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V8 Supercars - by Neil Blackbourn, Australia


The number one form of motorsport worldwide, and in Europe particularly, is F1. Touring Cars hold a small place in racing circles. Glorified taxis, not real racing cars, sling whatever you want at them and you would have heard it before. But two things about Aussie Touring Cars make them the nation's number one racing category, AHEAD of all single seater categories:

1: They are 'V8 Supercars'. This is their official name, and they are all 5-litre V8s; either a Holden (GM) or a Ford, and they are HEAVY. One and a half tonnes almost, so they handle a lot differently to any other car in the world. They are designed for the track, unlike NASCAR, who modify an oval racer for the tracks. They are loud, and not too subtle!

2: At the Australian Grand Prix meeting every year, the support races that the pit lane boys in F1 DO NOT miss is the V8 Supercar races!

English fans would remember a few names in the ranks in the past, and some that are there now. The Aussie legend, Peter Brock has raced them, and is a household name in Australia. If you get pulled over for speeding, they ask you 'who do you think you are, Brocky or something?' Dick Johnson is another. The Ford man made his mark in the UK with his Sierras in the mid to late '80s, and this year is in fact the great man's last in racing. Well into his 50s now, his team is ready for the big testimonial dinners that will follow him around the country this year, much as they did in '97 when Brocky was on the scene. He will still be around however - his two car team will continue on. This year they have BTCC refugee Paul Radisich in the second car. Some second string driver, the Kiwi isn't!

Other names include Alan Jones in a Commodore. AJ has been been around over the past few years driving a Ford Falcon, however he is to turn to a Holden later this year. And the wily old Larry Perkins. An ex-Brabham F1 driver, Larry operates a two car team for he and Russell Ingall, who raced all types of open wheelers in Europe until a short time ago. And the young guns coming up, such as Craig Lowndes, who has European experience in F3000 with TWR Racing. Craig drives for uncle Tom's TWR HSV Racing Team - the official factory Holden team - along with Mark Skaife, and ex-champion and Bathurst winner himself. Lowndes boasts an enviable record - two championship winning years, '96 and '98, and they are the only two years he has contested the series!

The first round was run two weeks ago at Eastern Creek, the venue for various bike World Championship races. The circuit is near Australia's largest city, Sydney, population around 4 million people. And the crowds flocked to the circuit on Sunday and saw some fantastic racing. The tight nature of some sections of Eastern Creek as well as some sweeping turns and a long straight means there are places where the cars bunch up, then string out and bunch up again. The second corner always causes some trouble, and this meeting was no different.

The Shell Australian Touring Car Championship (to give it it's full title) races are run in a 20 minute format, as close as the laps calculation allows anyhow, and there are three races on the day. Starting positions are determined in qualifying on the Saturday, and the results of the heat prior decides the start order of the second and third heats. And now the field races on a control tyre for the first time - supplied by Bridgestone.

The HRT boys, Skaife and Lowndes, had qualifying by the scruff of the neck, with Skaife eventually nudging out his younger teammate Lowndes. The Falcon pair of Glenn Seton, in the newly formed factory Ford Falcon team, took third, with last year's Bathurst winning driver, Jason Bright fourth, also in a Falcon. And Skaife took off in the lead of the first race, but Lowndes had a slow start and dropped back. Young West Australian driver Garth Tander made good progress in practice to start fifth in his Valvoline sponsored Commodore, but had to relinquish third to Lowndes as he recovered. Lowndes made his way back into third, where he would finish race one, behind Skaife. Garth Tander was fourth.

Race two again went the way of HRT, but the third race went to Craig Lowndes, who could do nothing to overhaul his teammate's points lead going into the second round of the series. Garth Tander shook off his 'bad boy' tag, the 21 year old securing third for the day in an older model Commodore, the VS (the new car is the VT). But the Ford teams are not too far behind, as Jason Bright and Glenn Seton showed. The first running of the Sensational Adelaide 500 - to be run around the old GP street circuit in Adelaide, South Australia, this coming weekend will see some tough racing on a sensational track. More news next time around from the Land Down Under! I will get some shots soon, so look out, you won't believe it!

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