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The Roar

John Phillips

Roar Rookie

Joined September 2019

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Supply chain guru. Journeyman photographer. Dressage aficionado. Netball nerd. Motorsport tragic - if it’s got an engine in it, it’s got my attention. And, apparently, I'd be a great date if you were going to a funeral..Or if you need a competent 'walker' to accompany you to an important social or business event.. Huge fan of the written word.

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I agree with you about Sally Robbins. Incredibly unfortunate, but not cringeworthy. The aftermath was pretty ugly – understandably – but she deserves credit for the exemplary way she conducted herself afterwards.
She copped a lot of abuse on the chin and never sought to deflect the blame on to anyone else – no ‘my mum gave me the diet pills’ rubbish. She had the courage to try and get back into the sport at the highest level, and ultimately retired with some grace and dignity, which is more than can be said for some of the people on this list….
Also of note is the fact that this incident occurred a few years prior to the ubiquity of social media that pervades everything today. If it happened now it would have been a lot nastier and uglier – as is the case for a few of these incidents – imagine what would have been unleashed on Trevor & Greg Chappell if that game was played today……….

The ten most cringe-worthy moments in Australian sport

Thanks Jawad. I agree with you, particularly on the EV piece.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

I like Crazy Dave as well and happily followed him across from Ford to Holden, similarly Andre Heimgartner, who started in a Ford, went to Holden then Nissan and is now back in a Ford, and while a lot of people have this attitude I think enough still have the brand allegiance that an all-Mustang grid would see too large a slice of the audience switch off. It’s a huge risk that, if it all goes pear-shaped you can’t undo in a hurry.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

I think if they went to an all-Mustang grid it would be a disaster for the fan base, with LOTS of people switching off entirely.
The Speedcafe survey reflects this – 42% saying MANUFACTURERS are the most important, 23% saying drivers and only 12% saying teams. The Speedcafe audience are hard markers, but given the clear bias in the survey to manufacturers I think Supercars need to do all they can to make sure there are at least two on the grid in 2021. Having the ZBs go around again would be the easiest thing, but from a currency of marketing perspective less than ideal.
I think the Camaro is the best short-term option – will take some effort, some $$ and cause some grief, but puts a ‘line in the sand’ around the departure of Holden, retains currency and relevance as the models on the track will reflect the ones on the road and in the showroom, and gives Supercars some desperately-needed breathing space.
You are correct – bottom line over the long term is that they need to do whatever it is they need to do to get more manufacturers involved.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

Agreed, but for an immediate short-term fix the Camaro might be the best option they are going to have.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

Thanks Ian. I agree on the ‘tight corner’!
Time will tell – change is definitely coming, but I think Supercars have lost the initiative that they had but didn’t utilise in driving the change and now external circumstances are setting the agenda and Supercars are scrambling in ‘response’ mode, which is far from ideal.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

Agreed Micko! They’ve tried! It just hasn’t worked, and right now they need to try a lot harder if they are to survive in the long term.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

Thanks Jawad. I agree that the excitement will be a virtually gauranteed outcome of the right solution, but I’m not confident that Supercars are on any sort of trajectory to get there.
As for electric, I agree with you. Any attempt by Supercars to incorporate electric, or even hybrid in the short term would be adding a layer of expense, complexity and uncertainty that is totally unnecessary at this point in time.
As for it’s applicability in the real world, it’s very early days and ideologically-driven government policy has a history of delivering incredibly poor outcomes for the constituents. I don’t see the trajectory of EV policy in Australia or globally any differently.

Supercars: Perhaps it's time for a change of heart?

I don’t know the answer to the ‘what’s in it (supporting Supercars) for GM?’ question, but I suspect not a lot. The sales (Camaro & Silverado now, possibly Corvette in the future) that they are making and are likely to make in the future are to an educated audience that are already well aware of the product and are highly unlikely to come to it via exposure through Supercars. We are also talking about a relative trickle of vehicles now and in the future – going forward sales of GM products in Australia are never going to trouble the Vfacts scorers.
RHD conversion is expensive – it’s skilled labour intensive and measured globally labour is very expensive in Australia. A large number of bespoke, low-volume OEM-standard parts add to the cost. You can get into a new manual V8 Camaro for $36K in the US. That equates to about $55K in AUD, but the local cost is more like $80K. You can land a car in Australia from the US for less than $5K in freight costs, so the conversion is adding at least an additional $20K. And locally $80K buys a lot of new Mustang….
RHD or LHD on the Supercars grid doesn’t matter as the standard Supercars chassis has no relationship to the road car.

