Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Magic 8-Ball Says: Outlook Not So Good

My Dad now drives a Volkswagen Amarok. He calls it The Wolf, partly because "amarok" is Inuit for wolf and partly because I don't think he's ever seen Pulp Fiction. It is the most ridiculous thing ever. Feels like driving a monster truck, you need a step ladder to clean the windscreen and it comes with an eight-speed gearbox - eight! This is because it's a German car from Germany and needed to be able to handle every speed from a standing start right through to V-max on ze autobahns. No it was never going to set the German highway system alight, but it needed to be, at the very least, not dangerously slow (I'm told if you get stuck behind a semi on an autobahn, that's it: other people will be coming up too fast for you to pull out and get past). So, fit that low-revving turbo diesel with more ratios and it'll have a wider spread of speeds. With an automatic, it literally doesn't matter how many are in there until the gearbox case is poking out both ends of the car.

Pictured: why the manual has only six speeds.

Same thing with the paddle-shift gearbox on a Grand Prix car. It doesn't really matter how many ratios you cram in there, the cockpit only has controls for the next one and the last one. Ergo, the number's been slowly creeping up over the years: back in the 90's they still only had six. For most of the Noughties it was seven. This year it's eight. Why don't they cut the foreplay and just bring in CVT you ask? Well, because the rule-makers think it would be boring and they want to maintain the spectacle. And that's rather worrying, because they left the engineers in charge of the asylum.

Great video, I honestly didn't really get how seamless-shift worked until I saw it. Seamless shift started making inroads into Formula 1 around 2006 (ironically, a little bit after they'd started showing up on road cars). Compared to the previous generation of (amazingly fast) Formula 1 gearboxes, that saved around two seconds a race - in a sport where races are won by tenths, a very worthy investment (forum trivia: generally only top gear made it past 1:1, which is the same as 3rd in your car. The rest are all reduction gears. If you were wondering how it was possible for a Grand Prix car to do 0 to 100 in less than two seconds, a major part of it was that the gearbox was substantially reducing the amount of work the engine had to do!).

But despite that, the basic concept remains pretty simple: your engine revs times your gear ratios times the size of your wheels equals the speed you're doing. If you can get your head around that, the actual numbers aren't that important.

So riddle me this - why have this year's cars grown an extra gear? Yes, they have lost some revs (redlining at 15,000rpm instead of 18,000 like last year), but the extra torque from those turbo engines should have cancelled that out. Just fit slightly taller ratios and they'd wind out to roughly the same top speed at Monza they've always had (which is, and always has been, frighteningly fast).

The other possible reason is because they need to keep the engine revving in the sweet spot. Ah, that sounds more like it. Turbo engines are notorious for the behaviour of their turbo; it's like the Tarja Turunen of an engine, an irritating diva that just happens to make the whole thing work. And like a diva, if you stop feeding it hot air it loses motivation and gives up. If you want the power to be there, you need to keep the revs up, and a fantastic way of keeping the revs up is to have lots of gears to choose from: "Hmm, middle of the corner, 12,000rpm, do I want third, fourth or fifth for this next bit? Better make it third, give that turbo a good squirt before the straight..."

And that, in my mind, is the problem. I don't want them to have choices. I don't want them keeping the revs up. I want them to screw it up occasionally. I want to see the driver fighting his car, standing on the throttle like it's a half-open manhole to Hell to keep the turbo turning over, even though he's running out of grip and climbing the ripple strips as it is. I want to see a driver lose a place because he took a corner wrong and lost the boost was left stranded. I want the cars to be less than perfect so the drivers have to display - not just use, display - a lot of skill to race them. What we're going to get instead are cars that glide through every corner as placid as Zen masters and then try to claw past each other using DRS and "push to pass" buttons.

But there it is, Grand Prix racing in the modern age: the FIA is desperate to have an exciting, down-to-the-wire World Championship this year, and they have absolutely no idea how to go about it. Forget eight gears, they should have dropped it to six.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Sender of Eight

Here's a question: what do F1's new eight-speed gearboxes have to do with their new permanent numbering system? I'll give you a hint - they're both related to the new double-points gimmick they're using to spice up the last round of the championship. Give up? They're all signs the Powers That Be are desperate to have an exciting, down-to-the-wire World Championship this year, and they have absolutely no idea how to go about it.

And they usually handle this sort of thing so well.

Permanent numbers and the double points thing are also part of the ongoing NASCAR-ification of all things. Stock car racing's popularity boom from 1995 to, say, 2008, convinced many sports bosses that NASCAR was the way and the life and all racing series must to imitate its example to be successful - meaning adopting its make-all-cars-equal philosophy and putting big obvious numbers on the doors rather than, say, opening up your sport to Californians like Jeff Gordon rather than the usual rednecks and working hard to give your fans access.

