An opportunity passed by my desk the other week which any right-minded petrolhead would simply never refuse. The chance to go for a hot lap around Queensland Raceway riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a V8 Supercar. Where do I sign!?
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the long-running Australian racing series, V8 Supercars are based on common 4-door sedans available in our market. Well, when I say ‘based on’, what I really mean is ‘look like’ – because these days that’s really where the similarities stop. They’re proper race cars built from scratch using a chrome-moly chassis, powered by a 5.0-litre V8 engine (native to the manufacturer) producing around 485kW or 650bhp, which is then sent to the rear wheels through a 6-speed sequential transaxle gearbox with an integrated spool differential.
Put simply, this means 0-100km/h (60mph) in just 3.4 seconds and a 300km/h (186mph) top speed. But as I later found out, this is not the most impressive thing about them.
After a quick safety briefing explaining how vigorously they were going to strap me into the car, and how I was expected to get them all undone again in the event of a crash (gulp), I was suited up and lead down to the Supercheap Auto Racing #55 pit garage just in time to see the car itself rumbling down pit lane as it returned to the box.
The first thing that struck me is just how loud V8 Supercars are, even when they’re trundling along at the lane restricted speed of 40km/h. The engine sounds like it is battling the rev limiter, emitting a constant stream of crackles from the exhaust as it does so. As it turns out, climbing into a V8 Supercar is also no easy task. People who are 6-foot+ will struggle to clear the side intrusion bars of the roll cage, as they squeeze themselves into the Recaro racing seat – which itself is mounted to a sort of aluminum passenger “tray”.
Once you’re in two things are immediately clear. The first is there certainly isn’t much space, as my helmet was hard up against the roll cage which ran overhead. Secondly, both the driver and the passenger actually sit quite far back in the car – past the B-pillar in fact. It felt both claustrophobic and weird at the same time.
All was forgotten though when the engine roared to life and we started making our way down pit lane at an indicated 37km/h. The end of pit lane was approaching, and while I knew this was absolutely going to be the fastest car I’d ever been in, it turns out I’d vastly underestimated just how fast it was going to feel.
As we crossed the line and the driver switched the limiter off, in an instant all of the naturally aspirated V8’s 485kW (650hp) were unleashed, accompanied by a crest of noise and vibration running through the car’s chassis. The acceleration was breath taking. It felt as though I’d jumped off a cliff and was in freefall… except in a forward direction obviously. Almost immediately we entered turn 1, where I experienced the car’s next party trick.
Even more amazing than the speed is the way these V8 Supercars take corners. The soft-compound Dunlop slick tyres, combined with the Supercar’s aero package means they simply stick to the turns like you simply couldn’t imagine – that isn’t to say the driver has it easy though. On a bumpy track like Queensland Raceway the back end of the car was constantly squirreling around, threatening to break free into a slide. I imagine it takes an incredibly steady foot to keep these things going in the right direction.
And then there are the brakes. Oh my god, the brakes. No car I’ve ever been in can wash off speed as quickly as what I experienced in a V8 Supercar. Even though I’m sure the driver was taking it slightly easy on me, the monster 375mm brake rotors with six-piston calipers decelerated the car by up to 1.5g‘s into the corners. It literally felt like the skin was being pulled from my face, and at race pace, with a bunch of other cars fighting for position I can only imagine how much harder the driver would have been pushing.
In what felt like no time at all, we completed two laps of the 3.12km circuit and peeled off back into pit lane – and not before time I admit. I’ve never once felt car sick when behind the wheel, but being pummeled around in the passenger seat of a V8 Supercar for two fast laps was all it took for me to start feeling a little green around the gills. Had we gone for a third they probably would have needed to hose the car out…
After it was all over, I walked away from the experience with newfound respect for the V8 Supercar racing cars in general, but also for all the incredible drivers who pilot these things for hours at a time. I simply can’t fathom the mental and physical stamina which would be required to do so.