With Holden out, what’s next for Supercars?

I agree that Supercars certainly seem to have boxed themselves into a corner, and a part of that was a lack of vision about what engines were eligible.

The idea of forcing Nissan, Volvo and Mercedes to build Supercars-specific engines that bore no relationship to any of their road cars was ridiculous, made even more so by the fact that they all had the capability to quickly develop engines based on existing road-going models that met the defined power and torque curves – and would have been much more market relevant.

The engine regs should be easy: “Engines shall meet the power and torque curves published by Supercars across their operating rev range within + / – 2%. A maximum number of three engines are to be used during the course of the series, with the engines to be tested and sealed by Supercars prior to the commencement of the series. An additional engine can be made available for use in the event that two of the initial three engines suffer catastrophic mechanical failure. This will result in a grid penalty of 10 places in each race that the additional engine is utilised.” Done. Capacity, layout and induction are all free. No need for endless lists of spec parts. Simple, easy, flexible and far more market relevant than the existing bureaucratic nightmare!

I also agree with you on banning the privateers – particularly at Bathurst! The professional teams are all so ‘same same’ with their slickness and professional presentation. The privateers always provided some great stories, and occasionally broke through for a good result. The less capable professional drivers had a part to play in the demise of the privateers – “the closing speeds are too high!” “It’s dangerous!”. And every one of these clowns would happily jump at the chance of a GT drive at Le Mans, where they would be a mobile chicane to the prototypes blasting past at a much greater speed differential than was ever the case at Bathurst – and the prototype drivers seems to be able to do it without complaining. ‘Professional driver’ must have a different meaning in France….

With Holden out, what’s next for Supercars?

Thanks Woodart.
I agree about the GT races, but that can be fixed fairly easily. I wrote in a previous ROAR article (Can Supercars Survive the Death of Holden?) about the option to mix up the formats of the events and the races themselves, and I think that taking a more creative approach is needed to generate a bit more interest in the series.

With Holden out, what’s next for Supercars?

Thanks Jawad.
You may well be correct with your ‘is Supercars a dinosaur?’ question, but dinosaurs were apparently hard to kill…! Time will tell.
They don’t seem to be getting any more clarity, although the Camaro option seems to be getting a lot of airplay, and for a short-term solution it probably has some currency. The chassis regs are an interesting question, but from what I see Supercars are clinging to the idea of evolving their existing regs ‘Gen 2’ to (possibly) ‘Gen 2.5’ (lower roll hoop to allow Camaro to be on the grid in 2021) to ‘Gen 3’ (who the hell knows?).

My question relates to engines. The current units are iterations of what were originally road-going units that are the best part of 20 years out of date, which in no small part drives the significant expense in building and maintaining them. It’s all a bit silly when GM, Ford (and Chrysler) all have crate motors that reliably and cheaply put out 600+ horsepower without all the palaver that Supercars have created around their outdated 5L units. They have defined power and torque curves that can’t be exceeded, so let the teams tune these engines to meet the curves, seal them and be done with it, regardless of the capacity and induction system used. Cost is capped by limiting the engine allocation per car for a season.

Quicker, cheaper and easier than the current system, it removes the need to physically measure everything (and eliminates the possibility of a repeat of the McLaughlin pole lap at Bathurst debacle) and allows the use of engines that are more ‘market relevant’, which is one of the stated aims of Supercars in developing their new regulations – and the current ones for that matter, but, as we know, that didn’t work……. 😁 😁

With Holden out, what’s next for Supercars?

Good article Lachlan,
I have written on the ROAR about Supercars’ ‘hits and misses’ of the last season, and the GRM saga is certainly a ‘miss’. They have managed to maintain 24 cars on the grid despite the departure of GRM and the contraction of Kelly Racing from four to two entries, but more by good luck than good management.

History and heritage are important in any sport, and GRM certainly qualified as a ‘heritage team’ and had earned the right to have some consideration extended to them on that basis.

I thought it was incredibly short-sighted of Sean Seamer to take the ‘rules are rules’ approach with GRMs situation. I get that rules are there for a reason, but one of the roles of a good leader is to break the rules when appropriate and not apologise for it. Didn’t happen in this case, but I’m sure if he had got on the phone to the respective team owners / managers and said ‘this is the situation, GRM needs an extension to the deadline, do you have an issue with it?’ he wouldn’t have had any push-back.

