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A year ago Production Car in Australia on shaky ground. Now the future has never looked better.

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A year ago Production Car in Australia racing looked to be on shaky ground. Now the two biggest series are on the same page and the future has never looked better

By HEATH McALPINE

Production car racing in Australia has had a few rather turbulent years since the demise of the PROCAR Series in 2004.
After a couple of stumbles along the way, and plenty of uncertainty, the local production car championship has seen a rebirth of sorts, with the Australian Production Car Series, which is being driven by Iain Sherrin.
“I had a history of doing it, probably a chequered history, to be honest,” Sherrin explained.
“I could clearly see what needed to be done but there was no-one that was willing to put their hand up to do it. The tender had gone out, there was a lot of uncertainty and it didn’t seem like it was going to go anywhere. There was a possibility it might not have even been around this year.
“I guess that’s what prompted me to put my hand up and do it. I have a history, whether it’s good or bad, but at the end of the day I believe I know what needs to be done and I believe I know from past experience what mistakes to avoid. To Mike Smith’s credit, from CAMS, he agreed and gave me a go.”
Sherrin had a large task, as he basically had to start the series from scratch, from calendar to promotion.
“Coming into it late last year, I was really behind the eight-ball and it was really a matter of grab whatever you can – and there wasn’t a lot on the table to grab. Just creating a calendar for 2016 was very difficult, because nothing had been done, and there was so much uncertainty the series might not have even been there. November, December, we tried to grab calendar spots, and I don’t think I released the calendar until late January/February of this year. We basically started from scratch, [with a] brand new Facebook page, brand new YouTube channels [and a] brand new website.”
While the national series has had its issues the growing New South Wales Production Touring Championship, headed by President Gerry Murphy, has grown in size and has dwarfed the national series, with big entries and newer cars coming into the category in recent years.
“My philosophy was, we needed to enforce the rules very strictly, because that keeps the costs down and we try to give national experience without the costs,” explained Murphy.
“There are two filters that every decision we make at a committee level goes through. One is, is it sustainable? Whatever we do, we can look forward to a window of three to five years where that change will stay for that long. And the other is that it’s cost effective, so we’re not going to make cars redundant overnight.”
This has been a successful formula for Murphy, as the Production Touring cars will expand into Queensland next year, with a date set in June at Lakeside.
The NSW series continues to be extremely popular.
“We’ve hit the ground running,” enthused Murphy.
“We launched it and the response has been overwhelming, I must admit. We’ve put on a local up here, Karl Begg, on the committee, he’s over from Queensland Touring Cars and we’re going to have three races next year. It’s a massive deal.”
Earlier this year, the inaugural Bathurst 6 Hour for Production Cars enjoyed an impressive entry list and an exciting race between Mercedes, BMW and Mitsubishi. The promoter behind it, Yeehah Events’ James O’Brien, had previously run the Production Car 12 Hours and left production car teams disappointed when GT cars were introduced in 2011.
O’Brien says that the original plan, however, was to originally have GT cars in the 2007 event.
“The only reason the 12 Hour didn’t have GT competitors back in 2007 because a certain individual at CAMS in a certain position of authority was a Production Car competitor,” O’Brien said.
“It took a few years to introduce GT cars, so it wasn’t a case of ‘this was a race for Production Cars and now I’m going to change the rules and introduce GT cars’. That was always the plan; to have GT cars as part of the event. I don’t believe that is an issue at all.”
On the back of the success of the 12 Hour, O’Brien was planning another endurance race for production cars at Mount Panorama. NSW Production Touring already had a spot at the Bathurst Motor Festival at Easter with a couple of one-hour enduros, so they were the prime candidates for a six-hour race.
“I think in the first year it may have been two half-hour races and they had a desire to do two one-hour races a couple of years ago, and it sort of evolved from there,” explained O’Brien.
“They are a well-run category and they were keen to do endurance racing, so that took the risk out of the 6 Hour. We knew all those cars existed and competitors were keen to do it, which gives you a core group of competitors, then you add in the National guys and all the other guys from other categories who will grab a Production Car and have a run. It meant that our 40-car target was eminently achievable in the first year.
Murphy further explained.
“We started up there with a one-hour, then we went two one-hours, one on Saturday, one on Sunday and then he called me up and said, ‘look, would you guys throw your support behind a six-hour race?’ We went back to the members at the end of the day and that’s how the six-hour started.”
The Bathurst 6 hour is included in an expanded Australian Production Car Series Calendar, with no clashes between NSW Production Touring, which were frequent this year, as Sherrin details.
“Next year we have three rounds where we’re doing two by 300km races, 600km over the weekend. It’s brilliant. A couple of six-hours, a couple of four-hours and then we have a little sprint enduro at Sydney Motorsport Park. For the 2017 calendar one of the priorities was [to] try and not let that [the clashes] happen again.”
As well as the calendar, the 3E regulations have been revised so they are more consistent between the two classes.
“It used to be an adversarial relationship between some of the previous managers,” said Murphy, “but Iain and I are both Queenslanders, so we get on pretty well. And I said to him that we’ll come to yours if you come to ours, and he said, ‘ok, deal.’ We’ve done a lot of work with our rules with CAMS to even up the rules within the two categories.”
Sherrin elaborates further.
“One of the first things I did was [to] talk with the NSW guys about getting our technical regulations, from a 3E point of view, the same, which we did. We worked on that quite hard and got the technical regulations the same. We have expanded our vehicle eligibility for our series, the NSW guys stick purely to a touring car formula, that’s great and that’s what they do.”
There are 34 cars entered for the final round of the Australian Production Car Series at Sydney Motorsport Park, with many new cars currently in build for both the NSW and National Series.
“We are going to see some brand new cars like new Ford Focuses coming in,” Sherrin said.
“We’re hoping to see a few Ford Mustangs, a good variety of new cars coming in, and some guys that are bringing their cars back that have been garaged for a while. Some of the Subaru STis are going to be at this next round as well and are starting to come out of the garages and run with us.”
The expanded regulations could see the Nissan 370Z and new Mazda MX5 Hardtop join the grids, and NSW will also see some exciting new cars debut next year.
“Well the Ford Focuses are probably the next ones we’re going to see,” says Murphy. “We’ve got two VF Commodores ready to roll, a whole raft of BMWs are coming in, and an Audi S5.”