The announcement’s timing might have been better managed – right before the first round of the 2020 V8SC championship, GM Holden’s announcement of its demise as a brand and a motorsport force.
It’s been covered in excruciating detail all round the mighty halls of the media but simply: GM will no longer support the H-brand nor will it make right hand drive cars.
No denying the V8SC teams were surprised – their championship is half GM Holden, so at least that many are going to be making some difficult choice in coming weeks. Not to mention the mechanics, engineers, tyre changers, lunch makers and PRs.
Mark Skaife sniffed away tears taking about the shock announcement. Jamie Whincup was sad on twitter, but remembered how good the Commodore race cars was at popping enormous smoke-choked victory wheelies. Ford (NZ) was gentlemanly and statesmanlike. Walkinshaw Andretti posted a nice commiseration on twitter. The DJR operation – champions in Mustangs no matter what Roland Dane threw at them –said “Holden was always a fierce rival. A great Aussie brand coming to an end is sad for our country, no matter your allegiance.”
Similarly, the NZ version will be a sore and sorry looking category when it next hits the tracks. So this is some of the context, or back story. Not only are they running old (and thus commercially irrelevant) cars, but after the messy schism over the Supertourer and NZV8 series, the Kiwi motorsport hardly needs more uncertainty. In the current BNT championship, there are just five Holdens from a not-so-inspiring total of 13 cars.
The reluctance of the teams to stick with the concentrated five week south-north ‘heart’ of the championship gave some indication of the difference between the V8s and the scratch-built but very professional teams of the Castrol Toyota Racing Series.
For owner-operators, the five week commitment is huge. Even if you fly back in between rounds, the most you can hope for is two and a half days keeping things bubbling along in your business.
Then it’s away again to the next round. Just ask some of the stalwarts who regularly run in the series, or former champions like Johnny Mac. Even – from personal experience – working media for a series or driver is absolutely draining. You arrive at the end of the five week period and just want to collapse for a couple of days – though of course you can’t.
There could be few more loyal ambassadors for an automotive brand than Greg Murphy. He told TVNZ News last night that the Holden announcement had caught many by surprise and it was ”gutting” for all who have had a part to play in the brand’s racing success. Holden, he said, leaves a difficult gap to fill. The teams who have run Holdens across the ditch – in the main show and the supports – will now have to make their own decisions about a way forward.
“Motorsport has to try to create something that can fill the gap and have relevance.”
There it is – the ‘R’ word.
Which brings me back to the announcement I referred to at the beginning of this piece, and which I then sidestepped.
Yes folks, TCR is on its way. It’s really on its way. So much so that MotorSport New Zealand has announced (yesterday) that the BNT NZV8s will be replaced by TCR at the end of this current V8 race season.
That would mean the next round of the current series at Hampton Downs March 28-29 is effectively the flying farewell for the BNT V8s – as a premier class anyway. BNT V8s have been the premier Touring Car championship series for three decades or more though it has evolved considerably in that time. Does anyone recall the one-make TraNZam Lite class that kinda started all this?
MSNZ competition manager Elton Goonan says the governing body believes that TCR better reflects what local vehicle distributors are selling which increases the potential for support from them.
“Confirming that TCR NZ will compete for the New Zealand Touring Car Championship title is a big piece of the puzzle complete for us. It adds another incentive for teams and drivers to join what is a huge success worldwide and gives drivers a recognised platform to compete on.”
It is certainly a bold move on the part of MSNZ, promoting a category to championship status when it hasn’t run a race yet in New Zealand. Full credit to category manager Grant Smith for hanging in there both with ARG and with MSNZ. Turns out Confucius had something after all – water does indeed wear away stone.
These 2.0-litre screamers are current machinery and they get updates to keep them competitive; they are a global spec so we can look for drivers from other countries coming here to race, and our drivers will likewise be able to go jump in a car at Sepang, or Buriram, or Zuhai or Pau and be familiar with the characteristics of their steeds.
Personally, I have no doubt TCR will be a huge success here, not least because of the ‘R’ word.
Relevance? They have it in spades. Try a current-model works-built VW Golf GTi for 85,000 Euro. Or save 20,000 Euro and go for a Honda Civic. That one’s a Walkinshaw car. Seat, Audi, even Toyota – they are all there for the picking, or if you win that massive Lotto this weekend you could go to one of the factories and pick yourself out a new one. It gets expensive when you go to buy one from Oz, though this Astra is brand new at $250,000 AUD.
There’s a rumour a couple of northern hemisphere team managers –BTCC types – had been looking at bringing a TCR car or two here for the summer until the plug was (temporarily) pulled. They did come down, though, to check out TRS and other aspects of the local scene. Quite what they thought of the 11-13 strong V8 grid is anyone’s guess.
It would be good to think this hiatus will give drivers and teams a chance to sort out their muddles and be ready to race when things kick off later this year. I certainly hope we don’t have to rely on the Big Burnt Country to bulk up our grids past maybe the first round.