It would probably serve Supercars well to make a formal provision that acknowledges ‘heritage teams’ – say 20+ years in the same basic format (would mean today GRM, DJRTP and WAU, but not Tickford as ownership lineage has been broken) – that allows them some consideration in circumstances such as these. The ‘heritage teams’ concept could probably be used as the basis for some promotional activations as well, e.g. within the ‘retro round’.

As for Team Sydney, well, to say the start is an inauspicious one is an understatement.

The idea that the concept is supported by the NSW government doesn’t sit easily with me. Part of the justification is that a Sydney-based team would be the centrepiece of a motorsports hub that provided training and skills development for people in Sydney wishing to become involved in motorsport. These are the same clowns who thought they could just arbitrarily shut down Valvoline Raceway without making any provision for an alternative venue – and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that having a healthy local speedway community is going to provide a whole lot more opportunity for training and skills development than a Supercars team running a couple of Triple 8 built customer cars.

I thought the Supercars 2020 Season Launch this week was embarrassingly under-done in general and with respect to Team Sydney in particular. They couldn’t manage to get a Supercars Mustang to the event (they had a stickered-up road car) and, four months after the much-hyped announcement they turn up with a single Team Sydney car with a single, high-profile major sponsor (Coca Cola – good!) but no evidence of any secondary commercial sponsors or industry / supplier sponsors and a single driver wearing generic Team Sydney / Teckno gear without a Coke logo anywhere to be seen and no sign of the second driver announcement. It all looks VERY last minute.

I’m a proud New South Welshman and Sydneysider, but I’m not sure that having a team in Sydney is going to have any great impact on the growth or otherwise of Supercars in the Sydney market. The greatest engagement with Sydney by a Sydney team was probably the Steve Reed / Trevor Ashby Lansvale Smash Repairs effort, which was around prior to the commencement of Supercars as we know it in 1993 and ran up until the end of 2003, before morphing into Tasman Motorsport and moving to Melbourne. I was sad to see them depart, but given that Supercars has always struggled to gain solid traction in the Sydney market I don’t think that the Team Sydney concept as it has been presented to date is going to turn that around in any meaningful way.

Team Sydney formation a reminder of poorly handled GRM exit

Great article Ryan.
While I’m not a huge rugby fan (lost interest back when Wendell was playing for the Tahs – and can’t abide the fact that big scores can be racked up without a try being scored…), I have been following the Raelene Castle / RA saga with some interest, and clearly the issue of media rights is a big challenge facing rugby, but, when I look at other sports, I keep seeing versions of the same thing repeated over and over.
I am first and foremost a motorsport fan and have recently published a piece on the Roar about the significant commercial challenges facing Supercars in 2020 and beyond – and one of those is the renewal of the media rights (currently year six of a six year deal with Foxtel).
I’m sure Supercars are going to come out of this year with a media rights deal in place, but given the significant changes in the media landscape combined with the huge increase in the amount of sport available (new sports, womens versions of existing sports, new World Cups and other competitions for existing sports and expansion of existing competitions – as rugby attempted) for broadcasters to push out I just can’t see how Supercars – or any other sport – aren’t going to see a reduction (probably a significant one) in their media rights income over the next renewal cycle.
The options for broadcasters and viewers of sport have grown rapidly over the past decade, and particularly over the last five years – far faster than the population has grown – and that can only dilute the value of media rights at an individual sport level. The growth of non-sports viewing options (e.g. Netflix) has diluted sports viewership (and hence the value of media rights) even further – as you yourself state, ‘life just gets in the way’. And this dilution doesn’t just impact on media rights – it also then impacts the value of sponsorships, endorsements etc., – witness A-Leagues’ challenge with their current sponsorship roster.
The bottom line here is that sports in general might just have to cut their cloth according to their situation, and that could mean a brave new world of reduced revenue, less $$ available for players, officials and infrastructure, a curtailment of the ‘growth is good / growth at all costs’ mentality (for more than a few sports just being sustainable is their immediate challenge) on the back of a realistic, unemotional, disciplined revaluation of the true commercial worth of their product and their prospects going forward.
And, having said that, I am guilty of having a piece published on the Roar this morning that, in part, exhorts Netball Australia and the International Netball Federation to get a whole lot more aggressive about their global growth strategy: Can Akle and Fitzgerald conquer the Diamonds?

