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Band-aid approach to parity the wrong one
Jason Whittaker

I know, I know... everyone's sick of the "p" word. Six letters that seem harmless enough on their own, but together form the most despised motorsport-related term since that of "Barry Sheene." But until the problem is solved, the parity debate isn't likely to go away in a hurry. And clearly, the problem is far from being solved - largely due to the complete lack of direction the decision makers are taking in achieving a solution.

Let's be clear about this, the bottom line is that "parity" is all about stopping Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife from winning. Mr Cochrane can deny it all he likes - and he does, often - but from an administrative point of view, pushing HRT a few rows back on the grid is the most important battle of the parity wars. And Corporal Cochrane and his troop of battled-scarred AVESCO soldiers are doing everything possible to achieve that aim.

Holden and HRT win too much. Not that they don't deserve to. Let's give credit where credit is due - HRT are the fastest, most professional, most prepared, most honed, most awesome team in any garage in the country. But from the eyes of administrators, the people trying to sell the product, the Holden winning ratio must be slashed - quickly!

The statistics over the past few years speak for themselves. There is no need to reel them off again. They are simply outstanding.

HRT again dominated in race 1
at Oran Park, they now have 9 1-2
finishes from 25 race starts this year
Pic: Michael Shaw
Holden are the Essendon Bombers of V8 Supercar racing. They just don't lose. Ever. They have the classiest looking list going round, and, as a team, work better than any other. When they enter the arena, everyone else is playing for second.

The Holden Racing Team... well they are the Matthew Lloyd of the squad. The star player. The match winner. Sure, there are others in the midfield and down back putting in the hard yards, but they're up the front and in the spotlight. They're a goal kicking machine. They can slot them through from anywhere - the pockets, beyond 50, anywhere. To even contemplate a match-up would create many a sleepless night for opposition coaches.

But there is one significant difference between these two overwhelmingly successful sporting entities. When the Bombers are red-hot, it's sport at its very best (assuming you don't barrack for the victim). When HRT are on their game, you can almost hear the "zuzzing." Here lies the problem.

When it comes to motorsport, variety is the spice of life. The fans want to see different winners every weekend - even the HRT groupies will admit to that. The top 20 grid positions may be separated by some ridiculously minuscule margin, but it means nothing if the same team is on the front row, and winning the races, at every round.

Sport is a commodity, to be sold and to be bought, and nobody is buying if the outcome is as predictable as it has been over the past few seasons. While crowd figures, television numbers, sponsorship interest, etc., is hardly wanning at an alarming rate thus far, it's only a matter of time before this disparity ailment takes hold. Those long-suffering Blue Oval fans are a resilient lot, no question. But how long will it be before they stop turning-on and turning-up? Not long, I would suggest.

So, while the idealists will tell you rectifying disparity is about equalising the two marques on a technical basis, the fact remains that the crux of this debate is about disposing the predicability factor from the sport - ie, disposing the red and white Commodores from the pointy end on a regular basis.

Which brings us to the reverse grid concept - the band-aid approach to equalisation. Because, that's what it really is. The quick fix. Sure, it creates a different looking front row. And, it certainly achieves the 'anti-HRT winning device' criteria. But is it really in the best interests of the sport?

Ingall won race two at Oran Park,
but he wasn't the fastest that weekend.
Pic: Michael Shaw
Russell Ingall's Commodore wasn't the fastest machine in the paddock at Oran Park, far from it. Indeed, Ingall, by his own admission, has been considerably of the pace for much of the year. But by jumping ahead of the five cars that were clearly faster than him, he was able to exploit the almost-impossible task of passing to claim the race win and receive maximum points for that race.

The history books will show Ingall as the winner, but let the record reflect, your honour, that Russell Ingall had the sixth fastest car on the day. Sure, the quickest car doesn't always win the race. But that doesn't mean these cheap and nasty gimmicks should be deployed to help the tortoise defeat the hare.

The line between sport and entertainment is being continually distorted. The two go hand in hand. The continuity between the two is vitally important. But the line should still be visible, and clearly, reverse grid motorsport crosses that line.

Cochrane has to decide whether this category is Olympic-standard wrestling, or whether it's WCW-style tomfoolery. If it's the later, then I'm all for reverse grid racing. But if it's the former, and Tony "Don King" Cochrane wants this sport to be considered a respected player on the sporting landscape, then reverse grid racing has to go. The band-aid only conceals a deep-rooted crisis that has the potential to bring the sport to its knees if something is not done. Tony, rip off the band-aid and go and see the doctor!

Complete technical and mechanical equalisation is exactly what the doctor ordered, and, to their credit, this is starting to be realised in the boardroom. Will it stop the winging? No. But at least both will be competing on an equal, or as equal as possible, playing field. For a category that was originally designed as a parity-controlled formula, this would seem the only answer.

The "common" undertray, to be implemented at Calder this weekend, is the first step of many in the standardisation process. With equal downforce, which a common aero package will, in theory, deliver, this thorn that has been in the side of many for a number of years, is removed. For next year, officials will go under the bonnet and attempt to achieve uniformity from a mechanical perspective. It creates an element of sameness about the category, (particularly with only two manufacturers, control tyres, etc.) but you can't have your pie and eat it too.

Hobbling the Factory Holdens may be the short term approach, but it must not form the long-term solution. Yes, there is plenty of team disparity within the paddock. But that's only because of the skill, nous and experience of HRT being that much better than everyone else. You don't penalise a team, or a manufacturer for that matter, for doing their job well. However, if there is significant technical imbalance, then something must be done.

'Project Blueprint' is a definite step in the right direction. Ideally, equalisation should be achieved by employing neutral people to test the cars, preferably in a wind-tunnel situation. But this simply isn't possible. What is possible, is for TEGA (and the Performance Review Committee) to make a concerted effort to find the imbalance, and rectify it. Slowly, this appears to be happening.

Let's not be melodramatic. The V8 Supercar formula is hardly terminally ill. But the growth of the category can't continue with this niggling injury. It is an injury. And it can't be disguised by a wing clip here, and a reverse grid there. We all know what happens when a niggling injury doesn't receive treatment immediately.
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