HSV Maloo + Holden VS race ute - flashback

By: Steve Nally, Photography by: Ellen Dewar

Presented by

hsv maloo holden ute 3 hsv maloo holden ute 3

We mixed HSV's hot hauler with a purpose-built racer from the crash-and-bang V8 Utes series

From Unique Cars #292, December 2008

2008 HSV Maloo R8 + Race-spec V8 VS ute

You’re looking at the two of the fastest Holden utes of their time: HSV’s E-Series Maloo R8 and Kim Jane’s V8 Utes VE SS. Two cars to strike fear into the hearts of Ford drivers on the highways and racetracks of our wide brown land.

So, what to do with them? Well, rather than just pitch them against their Blue Oval opposites in a traditional shootout, we wondered how the Holden roadie would go against the Holden racer over three full-tilt laps around Calder Park because, while outwardly similar, the two cars are totally different in spec yet each has advantages over the other on paper, at least. We’re expecting a tight contest. The most noticeable points of difference are under their bonnets. The R8 road burner packs the mighty 6.2-litre LS3 V8, which makes a stonking 317kW and 550Nm. Because the Ford V8 Utes only run a 5.4-litre V8, Jane’s racer is restricted by series parity regulations to the older and smaller 5.7-litre LS2. But with technical freedoms allowed under V8 Utes rules, the big yellow two-door still grunts out 270kW at the rear wheels (around 300-310 at the flywheel) and 525Nm, despite a lowly 6100rpm rev limit, some 500 revs less than the R8.

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The differences don’t stop there. The two cars also run chalk and cheese tyre, brake and suspension packages but things even up on the scales. Each weighs in at just over 1800kg, so we’re intrigued to find out if the lighter, race-fettled V8 Ute can outrun the slightly more powerful production-spec Maloo.

It may come down to torque. While the race car only has 25 fewer Newtons than the R8, peak torque doesn’t arrive until 4800rpm while the Maloo’s grunt is on song 200rpm earlier. It’s definitely going to be a close-run comparo.

We’ve bagged Jane himself to do the hot laps of his uncle Bob’s legendary track, a place he virtually grew up at. We’ve even conned him into letting us have a quick steer of his ute on the proviso that we don’t bend it; it has an important appointment at Mount Panorama (Round 7 of the 2008 Championship series) in a couple of weeks...

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OIL MAN

Jane is a bit of a car nut, having worked in the motor industry all his life buying and selling cars and his passion for motorsport was engendered early on.

"My father Bill used to organise a marquee on the back straight for the Australian Grands Prix (for Formula Pacific cars) and we’d sit and watch Niki Lauda, Jacques Lafitte, Alan Jones, Roberto Moreno and all those guys," he explains. "I grew up in the car business and did my sales training at the Preston T-Mart under Jim Richards. When I worked in the auction business I knew all the guys in Appendix J racing and, as soon as I was old enough, I got my CAMS licence at Calder in a VC Commodore.

"As soon as I’d saved up enough to buy a race suit and helmet, my father bought me an EH Holden and I basically developed my mechanical and driving skills over the next three years. My first race was in late-’83 at Sandown. I didn’t have any sponsorship and if I ran out of money Dad would throw me a few dollars or Bob would give me a set of tyres, but it was a good place to learn and to see if I really wanted to do it."

Bigger things were on the horizon for Jane, literally. Rising out of the Keilor dust was Bob Jane’s greatest motorsport accomplishment (some would now say folly), the mighty Thunderdome and Kim knew that was his destiny.

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"I’d been lucky enough to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, to watch Alan Grice and Graeme Crosby try to qualify for the Coca Cola 600 (NASCAR). I sat in the grandstands for the whole race with my jaw on the ground. I couldn’t wait to get involved. In 1988, we went AUSCAR racing (the popular Bob Jane-devised Holden and Ford version of NASCAR) at the ‘dome and never looked back."

Jane’s forceful and brave driving became synonymous with the Thunderdome and he earned the nickname, ‘The Silver-Haired Assassin’, the shortened form of which he’s carried through to V8 Utes.

He moved up to NASCAR in 1991 and even went back to Charlotte to compete in a one-off NASCAR Sportsman series race, qualifying for the main race (107 tried) and finishing 12th. Back at the ‘dome he was runner-up in the 1994/95 and 1995/96 NASCAR championships then won four NASCAR titles on the trot!

