As Holden reveal new Supercar, we take a look back in time
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Holden Motorsport and Triple Eight have revealed their new Supercars Championship title contender after its maiden test on the Gold Coast yesterday [pictured above], and for many it's the most controversial Commodore racer ever produced.
This is for reasons we've already covered off — it's not based on an 'Aussie built' platform, and it's going to be part of the phasing in of Holden's new twin-turbo V6 engine ... yada yada yada you've heard it all before.
The new ZB Commodore Supercar (or 'Vauxhall Insignia' if you're one of those smart alec internet commenters) is the result of countless hours of testing and development, with plenty more still to come as Triple Eight work to get it in line with the rest of the grid. Triple Eight big cheese Roland Dane claims that by the time the car is finished at the end of 2017, it will have had 20,000 hours of development behind it.
But before we talk further about the new car and about the challenges it'll face, let's turn back the clock and take a look at all of Holden's different Commodore Supercars through the ages. Starting with ...
Holden VS Commodore: 1997–’98
Rivals / Ford EL Falcon
Star pilots / Peter Brock, Larry Perkins, Mark Skaife, Craig Lowndes, Russell Ingall, Greg Murphy, Garth Tander
Achievements / Bathurst 1000 win in 1997, championship win in 1998
While Australasia's most popular touring-car series effectively kicked off as we know it in 1993, it didn't gain the 'V8 Supercars' moniker until 1997 when a bloke named Tony Cochrane took over the show. It was more than just a name change; it signaled a new and vast marketing push, one that the series still profits from today.
Holden's hero at the time was the VS Commodore, which itself was a mild update of the VR Commodore before it. Its leading squad at the time were the Holden Racing Team, though they weren't exactly at their strongest.
Peter Brock, the nine-time Bathurst legend, was preparing for retirement in 1997. His teammate meanwhile, rookie Greg Murphy, was fresh to the team and the series. The Kiwi won more rounds than anyone else that year (three), but lacked the consistency to challenge the title contenders. The same was true too for Brock, allowing Glenn Seton to trump everyone with his single-car Ford Credit EL Falcon. A Bathurst crown in 1997 was somewhat redeeming, though it came through Russell Ingall and Larry Perkins in their Castrol VS Commodore after both HRT cars failed to make it to the halfway mark.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the era were the different engines used across the various Holden teams. Perkins and a number of others used a Holden V8, while ironically HRT and the majority of remaining teams used Chevrolet units.
HRT bounced back in 1998 thanks largely to the return of Craig Lowndes, who had returned from an unsuccessful tilt at getting into Formula 1 via Europe's open-wheel scene (he was quick, but lacked the cash). The team also took on former champion Mark Skaife, leaving Murphy on the sidelines despite his breakout season. Lowndes took the title and Skaife took third, though their VS Commodores were retired towards the end of the season and replaced with the newly launched ...
Holden VT Commodore: 1998–’00
Rivals / Ford AU Falcon
Star pilots / Mark Skaife, Craig Lowndes, Greg Murphy, Steve Richards, Todd Kelly, Garth Tander, Jason Bargwanna
Achievements / Bathurst and championship sweep 1999–’00
The VT Commodore got tongues wagging when it was released as a road car in late 1997. It was more refined than ever before, and raised the performance bar for what was still Holden's best-selling platform. A year later and HRT and Castrol Perkins Engineering had started phasing the VT in via a series of test events. Perkins was Castrol's tester (Ingall was in the middle of a championship battle), and HRT's was the still contracted Greg Murphy.
By the end of the season, the cars were dialed in, and close to unstoppable. Craig Lowndes was able to take the championship aboard a VT, though Bathurst glory had to wait until the following season. Ironically, it came through Murphy and his new team Gibson Motorsport. Run by Fred Gibson, the Gibson Motorsport squad had suffered a fall from championship-winning grace after the sport elected to ban cigarette sponsorship in the mid-'90s. It was only in '99 that they had been able to return to form with HRT refugee Murphy and expat Kiwi Steve Richards.
The lion's share (pun not intended) of wins, however, went to HRT's duo of Lowndes and Skaife once again. And that trend continued in 2000. Lowndes took the first title, while Skaife took the second. These successes helped bolster HRT's trophy cabinet, and helped them build the foundations for their most successful V8 Supercar ever.