Why isn’t Super Rugby on free-to-air TV?

⚽ Thanks for your comments Stuart,
You are absolutely correct. There’s no doubt that in the development of the Mustang the fact that there wasn’t a CofG requirement specified in the regulations was utilised to the maximum and certainly gave an advantage, which was equalised across all three models in the 2019 competition at the first round of parity adjustments after the Adelaide and Melbourne GP events in March 2019.
It’s hard to believe that in all the regulatory reviews over the years that a CofG requirement hadn’t been defined, but it has now! The Supercars technical and sporting regs have had a long history of being ‘open to interpretation’ and the whole Mustang saga demonstrated just how open they were. Hopefully that will be properly addressed when the new Gen 3 regulations come out – which may or may not be this year…
As for the future with media rights and their whole commercial model, I think you’re right and we will see some big changes ahead – there are certainly some big challenges. Taking a step back from Supercars specifically, there is just so much sport and other entertainment options out there now that I can’t but wonder how sustainable they all are in the long term. As will everything, time will tell!

Supercars: Looking at 2020 and the challenges beyond

Appreciate your comments Phantom.

I agree with the Mustang likely being around forever, but Camaros are very thin on the ground and likely to remain that way.
I’m not sure they would be resonate with a sufficiently large audience to make a Mustang v Camaro Supercars model commercially viable.

Can Supercars survive the death of Holden?

Thanks Ken!
While I agree that electrification is slowly coming I think that the reports of the impending death of the internal combustion are more than a little premature. In either case I’m not sure that it is a huge issue that Supercars needs to be seen to be taking a lead on.
As an aside, in the Australian context I see that the biggest issue in wide-spread adoption of electric cars is the recharging infrastructure / process. As long as the recharging process takes as long as it currently does I don’t see how it can work. A charger in every home? I live in a 40+ year old house with one garage – and three cars….. The EV development focus now needs to be on the ‘how can I fully charge my EV in the same time it currently takes me to fill my car?’ question.
As I said in my response to KenW, I don’t see a simple, clear path to a sustainable long-term competition and business model for Supercars. One advantage they do have is that they can pivot their model a lot quicker than a manufacturer can, so as long as they don’t get it completely wrong they should be able to position themselves in a viable space in the market.
As far as being mainstream media stars I recall that James Courtney was on Dancing With The Stars (and as a ‘star’, not a ‘dancer’…). And beyond that…..I don’t recall anything in the mainstream media about the current crop of drivers that doesn’t relate to their ‘on track’ performance. Yes, a lot of them have official Twitter, Instagram and FB accounts, but the content is invariably well curated and staged – and completely non-controversial (for fear of alienating the sponsors…..). All so ‘same-same’ and all so BORING!! And you have to go and find it at an individual driver / team level.
There was a gritty, multi-dimensional depth of character and emotion that defined the Brock, Moffat, Johnson, Grice cohort that came through and resonated with fans that seems to get lost in the ‘slickness’ of modern media environment – applies to commentators as well.
I’m not sure how it’s possible to reconcile that with the requirements of modern media, but I’m certain that there is a huge opportunity in this area that isn’t currently being exploited.

Can Supercars survive the death of Holden?

Thanks for your thoughts and comments Dutski!

To answer your last question first – yes. At a high level I do think we would be where we are now (or close to it) regardless of how well Holden and Ford innovated back in the 90s and noughties.

I like your theory, but I’m not sure that I agree with it, on the basis that I don’t think that motorsport has ever had such a leading impact on mainstream model development as you suggest, rather it has tended to follow the lead of what the automative marketplace is doing.

One of the more well accepted histories of the genesis of Supercars is that the concept was the brainchild of Mike Raymond, motorsport commentator and head of sport at ATN7, who could see that the Group A-based category (dominated by the Nissan GTR ‘Godzilla’) wasn’t resonating with fans. He was able to get CAMS, Holden, Ford and Shell to agree to an evolution of the Group A regulations that would have much greater appeal to fans and, by happy coincidence, would be a reflection of the core Australian market at the time – the result was the original 5L V8 rulebook that launched V8s as we know them in 1993. It worked – the fans came back and the competition was an effective marketing platform for Holden and Ford – wins all round!

And this all happened much quicker than a model renewal cycle, which typically takes over 10 years. E.g the Commodore VN, VP, VR & VS models were all built on the same platform and evolved over a 10 year period from 1988 to 1997. It’s also worth noting that on the Holden side the Commodore was never truly an Australian car until the release of the VE in 2006. The base platform for all models up until that date had been sourced from existing overseas-developed divisions within GM – usually Opel.

