Last hurrah at Bathurst for Holden v Ford

By David Thomson on Sat, 6 Oct 2012

It's the end of an era for Australia's great race this weekend, with the V8 supercar class as we have known it for some two decades having its Bathurst 1000 last hurrah.

Though subject to a number of changes along the way, the current V8 supercar class dates back to the mid-1990s, and has been an exclusive Holden versus Ford category for most of that time.

That is to change from 2013, when new "car of the future" regulations take effect.

Designed in part to rein in costs and to improve safety, the new regulations also promise to provide a Nascar-style level playing field that will open the way for marques other than Holden and Ford to join the V8 supercars.

To this end, every car will be built around a standard "control" chassis, as well as standard suspension and other key componentry. However, both the engine and bodywork will be specific to the marque concerned.

Along with Fords and Holdens, both Mercedes-Benz and Nissan versions of the new machines are due to take to the track in anger next year.

To give an example of how this will work for a new manufacturer, Nissan's V8 supercar will use bodywork from the 2013 Altima, and a downsized five-litre version of the 5.6-litre V8 engine that will feature under the bonnet of the forthcoming Nissan Patrol 4WD.

Holden and Ford versions of the new machine have been tested extensively this year.

By the time you read this, the Ford version should have had its first run at Bathurst, completing a number of test laps and perhaps, for comparative purposes, taking part in a practice session alongside the present crop of V8 Supercars.

While the appearance of this new machine in testing will generate intense interest, come tomorrow morning all attention will switch to what will be the last pure Holden v Ford slug-fest of the V8 supercar era.

I do not particularly care whether Holden extends its Bathurst winning run to four in a row, or Ford ends up topping the podium.

Instead, I am throwing my support behind each and every Kiwi driver participating.

There are 10 New Zealanders in the frame this time around, two more than in 2011.

Futhermore, because there are no all-Kiwi combinations this year (there were two last year), the number of cars featuring at least one New Zealand driver is up from six to 10, five in Fords and five in Holdens.

It's those in the Fords that have the better shot at Bathurst glory this time round I reckon: Steven Richards is looking especially strong, as he is partnering Mark Winterbottom, who is second in the V8 supercar series for Ford Performance Racing (FPR). Also with FPR this weekend, John
McIntyre has drawn a great driving partner, too - 2009 Bathurst winner Will Davison.

If there is a Kiwi who has a shot at leading to glory in a Ford, as opposed to partnering as a competent number two, it would have to be Shane van Gisbergen. He's been in fine form at Stone Brothers Racing this season, and has a solid number two driver in Luke Youlden.

Craig Baird (partnering Lee Holdsworth for Irwin Racing) and Matt Halliday (with Dean Fiore at Jim Beam Racing) are the other New Zealanders in the Ford camp.

There is less obvious Kiwi strength on the Holden side. I rate the two strongest prospects as Greg Murphy, who has Owen Kelly as his partner in the Pepsi Max team, and Fabian Coulthard, who shares a car with David Besnard.

Jonny Reid (with Michael Patrizi), Chris Pither (with David Wall) and Daniel Gaunt (with Karl Reindler) round out the Kiwi Holden contingent.

I would be delighted, but surprised, if we see a Kiwi winner tomorrow night.

A podium result is a definite chance, though, along with three or four New Zealanders in the top 10.

Heading right across to the other side of the world, this is also a weekend to keep an eye on Hayden Paddon's progress in the French round of the World Rally Championship.

Mechanical misfortune has dogged Paddon on the last two WRC rounds, and he badly needs a fast, trouble-free run in France to keep his S2000 world championship title hopes alive.

The ideal would be a round win for Paddon, accompanied by a less than perfect run by series leader Per-Gunnar Andersson (Sweden). Andersson is eight points ahead of Paddon, who is second-equal in the series with Irishman Craig Breen.

David Thomson