The end of Australian motorsport as we know it.
That’s how one Supercars fan put it when asked what Holden’s demise meant for Australia’s premier motorsports formula.
He inarguably has a point.
Aside from the 600-odd jobs that will be lost at Holden’s factories in Australia, US company General Motors’ decision to retire the Holden brand will have a potentially devastating impact on Supercars.
However, with the automotive industry in Australia changing dramatically in recent years — and regulation changes scheduled for Supercars in 2022 — does the departure of Holden simply serve to bookend an era of the sport that, out of necessity, is set for monumental change in the coming years regardless?
Interestingly enough, there is a precedent for a drop in interest when the series is not dominated by Holden and Ford.
So much of Supercars’s recent and historic success has been predicated by the all-encompassing battle between the two manufacturers, be it in the now-defunct Australian Touring Car Championship or on the mountain at Bathurst, where legions of fans congregate each year for their annual petrol-head pilgrimage.
Any sport relying on a two-way rivalry, such as Supercars during its recent peak, is clearly fairly dependent on both those rivals thriving and competing.
Losing the Holden brand from that duopoly could have a devastating impact.
“[The] news is understandably disappointing for fans who have followed Holden‘s success in Australian Touring Cars and Supercars since its debut in the 1960s,” Supercars said in a statement.
“Holden has been firmly part of the heritage of our sport and has helped shape Supercars to become the sport it is today.
“The Commodore will remain on track for the 2020 championship season and we’re looking forward to seeing it alongside the Ford Mustang once again this weekend [at the Adelaide 500].”
Bathurst was where Holden vs Ford rivalries came to a head. (Mark Horsburgh/EDGE Photographics: AAP)
History of the rivalry
The Touring Car Championships of Australia were not always limited to just Holden vs Ford, although the two manufacturers were willing participants since the inaugural championship race in 1960.
Part of the allure was almost half the cars being sold in Australia during the 1950s were Holdens, closely followed by Ford, with sales of the flagship Commodore staying strong all the way through the ’90s, leading to a genuine attachment between supporters and the cars on the track.
However, the series lost some of its lustre during the 1983-1992 internationally homogenised Group A era when overseas manufacturers came into the series and forced the Holdens down the pecking order — much in the same way foreign manufacturers fractured the domestic car market in recent years.
The associated drop in interest called for drastic measures.
As the Group A competitions fragmented, Australian motorsport’s governing body CAMS adjusted the regulations to ensure only Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons could compete in the series, an evolution that was realised in 1995 when they remained the only two car models on the grid.
The move to strip away the excess and focus on local cars with loud, V8 engines proved a hit, with crowds returning and interest surging in the competition.
Holden has always had impressive support at circuits around the country. (John Pryke/EDGE Photographics: AAP)
Gen3 and the quest for change
The Ford-Holden duopoly is something Supercars has attempted to address in recent years with new regulations, including the Car of the Future program and the upcoming Gen3 changes, being formed in an attempt to attract new manufacturers to the sport.
After all, long gone are the days when Holden and Ford dominated the local market in the way they did in the ’60s.
The Cars of the Future program briefly attracted Nissan, Mercedes and later Volvo to the sport, although all three have later left the competition.
Those regulations may not have had the desired effect, but Supercars is now in a position where concessions do not need to be made to placate Holden or Ford.
That means the new Gen3 regulations, which are still in development, can be altered slightly to appeal to other manufacturers.
Holden legend Mark Skaife told AAP the new Supercars needed to have “market relevance”.
“We have to accept that the Red vs Blue, Ford vs Holden, Collingwood vs Carlton, Labor vs Liberal scenario in terms of rivalry is over and we have to re-energise our product plan,” Skaife said.
“You want to have cars that people want to drive, they love the sound of.
“It needs to be something that’s relevant to modern aspirational values.”
Those modern values appear to be a move away from sedans to two-door sportscars, with Supercars boss Sean Seamer in an interview last year echoing Skaife’s comments on the need to maintain market relevance.
“Gen3 will be driven in a large part by the direction that manufacturers are going because it’s about maintaining and ensuring that we’ve got market relevance,” he said.
The boss of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, Roland Dane, said the sport had to keep on giving supporters what they wanted.
“We want to continue racing cars that represent what the Australian public has shown they enjoy watching, which are Supercars latterly, Australian touring cars over 60-odd years.
“And we’ve got to keep delivering a product along those lines,” he said.
What happens now?
Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin have pushed their Holden and Ford to the brink in recent years. (ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)
At the Adelaide 500, 17 drivers will line up on the grid in Holden Commodore ZBs, including last year’s championship runner-up Shane van Gisbergen, third-placed Jamie Whincup and fifth-placed finisher Chaz Mostert.
Previously, Holden made a commitment to supply teams with a Commodore up until the end of the 2021 season, despite the Commodore itself no longer being produced.
Jamie Whincup tweet:Nothing will EVER spin the rear wheels like a V8 Holden. Sad day for the Australian automotive industry and my thoughts are with the employees and dealer group.
However, with the Holden brand itself ceasing to exist, what form those cars will take still needs some working out, despite Nick Percat playing down the relevance of what badge is on front of the cars, justifiably stating that the car he currently drives is “not made by Holden”.
“They’re handmade race cars,” Percat told the ABC.
“Other than the body panels that look like a Holden or a Ford, they’re nothing like a road car anymore.
GM Holden interim chairman and managing director Kristian Aquilina said at Monday’s press conference there was a lot to still be sorted out regarding Holden’s immediate future in the sport.
“We’ve made a commitment and certainly we’ll need to sit down with our partners — Supercars Australia, and certainly the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, Triple Eight — which we’ll do in the coming days, to talk about the appropriate transition.
“Our intention is still to go racing in 2020 whilst we’ve still got Holden vehicles out there in dealer showrooms. To the extent about GM and its involvement in racing beyond that, that will be part of the same conversation.”
However, with the Gen3 changes set to shake up the sport in any case, Australian motorsport is already set for major change — with or without Holden.