On paper, the 2018 SuperUtes category is far from a mouth-watering concept.
If race series were meals, the thought of high-riding, diesel-powered tradie trucks lumbering around Australia’s racetracks is about as tasty as a half-kilo of lard garnished with overcooked brussels sprouts. Why, then, am I quite excited about the potential of this seemingly foolhardy endeavour?
A quick recap for the uninitiated: with local manufacturing scheduled to be done and dusted by October 2017, Supercars wanted a new support category to replace the much-loved V8 ute series for 2018 and beyond. Rather than create a whole new ballgame, Supercars merely changed the rules, opening the doors to the full-size utes that dominate local sales charts.
Predictably, fans haven’t exactly welcomed the move, filling social media with the sort of vitriol reserved for raised taxes and cancelled public holidays. No, worse than that – take our money and our time off, but let us keep the V8s, won’t you? After all, what’s the rush? We’re still racing HQs 43 years after they disappeared from Holden showrooms.
Supercars’ rationale is easy to understand; motorsport around the world is desperate for manufacturer involvement and the easiest way to encourage that is to feature the vehicles manufacturers want to sell.
Full-size utes are in huge demand right now; if you combine 4x4 and 4x2, the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger are the first and second biggest sellers respectively so far this year. They’ll join the Mazda BT-50, Isuzu D-Max, Mitsubishi Triton and Holden Colorado on the 2018 SuperUtes grid, though only Holden has officially pledged its support for the category.
But what use is manufacturer involvement if watching the trackside grass grow is more exciting than the on-track action? Well, that on-track action may well be the SuperUtes’ trump card. There are two key ingredients to spectacular racing: vehicles with more power than grip and/or asking vehicles to do something they weren’t designed to do. Early indications are that SuperUtes may tick both of these boxes.
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Granted, with a minimum weight of 1800kg and maximum power output of 254kW the SuperUtes aren’t going to be the fastest things on four wheels, but if footage of the prototype power sliding around the Norwell driver training facility is anything to go by, maximum torque of 677Nm and an unfavourable centre of gravity should result in plenty of sideways motoring.
Likewise, just as running F1 cars in the wet or Stadium Super Trucks on a street circuit virtually guarantees must-watch action, the prospect of 32 giant utes navigating the concrete canyons of Adelaide, Townsville or Bathurst and attempting to emerge unscathed will have me glued to the telly for curiosity’s sake if nothing else.
Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, maybe it’ll be like watching the CCTV from the Bunnings’ carpark in fast forward, but I’m prepared to bet there will be a few converts post-2018 Clipsal 500.