Holden VX Commodore: 2001–’03
Rivals / Ford AU Falcon
Star pilots / Mark Skaife, Greg Murphy, Jason Bright, Steve Richards, Todd Kelly, Rick Kelly, Garth Tander, Jason Bargwanna
Achievements / Bathurst and championship sweep 2001–’02, Greg Murphy's back-to-back Pukekohe dominance
The VT Commodore got a mild refresh on and off the track in the form of the VX Commodore. And when it launched as a race car in 2001, it made a big impression straight away.
The biggest off-season change in the Holden camp was Tom Walkinshaw Racing's expansion into being effectively a four-car team. Reigning champion Skaife was retained, while Jason Bright was drafted in to replace Lowndes, who famously jumped ship to race for Gibson Motorsport's new Ford team. Part of Gibson's remnants formed Kmart Racing, which in turn fell underneath the TWR umbrella with drivers Greg Murphy and the up-and-coming Todd Kelly.
With a new chassis underneath him, Skaife was impressive all year long; winning four rounds and taking a commanding championship win from fellow Holdenists Ingall, Bright, and Murphy. But it was 2002 that solidified Skaife, and his car's, legacy. He would win the first five rounds in a row, and two more as the season went on including Bathurst. This was a dominance the series had not seen since the old days of Group C, and it subsequently earned Skaife's Commodore the nickname of 'Golden Child'.
Though, it didn't take long for the shine to wear off.
Holden VY Commodore: 2003–’04
Rivals / Ford BA Falcon, Ford AU Falcon
Star pilots / Mark Skaife, Greg Murphy, Jason Bright, Todd Kelly, Rick Kelly, Garth Tander
Achievements / Back-to-back Bathurst 1000 wins 2003–’04
2003 was the first big technology change in V8 Supercarsland, following the introduction of what the series called 'Project Blueprint'. It was a list of regulations designed to try and quell discussions around parity (it was hard to ignore that Ford's AU Falcon never won a single title in its four-year stint). This was achieved through making the two new platforms — Holden's VY Commodore and Ford's BA Falcon — as close in dimensions and aerodynamics as possible.
If you're the type of person who's critical of how similar all of the Supercars look these days, you can blame Project Blueprint.
Anyway, the big changes to both cars saw some teams adopt slowly. Several outfits persevered with the Falcon AU and Commodore VX, but while those who raced the AU struggled as you would expect, those who raced VXs remained quite competitive. Steve Richards (Castrol Perkins Engineering) and Greg Murphy (Kmart Racing) ran daggy old VXs early in the year to very good effect before upgrading to VY Commodores by the enduros. Jason Bright (having been replaced at HRT by Todd Kelly) meanwhile ran a VX all season, and briefly led the championship before fading in the middle.
Ultimately, the VY Commodores struggled too much out of the box to stay with a new kid on the block called Marcos Ambrose. The Tasmanian debuted in 2001 as an obscure signing for Stone Brothers Racing's Ford outfit, scoring a round win and pole for Bathurst in an eye-opening year. 2002 was even better, and by the time 2003 rolled around he was difficult to stop. He won seven of the first 13 rounds, and took the title despite a flat endurance campaign. He won the title again in 2004, too.
For Holden, the VY's best achievements weren't with HRT, but with their sister Kmart Racing squad in the form of two memorable Bathurst 1000 wins with Murphy and his young co-driver Rick Kelly.
Holden VZ Commodore: 2005–’07
Rivals / Ford BA Falcon
Star pilots / Mark Skaife, Greg Murphy, Steve Richards, Paul Radisich, Garth Tander, Jason Richards, Rick Kelly
Achievements / Bathurst 1000 win 2005
The following two years were a marginal improvement for Holden, as they wheeled out the updated VZ Commodore. Their main problem though was that Ford's arsenal had evolved as well.
Stone Brothers Racing's twin titles in 2003 and 2004 were joined by a third championship crown in 2005, though this time through Russell Ingall as Ambrose prepared to ditch Australia for a career in NASCAR. Beyond the Stones though, two new blue-oval squads emerged; Triple Eight and Ford Performance Racing. Both sported technical support from world-renowned teams, and both also came with strong driver line-ups. After a stint at FPR during their foundation years, Craig Lowndes headed Triple Eight's 2005 campaign with Steven Ellery. FPR meanwhile had taken on Holden refugee Jason Bright and 'the world's fastest plasterer' Greg Ritter.
