Slow, dangerous, unpopular. There's nothing super about the SuperUtes series
The demise of Falcon and Commodore ute production the V8 Ute Racing Series with a big problem. Series organisers were keen to avoid becoming a historic category,slowly losing relevance as the cars get older and the racing becomes more processional. They needed something new to race, and the only obvious answer seemed to be imported commercial pickups.
A bold Supercars-esque silhouette racer concept with a mix of petrol V8 and four-six cylinder turbo diesel engines was floated. All entrants would use a control chassis and an engine sourced from the same manufacturer as the body shell. The estimated cost was $150,000. An ambitious target, considering a V8 Supercar cost four times that, excluding the engine.
This proved far too ambitious and the category was sold to Supercars. What later emerged was the format we now have. I wasn't skeptical of the production-based diesel formula, I was downright dismissive. Back in 2016, I wrote in a short blog on another motoring website that no one would sign up to drive a Superute. What up and coming racing driver would want to race a diesel ute? The Khumo V8 Touring Car Series or the Toyota 86 Pro-Am are far, far better pathways from Formula Ford to Super2. What gentleman driver would choose a diesel ute over a Carrera Cup car? The prototype’s debut was repeatedly delayed.
The original V8 ute replacement proposal
As the launch got closer, the category gained some credibility. Ross Stone, David Sieders, Craig Dontas, Tickford Racing, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Holden all took an interest. Tickford ultimately decided against competing but there were still some big names involved. Ross Stone Racing was preparing four utes for 2018. Sieders Racing was aiming to have three factory-backed Mitsubishi Tritons on the grid. WIth 300hp engines and supposedly respectable handling, the Superutes were starting to show some promise.
The reception Superutes has received has been overwhelmingly negative. They are slow, make an unappealing noise, and the grid numbers are tiny. See these things live and you will notice the tyre squeal more than any other category. The racing is not particularly close. They always appear to be on the cusp of falling over. These are not supposed to be racing cars, and the whole spectacle comes across as a novelty act. A sideshow. Superutes is the only category on the Supercars bill where the cars on the track are slower than a fair number of the cars in the car park.
But there is a more sinister issue than boredom affecting Superutes. At Queensland Raceway, Two ute drivers suffered from rollovers, sparking concerns about the safety of Superutes and calls to lower them. There have already been four rollovers. Three were in races and one in testing. One team engineer has confirmed that it is impossible to lower the Superutes any further as long as they use modified production based chassis. Many ute manufacturers no longer offer low ground clearance 2WD models.
Despite the controversy surrounding the series, manufacturers are still supportive. Mazda has reaffirmed its commitment, Ford is looking at getting involved, and Volkswagen is seriously investigating a 2019 entry. “We see it as an opportunity and we’ve been partnering with Supercars for the last three years for broadcast and signage opportunities and that market is really important to us. We know Amarok V6 owners have a higher propensity for motorsport than any other sport,” VW commercial vehicles marketing manager Nicholas Reid said. VW may well have market research to support this claim, but that doesn’t mean they want to watch Amaroks racing. One could argue that the Amarok-driving motorsport enthusiast would rather watch a Golf racing in TCR than an Amarok racing in Superutes.
A plan to a grippier racing tyre to replace the road-based Yokohamas has been abandoned due to fears that it may make rollovers more frequent. You can forget V8 engines. The utes’ chassis are clearly not up to the task of handling the power they have now. Putting that aside, the cost of converting them to V8s would be prohibitive. Even though the control Tremec T56 gearbox could handle a V8, the total cost to convert the existing utes would likely be $20-25,000.
The answer isn't to go back to the old V8 Falcons and Commodores. They aren't in production anymore and you can't sustain a national series on second hand cars. Especially with the level of body contact that the old ute series had. It is time to consign ute racing to history. Even if you could go down the path of dropping V8s into lowered single cabs to make them fast, you'd still have a series racing commercial vehicles. There is no point going to the expense of turning them into racing cars. Few, if any people would aspire to own a single cab 2WD Hilux. Diesel utes may be the most popular new car market segment in Australia, but that doesn't mean we want to watch them race.
It is time to give up ute racing. Superutes is a dangerous laughing stock of a category that needs to go. There is no longer an affordable, sustainable way of doing it that provides entertaining and safe racing. Maybe we should try a local Stadium Super Trucks instead.