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"When the Thunderdome closed in 2000, I took a couple of years off and got married," Jane says. "I got the itch to race again two and half years later and found a ute and I’m really enjoying it. The category is fully controlled technically. Everyone runs the same springs, shocks, brakes and pads; all we can adjust are tyre pressures, alignment and ride heights and the cars are regularly dynoed to make sure they are all within spec.

"V8 Utes is super competitive. If you can win a race you’ve got everything together, because there are some pretty professional teams out there. We’ve struggled in the past but started to come good last year and I won one event."

It sounds funny to hear Jane say he "struggled" in a 300kW ute after mastering a 520kW NASCAR, but he had to rethink his driving after years thrashing around the ‘dome.

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"I’m driving as good as I ever have but after oval racing I had to re-learn flat track driving," he grins. "I was quick but to be really fast is all about fine tuning and it took a couple of years to fine tune my skills. When we went to tracks where I’d raced NASCARs, like Surfers Paradise, I’d be very quick because I was very confident but it took me three years to develop my style for the ute." Jane finished the 2007 ute season in third place, his best year to date, but when we convened at Calder he was again right in the hunt for the ’08 title, lying a close second behind Ford driver Layton Crambrook with only the December Oran Park finale now left.

HSV ROOKIE

Jane had never sampled one of HSV’s hot haulers, so he does a few familiarisation laps before going for it. The Maloo R8 is an imposing looking car just standing still with its massive 20-inch rims and fat rear rubber but it looks better at warp speed.

When Jane nails the throttle out of pitlane and disappears over the hump on Calder’s main straight we can hear it all the way to turn one. Actually the exhaust note could be louder but it’s a pleasing, smooth deep rumble.

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Jane keeps his right foot buried through the fast kink on the back straight and his mechanic Dave Murphy marvels that the R8 is still accelerating towards the tricky right hander at the end of the straight.

"We would have run out of breath by then," he notes. After his three hot laps, Jane idles into the pits with the brakes smoking and a grin on his face, having punched out a best lap of 1:09.3 seconds.

"The thing I noticed straight away about the Maloo was the power of the 6.2 and the extra revs; it goes to somewhere between 6500 and 7000rpm before it’s banging on the rev limiter," he debriefs. "It has good power down and you can feel the ABS kicking in and it seems to work beautifully under really heavy braking. On the first lap everything (brakes) was cold, on the second lap it was good but on the third you could tell the pads are more for road than race use because the brakes were just starting to go away.

"There is no ABS on the race ute but it does brake better and, with race tyres and suspension, it has more grip than the Maloo. Where the Maloo feels good is on the straights. It feels like a powerful car compared to the race ute, which doesn’t have as much torque. I can’t fault the car, it’s definitely a great package. It’s really quite stable, you really feel like you can give it to it."

Jumping into a more familiar office, Jane blasts out of the pits for three laps in his race car and, although its exhaust note must meet racing noise levels, it sounds a lot harder and more, well, race-like, than the Maloo’s. The SS may not look faster than the Maloo but with sticky Yokohama  semi-slicks and big race brakes it makes up time going into the corners and coming off them and he logs a three-lap best of 1:07.7 seconds.

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Getting the grippy, grooved Yokohamas pressured just right is one of the V8 Utes black arts and basically drivers can set their cars up to be quick at the start or the end of a race just by altering tyre pressures; getting them to grip for the whole race is tricky. At some tracks each tyre has a different pressure, Jane says. "When you’re running that close, a small change in tyre pressures makes a big difference to lap times." A set of tyres can do three meetings but he bolts a new set on for qualifying at every round then has to race on them.

Jane continues his comparison of the two utes. "The race ute has much better throttle response and we reckon we can tune a bit more out of it. Going to a fly-by-wire throttle has made the car harder to drive because when you get off the throttle it overruns rather than you getting instant engine braking and that creates a little more understeer."

So, the race car is quicker, as you’d logically expect, but Jane and Murphy are quick to point out that by simply fitting stiffer suspension, track tyres and race pads on the Maloo the outcome would be even closer.

Maybe the Clayton boys could build us a track-spec Maloo to test the theory.

CIRCUIT WORK

I always have a slight sense of trepidation when sliding into someone else’s race car for a few hot laps, especially when it is due to go the biggest event of the year, the Bathurst 1000, in only a couple of weeks. Bending it is not an option.

I reassure myself that Kim Jane’s V8 Ute is nothing more than a warmed over Commodore SS pickup and I should relax, but after a half a dozen or so laps chasing him around Calder for Ellen Dewar’s camera, I begin to think it might be a handful.

Jane was pushing hard and I was going as fast as I could in the Maloo and the yellow racer wasn’t gapping me significantly thanks to the R8’s grunt. But Jane was braking later and accelerating off corners earlier, the SS bucking over bumps and kerbs and weaving under power. At the end of the main straight it would spit flames on the overrun, which was really cool. I made a mental note to be on guard and to avoid the kerbs.

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A laid back Jane said I’d have a ball and only gave me one warning, to watch the brakes. "It’s easy to lock them," he said. "It’s got quite a long, soft pedal and if you jump on them too aggressively you can lock the fronts." Duly noted.

The stripped out cabin is, obviously, still very familiar, the only differences over the road car are the roll cage, two race seats with five-point harnesses, a D-shaped steering wheel, Stack tacho, race pedals and an electrics ‘kill’ switch.

Jane is a good five centimetres taller than me and his seat is fixed, so I was at full stretch. Luckily the ute’s power steering was very light and it never needed more than half a turn of lock at Calder, or I would have run out of arms.

It starts on the key and is as easy to drive away as a Corolla. The noise is pure race, the absence of carpet and sound deadening amplifying the harsh crackle of the exhaust and the whine of gears. It’s very addictive.

Accelerating out of the pits I test the brakes, progressively hitting them harder and harder to feel for what Jane was talking about. The big pedal has a light feel and has a long travel but the brakes are strong and don’t fade. Semi-slicks are new to me too and I’m unsure of their grip level but soon learn to trust them.

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Arriving at turn one at speed for the first time I turn in smoothly but the ute just wants to push straight ahead, that’s the effect of the locked diff. Nailing the throttle and winding on more lock gets me around the slow, double-apex bend. It’s the same at the fast fourth-gear, back straight kink: I turn the wheel and nothing happens. For a split second I think I’m going to understeer into the infield but another wrench on the wheel and a stab on the gas sorts it. This is a car that needs to be manhandled, not molly coddled.

Jane’s ute definitely feels more responsive than the R8 in every department – sharp throttle response, turn-in, braking, change of direction – and it grips, which inspires me to push harder. The short throw Billet shifter is excellent but I still try to slot reverse instead of fifth a few times, embarrassingly, just as I blast by the pits. What is really annoying though, is the way the SS runs out of steam at the 6100rpm rev limit, just as she’s really starting to haul.

The LS2 also revs up a lot more sluggishly than the LS3 and it seems to take an eon to get to 6000rpm in fifth. But by that time you are really moving, as I find out when I go really deep under brakes at turn one and lock the front tyres. The good thing is they unlock as soon as I release brake pressure and I am still able to turn in on line.

As Jane says, it would be relatively easy to get quick in his SS in a short time but to extract the vital last tenths (or seconds in my case) to be right at the front of the grid would take a lot more commitment and skill than I have, but it was still fun trying.

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2008 HSV Maloo R8 specs

Engine: 6.2-litre LS3 V8
Power/torque: 317kW @ 6000rpm/550Nm @ 4600rpm 
Transmission: 6-speed Tremec TR-6060
Differential: LSD, 3.7:1  
Suspension: MacPherson strut, progressive rate springs (f) multi-link IRS, progressive rate springs, ESC (stability control) 
Brakes: 365mm grooved & ventilated discs, 4-piston calipers (f), 350mm discs, 4-piston calipers (r), ABS, EBD
Tyres: Bridgestone Potenza, 20 x 35 x 245 (f) 20 x 30 x 275 (r)
Wheels: Pentagon alloys, 20 x 8-inch (f), 20 x 9.5-inc (r)
Weight: 1830kg

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Jane SS V8 Ute specs

Engine: 5.7-litre LS2 V8
Power/torque: 300kW @ 6100rpm/ 525Nm @ 4800rpm
Transmission: 6-speed Tremec M10
Differential: Harrop spool, 3.47:1
Suspension: MacPherson strut, Quadrant uprights, Bilstein shocks, H&R springs (f), multi-link IRS, Bilstein shocks, H&R springs (r)
Brakes: 340mm grooved DBA discs, AP Racing 6-piston calipers (f), 330mm DBA discs, 4-piston AP Racing calipers (r)
Tyres: Yokohama Advan, 18 x 40 x 235 (f&r)
Wheels: Bob Jane alloys, 18 x 7-inch (f&r)
Weight: 1810kg

 

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