Diesel Ute Racing - Blackbourn 411

By: Rob Blackbourn

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diesel ute diesel ute

Rob's been playing catch-ups in the last week or two about interesting goings-on at Supercars HQ

You could have knocked me down with half a wheelbrace when I stumbled on a reader’s comment in the February issue of Motor. He praised the Supercars people for thinking outside the square in choosing dual-cab, turbo-diesel ‘SuperUtes’ to replace the outgoing V8 Ford and Holden utes. Diesel-ute racing! Who knew? Well Muggins didn’t...

My old Mum would have said that I must have been ‘behind the door, not paying attention’, given that I’ve now learned that the SuperUte idea first surfaced in late-2016. It’s not that I don’t follow what’s happening with Supercars – seeing their post-V8-Supercars-era plans unfolding (for the cars at least) has been interesting. And I’m not anti-utes – my trusty Hilux diesel is only the latest of many utes I’ve enjoyed. But clearly, one way or the other the SuperUtes thing had passed me by.

With the challenging project to develop a multi-brand field of at least a dozen SuperUtes finally complete (the original plan had them out there racing a year ago), the amount of work required to achieve performance parity between the brands has clearly been huge. Parity is obviously essential to produce entertaining racing and to foster tribal fan passion.

Supercar parity has traditionally relied on mandating a complete common control-platform, with the variation between cars limited more or less to the engines and body panels. But to keep support-class SuperUtes affordable they needed to be production based. Body structures, chassis and floorpans, are basically modified factory items fitted with numerous control components, particularly transmission, suspension and brakes. The significant control item is the Detroit locker rear axle and suspension assembly – its coil-overs have been laid horizontally forward, operating through bell-crank linkages. This novel and complex arrangement was adopted to provide a control rear-axle/suspension package that is adaptable to the different brands’ chassis.

Achieving parity between the V8 engines of the Falcon and Commodore utes was a relatively straightforward exercise, given the well-trodden path followed by numerous V8 race-engine builders. Achieving power parity across different turbo-diesel engines from at least six factories has involved many variables, and steep learning curves all round. As recently as last spring the Mitsubishi Triton engine was said to be trailing the Ford Ranger’s power output by 75kW. While this gap has no doubt been narrowed since, weight concessions were on the cards to produce equivalent power/weight ratios, again to provide performance parity.

Making the SuperUtes sound gut-stirring must have been high on the to-do list. Turbo-diesels make way quieter exhaust noise than V8 petrol race-engines. Remember race-fan disappointment at Le Mans in 2006, as the winning Audi R10TDI whispered past them on the Mulsanne Straight at around 330km/h.

So the project has been about much more than hotting up a bunch of tradies’ trucks. Anyway we’ll all know a lot more about the subject after the expected SuperUtes debut at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide at the weekend.

If they’re a hit with fans, things could get interesting on suburban roads on Monday mornings. A Ranger-driving ‘sparky’, inspired by the weekend’s SuperUte action, might decide to go at it from the lights against a similarly fired-up plumber in a Triton. Watch out for the odd coil of cable or length of pvc pipe bouncing down a main road near you. Hopefully a tree-surgeon in his Colorado wouldn’t be sucked into the contest knowing that the weight of his wood-chipper would kill his 0-100km/h times.

 

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