Even the mighty Formula 1 has fallen victim to this line of thinking. Between 1972 and last year, the number for each car/driver combo was based on where they'd finished in the previous year's results. The #1 sticker went to the World Champion, with 2 going to his teammate. If the Constructor's Champion was a different team than the Driver's Champion, then they got 3 and 4. The team that finished next on the Constructor's table was given 5 and 6, and so on down to 21 and 22 (excluding 13, of course. This is a very Anglo sport, with Anglo superstitions). As a concept it bore the hallmark of Bernie Ecclestone, a man so anal about neatness he used to order team truck drivers to pull out and reverse it in again if they hadn't parked their trailers in perfectly parallel rows.

Maybe then the new system is a sign Bernie's grip on the sport is beginning to slip, because the reshuffle is such a dog's breakfast I really doubt it has his approval. The drivers have each picked a number below 99, and that's it, that's the number they'll have for the rest of their careers. While number 1 will still be reserved for the current World Champion, there's no number 2, Maldonado's got number 13, and Hamilton, Button, Sutil and Bottas have all gone for doubles (no word on whether they shouted "dubs get!" as they submitted the paperwork). The idea is that these numbers will become associated with their drivers, not a totally silly idea since it happens all the time anyway, it's just that it's usually more organic. Nigel Mansell was known for Red 5 as much as his porn 'stache, and to fans of a certain age 27 will always mean Gilles Villeneuve (brave choice, Nico Hülkenberg, brave choice). Will the new numbers stick and become part of the texture of F1? Will 44 one day be shorthand for Lewis Hamilton as 05 is for Brocky and 3 is for Dale Earnhardt?

This picture contains everything you need to know about the Bush administration.

My only real objection is that, while this American thing does seem to work, it's a distinctively American thing and I'm not sure we want to get that all-American ketchup on our sweet sticky crêpes. Time will tell I suppose.

What I'm less understanding about is the other bit of Dixie infiltrating our Euro-playboy sport: awarding 50 points for winning the last race of 2014 instead of 25 just sounds like a miniature Chase to me. No point wasting words here - I think it's stupid, contrived, arbitrary and spoils the whole point of the F1 World Championship being a championship. Why not just nominate a race at the start of each year and make whoever wins it World Champion? Hey I know, why not just pull a name out of a hat? It'd cut costs and, if you put off drawing the name until December 30, you'll reeeeally draw out the tension!

In all seriousness, it concerns me that this points tweak will only be around for a year or two, and in the history books ever after that year's World Champion will have an asterisk next to their name with a footnote reminding everyone they only won because the final race paid double. And if the championship is wrapped up before then, what was the point of changing the rules in the first place? All this can do is spoil someone's achievement by making it a technical, in-name-only sort of victory. Last-gasp championship wins are special because they're rare, guys. You can't have a once-in-a-lifetime event every year. If you do, your fans switch off because it becomes devalued. How many spec series have we seen fall by the wayside since the 90's? The racing was close, sure, but it was also pointless. Nobody cared that they were nearly always settled at the last race. It just proved this was roulette by different means.

What does this have to do with their new gearboxes? Well, this entry is already longer than I was planning, so I'll have to get into that next time.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

New Gen

Formula 1 testing is soon to begin, and so we'll be getting our first feedback on who's hot, who's not, and how the cars are this year. And the unspoken consensus seems to be that that what these cars are is twitchy.

Let's recap those "regualtions": single exhaust pipe exiting out of the very rearmost part of the car? Check. Shallower rear wing with lower wing removed? Check. Torquey electrically-boosted turbo V6 engine? Check. Add all that up and you get a car giving much more shove out of the corners with less downforce to stick it to the road. In other words, you get a car that's much more tail-happy than last year. Webber says that'll suit his friend Sebastian just fine, but I can think of someone else who'll probably love it: Kimi Räikkönen. And I can think of corresponding driver who probably won't love it too: Jenson Button.

Kimi's always been a gutsy, stick-it-in-and-let-it slide kinda driver, so I can imagine he'll have a lot of fun driving this year's Ferrari. And unlike Fernando Alonso, fun is all he's after, so I have no doubt who'll be the happier driver at the end of 2014. It's gonna be amusing to see how that all pans out, in a tense kind of way.

