Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe
Opinion

Will move to Gen3 cars cost Supercars its identity?

OPINION: Supercars unveiled its Gen3 prototypes, due to enter competition from 2023, to almost universal approval during the recent Bathurst 1000 weekend. But is there something missing from the next-gen cars?

Ford Mustang GT Gen3, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Gen3

Ford Mustang GT Gen3, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Gen3

Supercars

The future of Supercars is finally here. After a full year of mystery surrounding the sport’s next technical step (the teams found the whole thing a little too mysterious at times), the covers have finally been lifted off the prototype Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang Gen3 Supercars.

It’s been a rocky road to this point, between accusations of vested interests, questions over critical supply (including engines), the proclamation of a highly unusual mid-season introduction, the inevitable backflip of that proclamation and the ‘shiftstorm’ of the stick versus paddles debate.

But there was a sense all was forgiven as the cars were unveiled on the Friday morning of the Bathurst 1000, approval of the Mustang and Camaro almost universal as the paddock and public took their first proper look. Autosport hasn’t yet seen the cars in the flesh, with Bathurst travel plans curtailed by the frustratingly strict border controls in this writer's home state of Western Australia. 

On the Thursday evening before the Bathurst 1000, shortly before the embargoed studio shots of the cars started to filter through, my phone beeped with a candid shot of the Mustang. It was my first look at a Gen3 car. And my first impression was, “Oh, right. Okay”.

It didn’t look bad, far from it. It looked like a Mustang. But the first thing I noticed was that it didn’t look like a Supercar. To be brutally honest, I was underwhelmed.

Since the introduction of the five-litre rules to the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1993 there’s been a certain look and feel to the cars. Design cues that have carried through, or at least evolved in a way that’s been easily traceable. If you put an early car next to a current car, the lineage is visible.

New Ford Mustang GT Gen3 doesn't follow the typical appearance of an Australian Supercar

New Ford Mustang GT Gen3 doesn't follow the typical appearance of an Australian Supercar

Photo by: Ford

That’s of course been helped by consistency across the model range. You’d expect road cars to evolve with some level of consistency and carryover in terms of their design, and in turn the same happened to the racing cars.

The Holden teams have been racing four-door Commodores throughout the five-litre era, the most radical change from an aesthetic point of view being the move to a hatch-back rear boot with the current European-built ZB model.

The Ford teams raced the four-door Ford Falcon in its various iterations until 2019 when it was replaced by the Ford Mustang. That brought its challenges, too, with the two-door Mustang body needing to be stretched over a control chassis designed for sedans.

The outcome was one of the oddest-looking cars in Australian Touring Car Championship/Supercars history, the race-going Mustang’s weird angles worsened by DJR Team Penske/Ford Performance’s uncompromising quest to maximise downforce.

The first time I laid eyes on the current Mustang, my first instinct was to check if it was 1 April. The drooping nose, the comically large rear wing; it felt impossible that it was real. But it was. It made a hell of a first impression, although not in a good way. But I was anything but underwhelmed.

Unsurprisingly, the category quickly set about avoiding a repeat of the mutant Mustang. There was talk about lowering the roll hoop on the current chassis, but it was going to be too difficult and too expensive.

The current Mustang made a big impression, although not always for the right impressions, when it was first introduced

The current Mustang made a big impression, although not always for the right impressions, when it was first introduced

Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images

With the Mustang itself the best deterrent for another two-door stretched over a four-door chassis (just ask WAU team boss Ryan Walkinshaw about his still-born Camaro plan), attention turned to Gen3 and better accommodating two-door cars. The new chassis was built with coupés in mind and, from the moment the concept was properly launched during the 2020 Bathurst 1000 weekend the slogan was ‘road car DNA’. In other words, racing cars that looked like their road-going counterparts. Like the Commodores and Falcons always have been.

As the behind-closed-doors development of the prototypes continued across this year the term ‘road car DNA’ kept coming up. Back in June, Supercars’ Head of Motorsport Adrian Burgess revealed that, after seeing early bodywork designs, he gave the homologation teams another month to better refine the likeness to the road cars.

“We purposely built a month of… I wouldn’t say delay, but we allowed both manufacturers to go further down the road of incorporating as much road car DNA into the styling of the cars,” he said at the time. “They will carry far more road car DNA then we've ever seen on a Supercar before.”

That’s a mark that’s undoubtedly been hit. These cars look like the production models without any doubt, right down to the daytime driving lights on the Camaro. But in striving for road car DNA, I feel the Supercars DNA has been lost. Or at the very least compromised.

I’m in no way advocating that the Gen3 cars should look like the current Mustang. The Gen3 Mustang is by a very long stretch much easier on the eye than the existing car. And the Camaro (the pick of the two for me) is much better than anything that would have been bashed into a shape suitable for the current control chassis.

It’s also worth noting that Supercars has a long, proud tradition of restraint with its car design, particularly in comparison to something like the pre-GT3 DTM. That’s a tradition worth preserving. Another point is that we don't actually know exactly how the race-ready Gen3 Mustangs will look because there's a facelift on the way for 2023.

However, my first impression of the prototypes was that the cars could be headed to the Bathurst 6 Hour production car race rather than the Bathurst 1000. Or, and perhaps even worse, that these are Mustangs and Camaros that could be racing in any series, anywhere in the world. You couldn’t say that about any other Supercar from the V8 era.

Are the Gen3 rear wings aggressive enough?

Are the Gen3 rear wings aggressive enough?

The rear wing is the bit I keep coming back to. We want and need to cut reliance on aerodynamics, and the current Mustang rear wing takes the pursuit of aerodynamic performance to the extreme. But surely some middle ground, with a largely decorative box-style wing, could have been found.

They say first impressions last, but in this case I’m not so sure they will. The more I watched those prototypes cut laps of Mount Panorama over the Bathurst 1000 weekend the more I started to warm to them. I started to imagine them racing and it all started to make some sort of sense.

The early signs are that the engine note, another Supercars hallmark, looks to have been expertly retained. Another pre-launch concern I had was that the new modified crate motors wouldn’t be a match for the current screaming bespoke units, but at least through the TV speakers they sounded very good. Reports from trackside backed that up.

The slight caveat is that the Mustang wasn’t running any mufflers, but the point is we don’t seemed to be headed for a flat, droning sound from these new cars. That's a huge win. All that’s left now is for the series to put the final nail in the paddle shift/auto-blip coffin and confirm that the mechanical stick shift is here to stay (as is expected to be the case).

Supercars needs Gen3, and I want it to be a success, as do most who work in the Supercars paddock that rely on the health of the series for their income. Gen3's success won't be defined simply by how the cars look either, with bigger questions at play such as what GM does once the Camaro meets its impending demise.

The current Mustang is proof that if you look at something enough you’ll get used to it, so I’m confident that I will mellow to the tiny rear wings on the back of the Gen3 cars. But at the same time I feel the look of the next-gen cars adds to the sense that this is a monumental shift for Supercars. A whole new chapter, with cars that don’t even remotely look like those from the past.

I won’t necessarily miss the current Mustang after Sydney/Adelaide next year. But I will miss the Supercars DNA of the current cars. It has served us so well.

Move to prioritise road car DNA will mean a shift away from the aggressive Supercars visuals that fans are accustomed to

Move to prioritise road car DNA will mean a shift away from the aggressive Supercars visuals that fans are accustomed to

Photo by: Edge Photographics

Be part of Autosport community

Join the conversation

Related video

Previous article Ranking the top 10 Supercars drivers of 2021
Next article Lee Holdsworth seals full-time Supercars return in 2022

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe