Does the Ford Mustang Supercar really have an advantage? Here's the numbers
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Ever since last April when Ford's future Supercars plans were unveiled, the Mustang has been a frequently hot point of discussion. How would Ford adapt it to the Car of the Future regulations? Would they be competitive? Would they have an advantage?
Well, almost a year to the day, all the online bickering and snide team-owner commentary has come to a head with yesterday's confirmation that the Mustang would have some of its aero package chopped and changed in time for the next round in Perth.
Naturally, there's been all manner of response to the announcement. Many a Ford fan is furious, some Holden fans are triumphantly vindicated ... the whole thing feels like a throwback to the deeply passionate and tribal debates of yesteryear.
Whether that's an upgrade or not is up to you.
We're currently four rounds and 10 races into the 2019 Supercars season. Scott McLaughlin holds a dominant 124-point championship lead, having won seven of the 10 races. The remaining three wins are split between his Shell V-Power teammate Fabian Coulthard, Tickford's Chaz Mostert, and Holden's only race winner so far Shane van Gisbergen.
There's a similar breakdown in qualifying results, too. McLaughlin has six poles to his name, with Coulthard, Mostert, van Gisbergen, and Mark Winterbottom scooping one a piece.
The Mustang dominance in numbers is clear, but is that truly reflective of an inherent advantage?
Before we go further, it's important to note that we're not privy to the data that Supercars and its team of experts have. We don't have overlays of sector times and top speed figures. However, even in the raw results alone there are a few interesting points that can be discussed.
There are two big talking points here that are worth exploring. One's been prevalent in the media all season long, and the other has sat in the background. The first is the Red Bull Holden Racing Team's lack of success, and the second is the strength of DJR Team Penske.
What impact do these two elements have, if any, to the so-called parity debate?
Van Gisbergen and seven-time champ Jamie Whincup have had messy seasons to say the least. The former's weekend at Melbourne was dogged by a mechanical failure and two finishes outside the top 20. Whincup meanwhile had a disastrous round three at Symmons Plains, and failed to finish in the top 10 in either of the most recent Phillip Island races (retiring from one following a botched pit-stop and a lost wheel).
The 2016 champ sits fourth in the points, but is 256 points adrift of McLaughlin (that's almost an entire weekend's worth of points). Whincup meanwhile is just ninth, 379 points off the lead. If they finish where they currently sit, it will be Triple Eight's worst season in Supercars since 2005 when they were in their infancy.
Red Bull's lack of success isn't just a parity thing. In fact, it could probably be argued that most of it has very little to do with parity at all.
More than any other team, the iconic squad have struggled with the switch from a twin-spring rear damper set-up (where a stiff spring and a soft spring work together in harmony) to a linear-spring alternative.
This move was made during the off-season to aid teams with costs. Some teams have made the switch seamlessly, including Brad Jones Racing and Matt Stone Racing. The former have said that the swap didn't make a significant difference to the way their cars handled, while the latter — a team fresh out of graduating from the Dunlop Super2 Development Series where linear springs were mandatory, is used to competing with the simpler technology.
Red Bull on the other hand haven't used a linear spring for at least 10 years.
What's that all mean? Well, take a look at where the Holden drivers are in the standings right now.
Much of the debate has focused on where the Shell ponies sit relative to the Red Bull lions. But, few have talked about how the rest of the Holden contingent have improved their position in the championship over last year.
David Reynolds currently sits fifth, but has been as high as third. His teammate Anton de Pasquale is parked in 12th, after claiming a popular third-place at Phillip Island. This means Reynolds is poised exactly where he finished last year's season, while de Pasquale is up a whopping eight places.
Brad Jones Racing's two lead drivers, Nick Percat and Tim Slade, are seventh and eighth in the points — a three-spot improvement from both drivers over last season. Mark Winterbottom is 10th; a two-spot improvement over where he finished last year in his final season with Tickford Racing, and 11 slots ahead of where his new team ended up last season with former driver Lee Holdsworth. After finishing last in last year's season, Todd Hazelwood has leaped up eight spots to 18th.
All up, eight of Holden's 14 drivers (a majority) are either equaling or doing better this season than they were last season. In short, there's nothing wrong with the Holden ZB Commodore's ability to be competitive.
Let's look at this another way. While a lot of the debate has centred around 'Mustang versus the rest', it's worth noting that one Mustang team — DJR Team Penske — has completely monstered (pardon the pun) the other — Tickford Racing.
One could consider the hypothesis that it isn't the Mustang platform that has an advantage, it's Penske. They've invested plenty into the sport, they've hired all the right engineers, and have two drivers at the peak of their game.
To test the theory, I thought it'd be fascinating to simply pretend Penske ceased to exist. Without them, which teams and drivers would have wins under their belt?
It makes for curious reading.
In a Penske-less world, four of this year's 10 races would've been won by Holdens — van Gisbergen on two, Whincup on one, and de Pasquale on one. Five of the remainder would've been won by Mustangs; three for Chaz Mostert and two for Cameron Waters.
And the 10th win would go to the Nissan Altima of Kiwi André Heimgartner, after his impressive recent third place at noted horsepower and aero track Phillip Island (a result achieved in easily the oldest platform on the grid).
That's a pretty even split, especially given that we're talking about a Triple Eight organisation that's currently on target to deliver their least successful season since 2005.
Some are comparing the current season to 2002, in terms of one car and driver dominating.
On that occasion, the driver was Mark Skaife and the car was the Holden Racing Team's 'Golden Child' Holden VX Commodore. Together, they won the championship (their second in a row) at a canter, with a Bathurst 1000 win thrown in to boot.
In 2002 there were 29 races in total, and Skaife won 15 of them (sharing honours at Bathurst with Jim Richards). At the same theoretical point in the series, 10 races in, he had won eight times — once more than McLaughlin.
If you add in his teammate at the time Jason Bright, HRT had a total winning spread of 19 wins across the year. Remove HRT from the equation completely, and Holden would've still won 18 races to Ford's 11.
I ... forgot where I was going with this.
There are points for and against giving the Mustang a tweak. The sport has had more one-sided seasons in the past, and there's clearly more to the 2019 season's story other than the tin-foil hat 'rigged in favour of the Mustang' dialogue that's been all over the sewer known as social media.
I think my thoughts on this were best summed up by Walkinshaw Andretti United team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, on a recent episode of David Reynolds, Michael Caruso, and Andrew van Leeuwen's Supercars podcast Below the Bonnet (well worth a listen, by the way).
"I think [a mid-season parity adjustment] would be taken very negatively by the fans," he said.
"We need to do a better job of coming up with a new process that is more accurate and has more data so that at least in the future we don't make any mistakes again.
"It's unfair on the fans, it's unfair on the teams, it's unfair on the Penske guys and Ford Performance – they've done a very good job. We shouldn't be taking anything away from the work that they've done; it's impressive and they've done it, from my understanding, within the rules. And it got approved.
"So there's a fair argument [for Ford teams] to say 'hey guys, shut the hell up, that was the process, you approved it, get on with, for this year suck it up'. Maybe we need to do that. Maybe that's the fair thing to do. I don't know.
"From my personal view I hope not, but if I'm thinking about the sport and the fans, maybe we need to take a year of pain. Maybe that's a bit of punishment for us not having a better process in place in the first place."
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