Jenson, on the other hand, has always been a much more precise driver, one who drives with a soft touch, almost with the fingertips. That gives him certain advantages. I was there in Melbourne in 2010 when he did what I thought was impossible, making a single set of soft Bridgestones last fifty-two laps. And it's not like he lacks speed either: after a qualifying lap at Silverstone, then-Honda sporting director Gil de Ferran was moved to comment: "I remember looking at his data after qualifying and thinking, 'Jesus Christ!' He had basically judged every corner to perfection. It was all done with surgical precision; the throttle, brake and steering were just perfect. There was not one correction too many."

After his disappointing 2013, it's become fashionable to claim the weakness of Jenson's driving style is that it doesn't allow him to really hustle the car to find its extreme limits. That's what Lewis Hamilton can do, and that's why they were such a good pairing, because Lewis gave Jenson something to aim for, a lap time that showed what the car could really do. Sergio Perez did not, and that's why he's not around this year. Only time will tell if the rookie Kevin Magnussen can, but he certainly has the DNA for it. Kevin's old man is former F1 driver Jan Magnussen, who in '94 made British Formula 3 his bitch and brought Paul Stewart Racing 14 wins out of 17, and then made his F1 debut when the team became Stewart Grand Prix three years later. Jackie Stewart, a triple World Champion himself and not a man prone to hype, nevertheless went on record saying, "Not since Ayrton Senna a decade earlier have I seen a driver with more natural talent and flair."

Unfortunately, Jan Magnussen went down in history as one of F1's great lost talents: he came along at a time when F1 was tinkering with the qualifying format to make it more TV-friendly, and their answer in the late 90's was a kind of "one lap, one chance" deal. Jan was the sort of driver who liked to get in the car and work himself up to a really fast lap time, so this was a bit of a disaster for him. Add to that a general lack of application and you'll see he disappears from the entry list after only a couple of seasons.

On that level at least his boy Kevin has a better chance - "failing to apply yourself" isn't really a thing when you drive for McLaren, a team notorious for micromanaging every aspect of their drivers' lives. Diet and nutrition, fitness and training, PR, advertising their sponsors' products, not to mention testing and working on the car, McLaren really doesn't leave you to your own devices much, not even in your extremely hypothetical spare time. All in the name of maximising the efficacy of the package with a focus on minimising wetware malfunction, or something like that I guess. His CV isn't that impressive - just a Danish Formula Ford title and a Formula Renault 3.5 title, with no experience in the GP2 that's done such a fine job breeding champions, and the time elsewhere spent in German and British F3, which aren't really top-tier series anymore - but he did set the fastest time of the McLaren drivers at the Abu Dhabi Young Driver test, so there's that.

Throw in the death of his father John a couple of weeks ago and it seems 2014 is going to be a tough year for Jenson. Not that I'd bet against him, of course. The last time he was in for a tough season was 2009...

Ironically, the man who'd love this new slide-happy generation of F1 car the most is probably Jenson's old BFF from Brazil, Rubens Barrichello. Rubens loved him a tail-happy open-wheeler, and like Lewis he gave Jenson something to shoot for, because he was still bloody fast when he was finally booted from F1 - fast enough to get a seat in IndyCar before "retiring" to Stock Car Brasil (which is more like DTM, by the by). Which reminds me, guess who Jan Magnussen's teammate was the year he made his F1 debut? Yep, the very same Rubens Barrichello. Given that, I don't think he retired too soon, but credit where it's due: he was still impressively fast for an old man. And having been for a spin with an old, arthritic former NASCAR driver, I can promise you an old racing driver is still waaay faster and tougher and more talented than any of we fat civvies.

So Rubens, enjoy your working retirement, just don't forget to spend some time at home with Silvana and the kids. Jenson, our thoughts are with you, and we're all glad the Old Boy got to see you become World Champion at last. And Kimi... Kimi, yeah, never mind.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

V for Final Victory

Ford is happy to announce the long begged-for XR8 badge will be back on the Falcon this year, good news that means the final generation of Falcon V8s will be available through all dealers Australia-wide. "Focusing on on one V8 model allows it to be more accessible to more customers and gives us better reach," said brand image manager Neil McDonald. And, oh yeah, if you read the press release a bit further, it'll tell you they're also "retiring" Ford Performance Vehicles, our attempt at being AMG. Not really a surprise, with Broadmeadows shutting down Falcon production there wouldn't be any cars for them to work on anyway, but it's not good news at all. All they did was Falcons. Even their badge was... I dunno, some sort of bird of prey? Like a wedge-tailed eagle, I guess?

Oh how I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at Bathurst last year, pulling an NSA on the meeting with Ford Performance Racing, their associated V8 Supercars team. I'll bet the plan was to shut down FPV and FPR at the same time, but out of the blue Ford changed their mind and instead decided to fund FPR for another 12 months. That's too brief for any marketing strategy, but it is just long enough to spare Ford the embarrassment of Honda, circa 2009. After all, two days later Frosty finally stomped on Jamie Whincup and claimed the Peter Brock Trophy as his own, ending a decade of humiliation for the Blue Oval factory team. One has to wonder what FPR boss Tim Edwards told the visiting Ford execs, whether he knew his team had the edge on Triple Eight even then.

