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Will the move to Gen3 cars cost supercars its identity?

The future of supercars is finally here. After a full year of puzzles over the next technical step in the sport (the teams found it a little too mysterious at times), the covers have finally been removed from the prototype Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang Gen3 Supercars.

It has been a rocky road up to this point, between self-interest allegations, questions about critical offers (including engines), the announcement of a highly unusual mid-season introduction, the inevitable backflip of that announcement, and the “shiftstorm” of the stick versus paddle debate .

But there was a feeling that all was forgiven when the cars were unveiled on the Friday morning of the Bathurst 1000, the approval of the Mustang and Camaro almost universal when the paddock and the public took their first proper look. Autosport has yet to see the cars in person, with Bathurst travel plans constrained by the frustratingly tight border controls in this writer’s home state in Western Australia.

On the Thursday evening before the Bathurst 1000, just before the studio footage of the cars leaked with an embargo, my phone beeped with an open shot of the Mustang. It was my first look at a Gen3 car. And my first impression was, “Oh, right. OK”.

It didn’t look bad, on the contrary. It looked like a mustang. But the first thing I noticed was that it didn’t look like a supercar. To be honest, I was overwhelmed.

Since the introduction of the five-liter rulebook in the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1993, the cars have had a certain appearance. Draft clues that have prevailed or at least evolved in a way that is easy to understand. If you put an early car next to a current car, the lineage is visible.

The new Ford Mustang GT Gen3 does not follow the typical look of an Australian supercar

Photo by: Ford

The consistency across the entire model range naturally contributes to this. One would expect street cars to develop with some degree of constancy and transferability in terms of their design, and the same thing happened with the racing cars.

The Holden teams drove four-door Commodores during the five-liter era, the most radical change from an aesthetic point of view being the switch to a hatchback with hatchback with the current ZB model built in Europe.

The Ford teams drove the four-door Ford Falcon in its various iterations until 2019 when it was replaced by the Ford Mustang. This also brought with it its challenges, as the two-door Mustang body had to be stretched over a control chassis designed for sedans.

The result was one of the strangest cars in the history of the Australian Touring Car Championship / Supercars.

When I first saw the current Mustang, my first instinct was to check if it was April 1st. The drooping nose, the weirdly large rear wing; it felt impossible that it was real. But it was. It made a damn good first impression, if not in a good way. But I was anything but overwhelmed.

Unsurprisingly, the category moved quickly to avoid repeating the mutated mustang. There was talk of lowering the roll bar on the current chassis, but it would be too difficult and too expensive.

The current Mustang made a big impression when it was launched, if not always for the right impression

The current Mustang made a big impression when it was launched, if not always for the right impression

Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images

Since the Mustang itself was the best deterrent to yet another two-door car stretching over a four-door chassis (just ask WAU team boss Ryan Walkinshaw about his stillborn Camaro plan), attention turned to Gen3 and two-door cars. The new chassis was built with coupes in mind and from the moment the concept was properly unveiled during the 2020 Bathurst 1000 weekend, the tagline was “Street Car DNA”. In other words, racing cars that looked like their street-going counterparts. Just like the Commodores and Falcons have always been.

While the development of the prototypes behind closed doors continued this year, the term “street car DNA” kept cropping up. In June, Supercars motorsport director Adrian Burgess announced that he was giving the homologation teams another month to improve the resemblance to the road vehicles after seeing early body designs.

“We purposely built for a month … I wouldn’t say there was lag, but we allowed both manufacturers to incorporate as much street car DNA into the styling of the cars,” he said at the time. “You will have a lot more street car DNA in you than we’ve ever seen before in a supercar.”

This is a mark that has undoubtedly been hit. These cars undoubtedly look like the production models, right down to the Camaro’s daytime running lights. But in the pursuit of street car DNA, I feel like the supercars DNA has been lost. Or at least compromised.

I am in no way advocating that the Gen3 cars should look like the current Mustang. The Gen3 Mustang is far easier on the eyes than the existing car. And the Camaro (the choice of the two for me) is way better than anything that would have been put into a shape suitable for the current control suspension.

It’s also worth noting that supercars have a long, proud tradition of reluctance to design cars, especially when compared to something like the pre-GT3 DTM. It’s a tradition worth keeping. Another point is that we don’t know exactly what the race-ready Gen3 Mustangs will look like as a facelift is on the way for 2023.

However, my first impression of the prototypes was that the cars might be more likely to go to the Bathurst 6 hour production car race than the Bathurst 1000. Or, and maybe worse, that these are Mustangs and Camaros that could run in any series. all around the world. That couldn’t be said of any other supercar from the V8 era.

Are the Gen3 rear wings aggressive enough?

Are the Gen3 rear wings aggressive enough?

The rear wing is the piece that I keep coming back to. We want and need to reduce reliance on aerodynamics, and the current Mustang rear wing takes the pursuit of aerodynamic performance to the extreme. But one could certainly have found a middle ground with a largely decorative box wing.

They say the first impression lasts, but in this case I’m not so sure. The more I watched these prototypes do laps on Mount Panorama during the Bathurst 1000 weekend, the more warm I became with them. I started to imagine they were racing and it all started to make sense.

The first signs are that the engine note, another trademark of supercars, appears to be expertly maintained. Another concern I had before starting was that the new modified box motors wouldn’t keep up with the current screaming bespoke units, but at least over the TV speakers they sounded very good. Reports from Trackside confirmed this.

The small caveat is the Mustang didn’t run any mufflers, but the point is we didn’t seem headed for a flat, booming sound from these new cars. That’s a huge win. Now all the series has to do is put the final nail in the rocker switch / auto-blip coffin and confirm that the mechanical stick shift will remain in place (as expected).

Supercars needs Gen3 and I want it to be a success, as do most of those who work in the Supercars paddock who rely on the series’ health for their income. Gen3’s success isn’t defined simply by the looks of the cars, either, with bigger questions at stake, such as what GM will do if the Camaro sees its imminent demise.

The current Mustang is proof that if you look at something enough you will get used to it, so I’m confident I will get used to the tiny rear wings on the back of Gen3 cars. But at the same time, I feel like the look of the next generation cars reinforces the feeling that this is a monumental change for supercars. A whole new chapter, with cars that don’t even look remotely like before.

I won’t necessarily miss the current Mustang to Sydney / Adelaide next year. But I’m going to miss the Supercars DNA of the current cars. It served us so well.

The move to prioritize road vehicle DNA means a departure from the aggressive supercars look that fans are used to

The move to prioritize road vehicle DNA means a departure from the aggressive supercars look that fans are used to

Photo by: Edge Photographics

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