Holden's biggest achievement in '05 was a Bathurst win for Skaife and Kelly, though neither were a big factor in the championship hunt. If Holden wanted to defeat Ford in the championship, they needed to bolster their supports too. Enter the Holden Dealer Team.
Greg Murphy had left the TWR roost at the end of 2004 to join SuperCheap Auto Racing, a move he'd likely come to regret. He was replaced by Garth Tander. By 2006 their team had become a competitive package, to the point where they regularly outshone the more fancied HRT mob. They couldn't stop Lowndes and his new teammate (some guy named Jamie Whincup) win Bathurst, but they won the war a few months later after Rick Kelly took the championship (though not in the smoothest of ways, as history tells us).
Holden VE Commodore: 2007–’10
Rivals / Ford BF Falcon
Star pilots / Garth Tander, Rick Kelly, Mark Skaife, Will Davison, Todd Kelly, Greg Murphy, Jason Richards, Lee Holdsworth, Russell Ingall
Achievements / 2007 championship win, 2009 Bathurst 1000 win
The Holden VE Commodore brought with it a mountain of expectation, especially as a road car. It was Holden's first Commodore that they could call, from end to end, Aussie built. There was no Opel Omega/Rekord symmetry underneath (something the Commodore always had up to that point), it was instead a true blue Aussie car.
And it was bloody brilliant.
As a race-car too, the VE was devastating. It may have looked a bit bigger and more bulbous than the Commodores of old, but it was instantly competitive. TWR's leading quad of cars were again the benchmark, though, again, the HSV Dealer Team Commodores were the pick of the bunch. This time Tander took the title after a tight season-long dice with both Triple Eight Vodafone Falcons and his teammate Rick Kelly.
2008 was an uncharacteristic fizzer, as Ford climbed back on top to win Bathurst and the title, and 2009 wasn't much better with Holden's best hope (new HRT recruit Will Davison, who replaced the retired Mark Skaife) finishing second in the points to Jamie Whincup. Davison and new HRT teammate Tander (rewarded for his title with an HRT promotion) won Bathurst that year; one of just nine wins Holden scored. But, change was coming.
Holden VE II Commodore: 2010–’12
Rivals / Ford FG Falcon
Star pilots / Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup, Garth Tander, James Courtney, Greg Murphy, Russell Ingall, Lee Holdsworth
Achievements / Bathurst sweep from 2010–’12, championship wins in 2011–’12
With the HSV Dealer Team squad a shadow of its former self and HRT struggling all by itself, Holden knew it had to spend money elsewhere if it wanted to be competitive in 2010. So, they helped Triple Eight (Team Vodafone, as they were known) transfer from Ford to Holden in time for the mid-season launch of the VE II.
This wasn't an enormous shock, after Ford withdrew a significant amount of their backing of the successful team for what remains reportedly one of the most pitiful reasons in motorsport history (the cars were red, not blue, so fans struggled to identify them as Fords ... Yeah, dumb logic eh). Team Vodafone were so livid that they pulled the Ford badges from their cars for 2009. After nine years away, Craig Lowndes was back on Holden's team, and so too was his hotshot teammate and newly crowned two-time champ Jamie Whincup.
Here was when the VE Commodore earned its legacy as one of Holden's most successful V8 Supercars ever made. Whincup was a machine, racking up nine wins in 2010, 10 wins in 2011, and 12 in 2012. He missed out on the 2010 title by a whisker (James Courtney took a famous win for Dick Johnson Racing instead), but he won those following seasons comfortably, trailed on both instances by teammate Lowndes. The team also made their mark at Bathurst, winning in 2010 (Lowndes and Mark Skaife) and 2012 (Whincup and Paul Dumbrell) — interrupted by HRT's popular win in 2011.
The VE was a juggernaut, but more change was coming. And not all of it was good.