This gets back to my answer to your last question. Two things drove a fundamental change in the Australian market that were basically outside the control of the local manufacturers – of which there were five at the commencement of Supercars in 1993 – Nissan (ceased in 1994), Mitsubishi (2008), Ford (2016), Holden and Toyota (2017). A third factor was the increasing disconnect between the complexity and investment required to develop and manufacture a model (huge) and the size (in global terms tiny) and cost-base (high) of the Australian market.

The first was the advent of the Button Plan (named after Labour Senator John Button) which came into effect in 1985 with the aim to rationalise the local industry and transition to lower tariffs. At the time Australia had very high tariffs, cars were relatively very expensive and there were many great brands and models that weren’t available to Australian consumers because of the tariffs (and because of the lousy quality of Australian fuel at the time, but that’s another story). The Button Plan worked. The net result was that there was more choices available to Australian consumers and in real terms cars were getting cheaper.

The second big change was the advent of novated leasing. A big % of sales had traditionally been to fleets, who provided cars to their employees as a part of their remuneration package. An employee entitled to a car was typically told ‘you can have the choice of a Commodore / Falcon / Magna or a Berlina / Fairmont / Verada or a Statesman / Fairlane / Verada(!)’, depending on their level of seniority. In a lot of cases, given a real choice the employee would have chosen something entirely different, but, hey, it was a ‘free’ car – and it guaranteed a supply of relatively late-model, well maintained cars to the secondary market. Novated leasing changed all that and the employees could choose whatever they wanted – and choose differently they did!

Car manufacturing – for ‘regular’ vehicles as opposed to exclusive niche-model products – is a global business. Costs of entry are huge, competition is fierce, risks are significant and you need real volume – hundreds of thousands, preferably millions – to amortise the investment and hope to turn a profit. There isn’t a single domestic market in the world that can truly support that.

Australia didn’t have a ice-cream dog in hell’s chance of maintaining a viable local industry in the long term, but, to be fair to Holden and Toyota, at least they tried. They tooled up (from VT model in Holden’s case) for LHD and genuinely had a crack at creating a critical mass of production volume, but the very high cost base in Australia (wages and energy costs mainly), the huge currency risk and the high supply-chain cost of delivering to markets a LONG way away were always going to get them in the end… The only question was ‘when?’. And, sitting here in Jan 2020, we know the answer to that question!

Can Supercars survive the death of Holden?

Thanks Sven!

I agree that the only question will be the timing.

As for the way ahead for Supercars? I don’t immediately see a single clear path to a sustainable long-term model. I have lots of thoughts and ideas, but teasing out the details of a model that can build and retain an audience that ensures long-term commercial viability isn’t an easy task.

The devil is always in the detail, and that takes time and effort to clarify. And, when you do, there still isn’t any guarantee of success……. I’m sure someone put a lot of time and effort into the detail of the business case of replacing a locally-built Commodore with a badge-engineered replacement sourced from Opel….

Can Supercars survive the death of Holden?

Thanks for the comments Brett.

I’m surprised this hasn’t got more attention in the motorsport press. There are a lot of paths they can take in answering the questions, but the clock is definitely ticking!

I think in part the “what will they be driving?” answer has to come from the answers to questions about their target audience and their future business model – and I acknowledge there is probably a bit of ‘chicken and egg’ about getting to those answers.

The SuperUtes experiment has been interesting. Based on Australian vehicle sales the SuperUtes category has been the most market-relevant of all headline Australian categories over the last two years.
The market relevance was touted as one of the big attractions when the category was launched and used as justification for Supercars taking it on.
Two underwhelming seasons later (plenty of brands represented, but thin fields and an ambivalent audience response) Supercars has washed it’s hands of the category and tossed it back over the fence to the competitors, who are moving to throw out the ‘market-relevant’ turbo-diesels and replace them with GM crate motors (LS3 V8s) to ‘improve the show and reduce costs’. That pretty much removes any incentive for a manufacturer to get involved – unless that manufacturer is Holden.. ;~)

I thought the SuperUtes had a lot more potential than the category has displayed, but if it was ever to be considered as a replacement for Supercars then the ‘complete overhaul and uplift’ you suggest would have to be significant.

Like all things, time will tell!

Can Supercars survive the death of Holden?