Peter McKay August 08, 2012
An artist's impression of the Nissan V8 supercar. Nissan will join the V8 Supercars in 2013. Illustration by Chris Harris
Australia’s premier racing category planned to announce this week that Mercedes-Benz would be joining the series, but the luxury brand has backed out.
Mercedes-Benz has declared it won’t be joining Holden, Ford and Nissan in the long-running V8 Supercar championship, ending months of nagging speculation that the German luxury car maker would be the fourth brand to enter the race series.
The announcement has V8 Supercars scrambling to add a fourth manufacturer - as pledged by chairman Tony Cochrane earlier this year - to the two-make series that will in 2013 welcome the return of Nissan to local touring car racing.
Cochrane and Car of the Future boss Mark Skaife headed a four-man deputation which pitched its case to Mercedes-Benz Australia executives on Monday.
But Mercedes-Benz Australia decided swiftly that it would not be racing in V8 Supercars, dealing a major blow to the series that has for almost two decades relied on Ford and Holden.
While V8 Supercars claims the sport is more successful than any form of Australian motor sport before it, the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon that have formed the basis of the purpose-built racing machines have suffered plummeting sales.
Between 1998 and 2011 sales of the Falcon dropped almost 73 per cent and Commodore more than 57 per cent. In the same time the new-car market has grown almost 26 per cent. And so far this year Falcon sales have nosedived another 29 per cent and Commodore sales 26 per cent.
Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of corporate communications David McCarthy confirmed that approaches have been made in the past for Mercedes-Benz to field a factory team in V8 Supercars under the 2013 Car of the Future rules, which were intended to encourage new participants.
In a statement provided to Fairfax, McCarthy said: “Our position is that we will not be fielding a factory team in V8 Supercars under the Car of the Future rules.”
Drive understands that this recent proposal for Mercedes-Benz to join the series was initiated by local race team Erebus which already fields SLS GT3 cars in the Australian GT championship. The Stone Brothers V8 Supercar team was also associated with the proposal, although McCarthy said no-one from Mercedes-Benz Australia had spoken directly with the Stones.
McCarthy said the discussions with V8 Supercars were based on AMG supplying engines and technical assistance to the mooted Erebus-Stone Brothers V8 Supercars entry via the AMG Customer Sports programme.
“Mercedes-Benz has thoroughly investigated this possibility and after serious consideration the company has resolved that we will not be proceeding with this as it is not a 'fit' with the Australian and New Zealand brand positioning.”
The Mercedes rebuff comes in a bad week for Tony Cochrane and V8 Supercars. Yesterday motorcycle world champion Casey Stoner dismissed speculation that he would race in the series in 2013. And the man who helped push through the controversial, taxpayer-funded Homebush V8 street race, disgraced former Labor minister Ian Macdonald, is back on the front pages with the Independent Commission Against Corruption starting its enquiry into the ex-politician’s alleged abuse of his government position to do favours for mates.
Skaife agreed that V8SA had put a serious proposal to Mercedes-Benz Australia and was disappointed with its decision not to join the series.
“Mercedes is not the only manufacturer we’re talking to,” Skaife said, when asked if Mercedes was the much-speculated fourth manufacturer expected to race in V8 Supercars next year.
Skaife said any fresh entry by a car maker was now extremely “time critical” due to the complex testing required to ensure performance parity with existing brands. “We have to allow time for a new manufacturer or team to build their Car of the Future, and offer it to V8SA for the exhausting and scientific parity testing of aerodynamics and engine.”
Performance parity is a crucial element to V8 Supercars, which Skaife says has a philosophy of “giving its brands an opportunity to win, but they can’t dominate”.
Skaife said he believed the end of this month was the cut-off point for a new manufacturer looking to being part of the series in 2013.
V8SA is desperate to secure a premium brand for the championship - and at various times over the past three years BMW, Lexus, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz have been subjects of often ill-founded speculation. None have shown any real interest due to the V8 Supercars Holden versus Ford “oi-oi-oi” origins and the demographic of its enthusiastic supporters.
At the February announcement that Nissan would be on the grid next year, Cochrane told AAP he’d drawn the line at no more than five manufacturers in the championship series.
"We would be very reluctant to go above five manufacturers," Cochrane said at the time.
"At the start of 2013 there'll be at least four manufacturers there. Nothing's happened to change my view on that."
Cochrane today reiterated to Drive his belief that there will be at least four manufacturers on the grid “at some stage” in 2013, saying two other manufacturers are in discussions with V8 teams.
“Whether that goal [of four different brands] can be achieved by the opening round or by mid-season remains to be seen, but it will be sometime in 2013, ” he insisted.
The chase goes on.
Meanwhile, Chrysler in the US has announced the withdrawal of its Dodge brand from NASCAR racing from next season. Chrysler is a rumoured target of V8 Supercars.