Holden VF Commodore: 2013–present
Rivals / Ford FG Falcon, Ford FG-X Falcon, Nissan Altima, Mercedes-AMG E63, Volvo S60
Star pilots / Craig Lowndes, Jamie Whincup, Shane van Gisbergen, James Courtney, Fabian Coulthard, Jason Bright, Scott McLaughlin, David Reynolds
Achievements / Championship wins 2013–’14 and 2016, Bathurst 1000 wins 2015–’16
Tony Cochrane's early image of what the V8 Supercars were way back in 1997 was an exciting picture of tribal warfare. But it also relied on Australia's auto manufacturing sector to remain in ship shape ... which it wasn't.
It wasn't that sales of Commodores and Falcons were plummeting, but General Motors and Ford were realising that this exercise of producing cars in an expensive location like Australia. Especially when neither car was being sold outside of the Pacific, barring Holden's former agreement with Pontiac and their new agreement with Chevrolet, not to mention all the Buick-badged Commodores sold in the UAE.
The V8 Supercars knew that the clock was ticking on local manufacturing, and so they (perhaps a little too late) strongly pushed other manufacturers towards entering. This aligned with a new set of rules coming in for 2013 called 'Car of the Future'. An evolution of Project Blueprint, Car of the Future meant that every car on the grid would share the same chassis, in a further drive to achieve parity. Nissan joined the series in 2013, as did a Mercedes-AMG team privately funded by Betty Klimenko. And in 2014 Volvo joined too with performance arm Polestar.
The sweeping new rules, teams, cars, and drivers all resulted in a chaotic couple of seasons, where no one team was able to truly dominate. Holden's new VF Commodore, more shapely than the old VE but still based around the same Aussie underpinnings, had more competition than ever. But, that didn't stop it from claiming more wins than anyone else.
Their Ford rivals Ford Performance Racing, who were now called Prodrive Racing Australia, won Bathurst in 2013 and 2014, and then the title in 2015 with perennial bridesmaid Mark Winterbottom. But the VF Commodore took home everything else. Triple Eight, now sporting Red Bull backing, stayed at the top of the pile with championship wins in 2013 and 2014 (both with Whincup). Though behind him two Kiwis were quickly approaching.
One was Scott McLaughlin, who had one memorable season piloting the VF platform before moving to Volvo and ultimately to DJR Team Penske. The other was Shane van Gisbergen, who impressed with race wins at relative 'privateer' team Tekno Autosports. He was signed to join Red Bull last year alongside Whincup, and challenged him all season to steal away the championship crown (a first for a Kiwi in the series since Jim Richards in 1990). It wasn't all bad for Tekno, after their new leader Will Davison won Bathurst last year with Jonathon Webb.
The racing in the COTF era was great, as was the variety of race winners. But the era is almost at a close, with 'Gen II' coming just around the corner.
Holden ZB Commodore: 2018
Rivals / Ford FG-X Falcon, ???
Star pilots / Jamie Whincup, Shane van Gisbergen, Craig Lowndes, Tim Slade, Nick Percat, ???
Revealed to the world this morning, the new ZB Commodore looks visually slipperier than the VF Commodore it replaces. It's a bit more tight and taught, and has a liftback silhouette — the first Holden in premiere touring cars to do so since the Torana A9-X. But, it comes under the cloud of representing the 'death' of the Aussie car production. "That's not a Holden," the diehards will shout from the bleachers next year. "That's a Vauxhall."
The reality is that the ZB is pretty much the same as the VF underneath, and will sport the same V8 too until those at the Red Bull Holden Racing Team complete their development of the twin-turbo V6 replacement. It's unknown just how many drivers will campaign ZBs next year, though we know they include Red Bull's Whincup and van Gisbergen, as well as Brad Jones Racing's Tim Slade, Nick Percat, and Tim Blanchard (who is expected to stay).
“The overall look of the car is quite different from anything we’ve had before, so it’s been a big but exciting task, and we’re relishing the opportunity to get on track to see how we’ve done,” says Triple Eight's Roland Dane.
“The team’s had to work incredibly hard this year in order to compete on track with the current VF Commodore, but also work flat out on the new car. By the time we get to the end of this year, the development process will have taken up about 20,000 hours.
“We are very privileged to have been given the responsibility for developing and producing the new Commodore as a race car. We’re excited to see the results of the work that we’ve been carrying out.”
Will the ZB help bring in the next grand change for the series? It's a throw away line, I know, but ... only time will tell.