Gen3 may be the single biggest change drivers have faced in the era of five-litre racing in Australia.
When the Car of the Future replaced the Project Blueprint for the 2013 Supercars season, there were a lot of technical changes. Some, like the independent rear suspension and the move from 17 to 18 inch rims, require a rethink from drivers. But Car of the Future was largely about recreating the supercar on a control structure to make it easier for new manufacturers to join Ford and Holden.
However, Gen3 is about redefining the racing product. If the proposed numbers are reached, the cars will be significantly lighter than Gen2 cars, which is the final iteration of COTF. The Gen3 will have much less air, with front fenders from the past and rear wings much less effective. V8 engines, which are now more closely based on production units, are very different, with less power but more torque.
The idea is that Gen3 cars will provide an entirely new challenge for drivers. At the core of the Gen3 is better racing thanks to air reduction. That should mean less polluted air, and a more lively car that could see driver errors rise.
During the significantly prolonged period in Gen3, two distinctly different types of thinking emerged with regard to drivers.
There are people in the ring who see the advantage going to the veterans in the field. Guys who remember the bad old days of the relatively low-tech, low-grip Blueprint cars. Guys who haven’t been spoiled by the creeping levels of power in the COTF, especially since the introduction of the Mustang. Guys who know how to wrangle a supercar at its ugliest.
Then there are those who feel that the younger generation has the upper hand. Drivers who aren’t bundled with 10, 15, or 20 years of muscle memory drive what we know as a Supercar. Drivers at a more flexible stage of their career who may adjust faster than the big boys.
So who is right? Who will have the advantage when the third generation era kicks off in Newcastle this March?
Will class newcomers help out with a fresh approach like Triple Eight’s Broc Feeney?
Photo by: Edge Photography
One man who has all the bases covered is Tickford Racing boss Tim Edwards. His roster of four drivers stretches from one end of the experience spectrum to the other.
At the very experienced end is James Courtney, 42, 2010 series champion and full-time Supercars champion since 2006. Smack bang in the middle is Cam Waters, one of the top talents in the category with seven seasons under his belt, at the peak of his power. Then there are the little guns Jake Kosteki and Thomas Randall. The latter is a particularly interesting case, given that he’s only a year away from his ride in his main Supercars game and as Tickford sees him as a driver with huge potential.
According to Edwards, there is merit in the idea that young drivers still developing what he calls their “bag of tricks” would benefit from owning these new cars. He points to the 2013 season as a guide. Coinciding with the introduction of COTF was an impressive number of starters that included the likes of Scott McLaughlin, Scott Pai and Chazz Mostert. McLaughlin and Mostert were both race winners by the end of the season.
“If you turn back the clock to the class of 2013—McLaughlin, Mostert, there were five or six of them in what I call the class of 2013,” says Edwards. Those who graduated that transition year from Blueprint to Car of the Future.
“As an engineering group, you want to work with experienced guys, because they will give you the feedback you need to make the car go faster.” Tim Edwards
“They all looked better in 2013 than I could have expected for my first-year drivers. And that was because their decade-old bag of tricks, Mark Winterbottoms and Jimmy Wyncups, went to the toilet. It was a clean slate for everyone at the start of the year. The 2013 class excelled because the pitch It was even more even when they went up against experienced guys.”
At the same time, Edwards is very happy to have an experienced driver like Courtney in his plan – and he has nothing to do with driving low-powered touring cars. Instead, it’s all about feedback, and Edwards elevates that to be a crucial skill as teams struggle to learn these new cars. In particular, teams will only have two Tests and away, all within six weeks of the first round.
“Someone like JC, yeah, the bag of tricks he’s developed over the last 20 years won’t necessarily translate to Gen3,” Edwards explains. However, he is very attuned to the car and is very clear in his notes. The engineers love working with him because he is very clear about what the car does.
Courtney’s vast experience and quality feedback mean he can help Tickford improve her cars, but will Randall be less dependent on his “bag of tricks”?
Photo by: Edge Photography
“Younger drivers kind of don’t know. They go, ‘ummm, it reduces a bit,’ whereas JC could describe it in more detail. So a driver like him will allow you to develop and understand your car faster. As an engineering group, you want to work With experienced guys, because they will give you the feedback you need to make the car go faster.
“In terms of going on the track, at the start they all have to learn and maybe the younger drivers adapt faster because they don’t have to rely on their bag of tricks. But their teams still have to give them a car to compete with, and we’ll all be throwing darts at the dart board at the start .
“If someone gets out of the field and makes it in the first race, of course they’ll say, ‘Yeah that’s because we’re so smart.’ But it will be the case that their shot at the dart board was better than anyone else’s.”
Bruin Beasley, Team Principal for Team 18, agrees that feedback will be important to drivers during the transitional season. He says the driver-engineer relationship will be especially important in terms of learning how to tune the cars.
“The driver/engineer relationship will be more relevant, because the car is new to everyone,” he says. “So that relationship, and understanding the feedback, is going to be important.
“When the driver says, ‘He’s doing this’ and then moves his hand a certain way, and the engineer understands what he’s saying, that’s where you’re going to find some really good payoff.”
The team will have 18 drivers at the more experienced end of the spectrum at its disposal next season. Mark Winterbottom is the most experienced driver in the class, having first raced a Supercar in 2003, the first season of Project Blueprint. Across the garage is Pye, who has been a series regular since COTF’s first season in 2013.
But for Paisley, it’s not about the young or the old, the experienced or the inexperienced. In his “side hustle”, which successfully runs cars in the Toyota Racing Series each summer in New Zealand, he sees a lot of drivers with different backgrounds come and go. Some adapt quickly, some don’t. It is believed that it will be the same with Gen3.
Depending on the driver’s ability to adapt, old hands such as Winterbottom from Team 18 and newcomers alike may thrive or struggle.
Photo by: Edge Photography
“For me, the reality is that men who are able to adapt will benefit,” he says. “To be fair, all of these guys are at a high level. Take a look at each of our guys, they ride these cars and in a few laps they stock one time, and you think… “F***.” The skill level is pretty high.
“I think there’s going to be a spread. I think you’ll see some drivers from both the experienced and inexperienced camps struggle. And there’ll be some where you’ll think, ‘This is a surprise,’ but then you’ll go back through their resume and go, ‘Oh, he won that,'” He did this, he did that…”
“Grade A drivers, let’s say there are six of them, will still be Class A drivers when Gen3 comes along” Tim Edwards
“I think you will find men who are more adaptable, willing to learn, and perhaps more courageous in some ways, will get a result.”
While all of this may be relevant as teams and drivers find their feet in the Gen3 era, Edwards expects one clear trend to emerge as the season approaches.
“The better drivers are the better drivers. You still have A, B, C and D drivers,” he says. “Grade A drivers, let’s say there are half a dozen of them, will still be Class A drivers when Gen3 comes along. The cream will eventually rise to the top.”
Edwards is confident that top drivers from the COTF era like Tickford gun Waters will rise to the top of Gen3
Photo by: Edge Photography