I’ll begin with the good news. It no longer looks like the end of the Elephant Man’s nose. While there’s no rule that dictates a racing car has to be beautiful (Nissan GT-R LM, or Tyrrell six-wheeler anyone?), there is an expectation that it will at least be striking. Sadly, Ford’s heavily hyped Mustang Supercar missed on both counts. Awkward, hump-backed and with a bulging glasshouse that protruded from bodywork that was too narrow and too tall, the first prototype looked like an unfortunate mash-up of a Mustang and the old FG X Falcon. Which, of course, is exactly what it was.
The fixed hard points dictated by Supercars’ control chassis meant that any hopes of retaining the production Mustang’s muscular stance, swooping roofline, and narrow glasshouse were doomed from the outset.
Mercifully, progress has been made and the Shell liveried DJR Penske Mustang that features on p86 appears to be a visual improvement. Bruce Newton’s exclusive deep dive into the Mustang’s compressed development is a cracker, yet even as we gear up for the start of a new racing season (our Formula 1 preview is on p18), neither Supercars nor F1 can lay claim to the biggest story in motorsport right now.
That honour goes to the Bathurst 12 Hour. From humble beginnings less than a decade ago (in its current guise), the 12 Hour is now jostling for the title of this country’s best motor race. And yes, that includes the one held in October every year.
Bursting with exotic and genuinely desirable cars, the 12 Hour doesn’t only attract the world’s best GT drivers and lucrative factory support from the likes of Porsche, Bentley, AMG and Audi, it deftly sidesteps the issues plaguing much of the motorsport world: namely a lack of relevance, uncompetitive racing and a shortage of overtaking.
In fact, depending on who you ask, you’d be forgiven for thinking traditional motorsport is facing something of a crisis. Compounding the aforementioned issues are a perceived increase in fan disillusionment and the radical rise of ‘disruptor’ categories like Formula E and Roborace, the latter being a category that hopes to ditch the driver all together.
Formula 1 isn’t helping matters. Tune into a telecast and much of the preamble is dedicated to worried-looking policy makers grappling with the seemingly unsolvable problems of soaring costs and dull racing. It only fuels the subtext that the pinnacle of motorsport is broken.
The problems extend closer to home too. Despite last year’s addition of the ZB Commodore, and this year’s arrival of the Mustang (which also brings solid support from Ford Motorsport), Australia’s top-flight category still has a relevance problem.
You can’t say the same of the 12 Hour. From BMWs to Bentleys, it’s the spread of widely different cars, and wildly different levels of performance, that make the racing so intriguing. Case in point was the final hour of this year’s race which was an all-out brawl between five different manufacturers with varying cylinder counts and powertrain layouts, and all piloted by five of the most exciting drivers in global motorsport right now. All up, the 12 Hour recorded 30 different lead changes. You’d be lucky to get that in a season of Formula 1.
And then there’s the spectacle itself. Standing at the edge of the circuit as 40 sets of headlights scythe through the pre-dawn gloom at the race start is an event that trumps anything the Bathurst 1000 can muster.
Have I mentioned the drivers? Such was the brutality and intensity of the race that even seasoned pros like Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen couldn’t stand at the chequered flag; instead he lay slumped, broken, on the bitumen.
It delivered a timely reminder of what makes motorsport so special, which, if you boil it down, is remarkably simple. It’s about watching extraordinary people doing astonishing things in remarkable cars. Here’s hoping that other categories were paying attention.