There's no reason not to love the Armor All Gold Coast 600. Featuring Australia's most popular racing series, the production-based V8 Supercars, the “GC600” is unique compared with the star events in other professional championships.
Held on the streets of Surfers Paradise, the V8 organizers created the GC600 concept in the wake of IndyCar's departure from the event after the '08 non-championship race, making the bold move to place an international driver with each of its 28 V8 regulars to compete in a pair of 300-kilometer (186-mile) races that pay full points. It isn't an exhibition or an all-star race, and with just four events left in the championship, the choice of international driver is critical for those teams vying for the V8 title.
With 28 “international” drivers from Formula 1, IndyCar, American Le Mans Series, Grand-Am, NASCAR, the World Endurance Championship and World Touring Car Championship partnering with V8 legends, journeymen and also-rans, the mix of talent and drama generated from different worlds colliding made the GC600 an instant classic.
The V8 series, now in its third decade of existence, features one of racing's most primal rivalries with Ford and General Motors (in this case, the Holden brand) fueling a highly divided fan base. The V8s employ a multi-race format at most rounds, spreading 29 races across 15 weekends with three endurance events, including the Bathurst 1000 – Australia's equivalent of the Indy 500 – as the centerpiece of the championship. The GC600 marks the 12th round, 22nd/23rd races and final endurance event on the 2012 calendar.
Established in this format in 2010, the 1.8-mile, 15-turn street races offer the 100,000-plus fans non-stop entertainment. Four V8 sessions dominate Friday's activities, while Saturday's run for the pole with the series' trademark Top 10 Shootout session will set the grid for the first 102-lap race later in the afternoon.
At just over two hours in length, each 300km race within the narrow confines of the cement-lined circuit leaves the V8 cars and drivers looking like they've finished a destruction derby. Few body panels are usable after Race 1, and some cars require wholesale rebuilds prior to Race 2.
This year, with the ALMS season finale at Petit Le Mans being held on the same weekend, the number of sports car drivers in the field has been reduced, but in their place, nine IndyCar drivers fill the void. V8 teams tend to have their “internationals” start the race, and hand over around the 45-minute mark.
When the V8 Supercars aren't on track, the organizers fill every available minute with other series, including the Australian GTs, V8 Utes, Porsche Carrera Cup, vintage V8s, demonstration runs by dragsters, moto-x stunt teams and live concerts, headlined by this year by Good Charlotte.
Track Map: http://surfersparadise.v8supercars.com.au/Portals/v8/RadEditor/Documents/Attachments/V8SC_12_GC600_MAP_V2.pdf
TV: The event airs on SPEED on a one-week delay basis, at 11 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 28.
DRIVING A V8 SUPERCAR
With 650hp on tap from 5.0-liter V8s, a relatively high curb weight of 3000 lbs and skinny Dunlop slicks, these beastly machines are anything but easy to drive.
Beneath the skin of a V8, plenty of technology can be found, but the raw attributes of high power and weight met with minimal grip result in one of the most exciting championships on the planet. Rules are very tight within the V8 series, which keeps the cars close on the stopwatch and dials up the intensity when it comes time to make a pass.
The amount of engineering, effort and componentry that goes into every V8 car pushes the price tag well north of $600,000 – in the range of a fully kitted Dallara DW12 IndyCar.
Drawing from his vast experience in tin tops while driving ALMS GT, Rolex GT and NASCAR machinery, road course ringer Boris Said offered his thoughts on driving a V8 Supercar, and where it falls among the other cars he's piloted:
“I like the V8 cars and understand them; to me they really feel like a SCCA World Challenge car because the grip is about the same and it's got a little more horsepower,” he said. “It's not like jumping in a Grand-Am car and you're wide open in the first lap with a lot of tire under you. Here you've got to kind of build up to it a little bit. The hardest thing for an American or an outsider to get used to is that they run a spool rear end; there's not a diff or a locker, so they're really hard to handle in the slow corners compared to a Rolex Series or ALMS cars.
“You do some weird things you don't normally do to get it to turn in the slow stuff, but overall, they're a blast to drive. You have to take care of the brakes and tires and really have to work to the speed out of them. You don't have tons of grip or a nimble chassis to work with, so the drivers end up putting in a lot of effort to get a lap time out of the cars.”
Next page: Team-by-team preview