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Having undergone a soft transition into the Gen2 regulations at the start of the 2017 season, the Supercars championship is already keen to chart out its future beyond the end of 2021, when which this framework is locked into.
Gen2 opened the door to competitors, allowing them to explore two-door body shapes and engines beyond the traditional V8, which has dominated the touring car category for the last two decades.
Holden up until earlier this year, had been development of a twin-turbo V6 powertrain which was to debut in 2019 in their ZB Commodore. However, they had announced that they were to indefinitely postpone that project – which made one ponder what would be at the heart of a Supercar in the future.
Walkinshaw Andretti United co-owner in Zak Brown was the first to raise the notion of exploring hybrid power for the competitive touring car category at his maiden visit to the team at Australian Grand Prix, as supposed to standard twin-turbocharged engines.
Now, the new CEO of Supercars in Sean Seamer has tabled the concept as being under ‘evaluation’ for what will form the basis of ‘Next Generation’; the new regulations set for introduction beyond 2021.
“Do we have the ability to do it [hybridisation]? Is it something that we will consider as part of Next Generation? To which we have said, ‘yes, we will look at that as part of the program and the planning’,” said Seamer to Supercars.com.
“We will include manufacturers in those discussions to get their feedback and their inputs, and in terms of what works for them, and make sure that we understand what their long-term product roadmap looks like.”
Hybrid technology has seen prominence in the World Endurance Championship, with the previous wave of Le Mans Prototypes all utilising unique energy recovery devices – in tandem with internal combustion, to achieve phenomenal power outputs and top speeds.
It continues to feature in Formula One also, though rather controversially, with the complexity of the two energy recovery systems beyond the layman, but also the subject of massive development costs in an age where money is no longer spent at will on research and development.
While it will cost more to develop than the current V8 motor in Supercars, the benefits of having hybrid power are countless for the category, considering the current automotive landscape is exploiting hybrid or electric power.
With Supercars being a sport with emphasis on manufacturers and the underlying fundamental of being able to ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’, hybrid is what could be the drawcard for new marques to branch out to Australia in pursuit of sales and development of what could potentially power a fleet.
Common sedans produced by the likes of Toyota and Mazda for example already utilise iterations of hybrid technology and it would be an avenue to continuing exploring, given the unreliability and unaffordability of electric cars presently.
Hybrid’s success in Supercars will be down to how it is executed, given the reception that was received across Formula One. A single energy recovery system, giving a mere power boost a la the old KERS is one option, that would also liven up the already competitive racing.
Whether the fans embrace it wholly or not, should not be a factor in deciding this Next Generation blueprint. As constantly emphasised on this column; motorsport is a game of constant evolution and this technology before us can only benefit the automotive industry – rather than hinder it.
The mighty V8 is and has been, the beating heart of Australian touring cars, but its soul has always been the exciting wheel-to-wheel racing and individual performances so heroically acted out by the flesh and blood inside the cockpit.
So, if hybrid is to be the future of Supercars, then indeed it is one that is worth looking over the horizon to.