting either main display close up, even with a 400mm lens, but at least this burnout occurred close enough to be usable.
Fans also got to see their favourite V8 Supercars drivers prior to the main race, in the obligatory driver’s parade. Each race uses machines from a different car club, and this time, it was the turn of the Austin Healey brigade.
Finally, a number of different car clubs got together to put on a show of some interesting, new and classic V8 metal.
Possibly the most interesting of which was this ‘Mr Bean’ number-plated V8 Mini. Yup, a V8 Mini. The front seats located where the rears normally are should give that game away. I quite liked the co-driver’s name, too: “Scared Sh!tless”.
Moving onto the main game, it was fascinating to see how each team prepared compared to last year, when I shot the Winton round two weeks prior to Sandown. Just twelve months ago, I saw one team using a $15 fan heater in cold air mode to cool their engines. This year, it was all F1-level fans with custom attachments and various other things. It’s safe to say V8 Supercars has stepped up a notch.
That’s not to say the V8s have lost their trademark sense of humour, though.
Other things I noticed while moving through the paddock included Jack Perkins’ Sandown special Senna tribute helmet, made to promote the Senna Club hospitality program, at next year’s Clipsal 500 in Adelaide. I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
You also got a chance to see the new 18-inch Car Of The Future (COTF)-spec wheels, made by Racer Industries. Given V8 Supercars ran ludicrously small 17-inch jobs until last year, these are definitely a step in the right direction.
Once the race started, it was interesting to see how each team managed their tensions. Some, like this Ford Performance Racing staff member, watched screens intently.
Others, like team owner and former touring car racer, Gary Rogers, took a more relaxed approach.
Out on track, while the new Car Of The Future specifications have broken the Holden/Ford duopoly, it was clear to see which brands still held the biggest sway. The bus on the left is all Ford fans, by the way. What do they say about keeping your friends close…?
After all was said and done, the cars had time to rest. All wore the battle scars from 500kms of hard racing…
But bathed in the light of the setting sun, it seemed to matter little. Same time next year?