For months, the racing world has waited eagerly for the debut of the new generation of V8 Supercar: the "Car of the Future". This weekend it finally happened in Adelaide, and for the first time in nearly two decades Holdens and Ford were joined on track by Nissans and Mercedes AMGs. So, how'd it go?
Well, it really didn't go all that differently than any other V8 Supercar weekend. The cars looked different enough (and were entirely different underneath), but ultimately they didn't race any differently than the original V8 Supercar. Just as last year, Triple Eight and FPR still seemed to have a clear lock on the front of the pack. Just as last year, Triple Eight's customer team Tekno is sometimes outperforming the company's self-run cars. The biggest difference from last year? With the switches to Nissan and Mercedes AMG bodied cars respectively, Kelly Racing and SBR (now known as Erebus) have lost a significant amount of their competitive edge.
The weekend's first qualifying (and following top 10 shootout) ended with Shane Van Gisbergen on the pole over Mark Winterbottom.
As the lights went out and the first race of the season began, catastrophe for the front row. As Van Gisbergen stalled on the grid (falling to 8th by the end of the lap), Winterbottom got away clean only to find third gear missing as he came onto the first straightaway. This was the beginning of a gearbox problem that ultimately relegated popular Ford driver Winterbottom to his first retirement of the season.
This left Fabian Coulthard in the lead of the race, something he held until the first cycle of pit stops. Behind him, the Triple Eight/Red Bull Racing Australia cars of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup stopped earlier and took advantage of more time on fresh tires to make up time on Coulthard, and by the time he stopped Lowndes was now leading Whincup, who was himself holding up the now clearly faster Coulthard.
While struggling to keep Coulthard in his mirror, the four time champion Whincup mangled his left front fender in a tire barrier, further slowing him and developing a train consisting of Coutlhard and FPR's Will Davison behind him. Over the next stint, Whincup successfully held off both drivers, allowing Lowndes to amass a massive 30 second lead.
Coulthard and Davison finally leapfrogged Whincup after the second (and final) set of stops, but the damage had already been done and the two would have to make up a full second a lap on Lowndes to have a shot at winning the event. This was not to be, and without a safety car in the entire 78 lap first event, Craig Lowndes went on to win the first ever V8 Supercar event in the "COTF" era. Coulthard had an issue at the very end of the race, and ultimately the podium was compromised of Craig Lowndes, Will Davison and Jamie Whincup.
Reliability issues hit many of the leaders, with the FPR Fords of both Mark Winterbottom and David Reynolds having gearbox issues before the end of lap 1. Despite a complete lack of safety car periods, only 18 of 28 cars finished the event, mostly due to the aforementioned reliability problems but also thanks to some minor incidents in the rear of the field.
Neither the Kelly Racing run Nissan operation nor the Erebus/SBR run Mercedes AMG program was able to impress on debut, with only one of the seven (the Nissan of Rick Kelly) able to finish on the lead lap and only four of the seven (the Nissans of James Moffat and th aforementioned Rick Kelly, the Mercedes AMGs of Tim Slade and Lee Holdsworth) finishing at all.
For full results, click here.
Despite taking place 48 hours later, race 2 qualifying was ultimately a repeat of race 1, with Shane Van Gisbergen again taking pole over Mark Winterbottom.
The start was far more successful for both members of the front row this time around, and while Winterbottom was able to get ahead of Van Gisbergen at first, both Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup soon got ahead of Winterbottom and pulled away. In the first cycle of stops, Whincup pitted earlier than Van Gisbergen, and thanks to taking a smaller amount of fuel he took the lead after the first cycle was completed. The Fords of Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom, originally running third and fourth, had issues with their lugnuts on those first stops and fell out of contention.
Now in a class of their own, Van Gisbergen spent the next few laps trying to get around Jamie Whincup. Ultimately, he succeeded, and shortly after the lead change the second cycle of stops followed, though they didn't really shuffle the order in the front at all. The next 30 laps were relatively quiet, but Alex Davison soon put his FPR run Ford into the wall (thanks to a flat tire), and for the first time in 2013, the safety car was out.
Four days ago, this would have been a double file restart, but thanks to a last second rule change, single file restarts were put back in place. Thanks to that, Van Gisbergen again got away at the front. A few backmarkers piled up in the final corner at the end of this first lap since the restart (most notably the Nissans of both Todd and Rick Kelly), but ultimately the race stayed green for these final ten laps and, for the first time since 2011, the legally embattled Shane Van Gisbergen was a race winner in V8 Supercars. The Triple Eight cars of Jamie Whincup and Will Davison completed the podium.
Thanks to another long green flag run and a couple of pile-ups, reliability was again an issue in this event. This time, only 17 cars finished the event, and of those 17, only three were Mercedes AMG or Nissan entries.
Go here for the full race 2 result.
So, what have we learned about the Car of the Future after it's first race weekend? First and foremost, we've learned that things may have gotten a bit closer up front, but ultimately the only two teams to have won races in 2012 (FPR and Triple Eight Racing) are still the top teams in the sport. Shane Van Gisbergen and his Tekno team mate Johnathan Webb may ultimately give them a fight for the championship however, as they seem to have just as much an understanding of the Triple Eight built Holdens as Triple Eight do themselves. Nissan and Mercedes AMG will struggle early in the season and it may take them a while to become competitive, but it certainly looks like Kelly Racing and Nissan are closer to having their ducks in a row than Erebus/SBR and Mercedes AMG.
Lowndes leaves the event with the title lead over his team mate Whincup, with Davison trailing in third. Winterbottom and Van Gisbergen's DNFs in race 1 ultimately leave them in a hole leaving Adelaide, and fringe title contenders Russell Ingall and James Courtney find themselves completing the top 5 right now. For full championship standings, go here.