So the XR8 is good news, but the other side of the coin is that the end of FPV also means the end of the Falcon GT, the F-15 to the XR8's F-16, the Sharon Stone to its Amber Heard. And no more GT means no Phase V. Thus the death of FPV carries the same sort of message as the death of John Lennon - there'll be no reunion tour now. And that's all the fans wanted. If there'd been an Internet between 1970 and 1980, the music forums would've been as full of whining for a Beatles reunion as motoring forums were for a Phase V last year.

A brief history lesson for the innocents wondering what the hell a "Phase V" is and why it matters. It goes back to 1967 when Ford took their XR Falcon family car, gave it the V8 out of a Mustang, the luxury Fairmont interior and a bronze paint job to create the Falcon GT, the first Australian muscle car. It won Bathurst, the race it was built for, and all was well until a year later when Holden hit back with a muscle car of their own, the HK Monaro 327. This time Holden won, and everyone knew what that meant.

So for 1969, Ford added upped the ante and added two more letters to the GT badge - "HO", which was supposed to mean "High Output" but after the insurance industry freaked out they backpedaled and said no no, it stands for "Handling Option". The GT-HO was retrospectively called the Phase I after the sequel came out, which then became a trilogy with the greatest Australian car ever made: the XY Falcon GT-HO Phase III.

I really shouldn't have to introduce this car: nothing else in the world exudes such an air of brutish yet stately menace. Fans call it the Godfather. Holden fans call it the devil (probably). It was the fastest car built in Australia for the next twenty years. Unfortunately, plans to turn the trilogy into a foursome were wiped out by the Supercar Scare of 1972. A media frenzy forced the pollies in Canberra to react, so they quietly told Ford, Holden and Chrysler if they wanted to keep their lucrative government supply contracts, they'd better drop these pesky 160mph supercars. And that was it. Although the first Phase IV had been sent down the production line as a dress rehearsal of the production process, the programme was abruptly cancelled. In racing manager Howard Marsden's words: "We were fully pregnant and we were giving birth. Then we were told to cross our legs." That's why fans can't let it go - the song never ended, it just stopped.

So why not finish it, Ford?

Because like it or not, your GT R-Spec isn't the Phase V. Not even close. It's too focused on being a comfy long-distance cruiser to deliver the razor-sharp handling of a track car, and in this day and age the customer expects both. And why shouldn't they? BMW delivers it, and with the R-Spec's rival, the GTS 430, so do Holden.

So if I was in charge of FPV, I wouldn't try to make the Phase V a road car at all. I'd make it one of these.

That's the Zonda R, and it's basically a racing car that just happens not to conform to any particular set of regulations. That's what my Phase V would be, a road car only in the sense that it had air conditioning and you could start it yourself on spur of the moment without having to spend an hour feeding it warm oil first. But for the rest of it, no compromises: slicks, splitter, big diffuser, massive rear wing. Australian cars have never been subtle, so why start now?

There are a few options for the engine, either blown or unblown Miami/Boss V8s, but my vote wouldn't go to any of them: I'd get a version of the 777 developed by Roush Racing for drag strips (it's easy to remember - 7.0 litres, 700hp @ 7,000rpm). Yes, it's a drag engine so it wouldn't last long even after reconfiguring, but so what? This is a car that's going to spend most of its life under a sheet anyway. And it has a solid grounding in speculation. After the Phase IV lost in '72 (and it would've, let's be honest), it doesn't take a genius to guess that Ford's response would've been even more cowbell. So without the Supercar Scare and Oil Crisis, how far would it have gone? Would they have sourced engines from the States? Would they have imported the monstrous 427 powering the Torino Super Cobra Jet (aka. the car the XA took its styling from)? Even if they wouldn't, I will.

And the final tweak to really sell this thing, it wouldn't be a four-door sedan: no, I'd build it as a two-door Hardtop instead. Marsden has revealed that was always Ford's plan anyway, that the Phase IV be built on the sedan body, but the Phase V would be based on the Hardtop. So give it a similar relationship to the rest of the FH range as the VZ Monaro had to the VZ Commodore. Even if that meant we had to build it on the Mustang platform, that would be sweet, sweet payback as far as I'm concerned. Best of all, Ford would bow out on a high note, having done something crazy awesome and proven that once - just once - the accountants weren't running the asylum.

There are almost certainly plenty of people with many degrees and pie charts to their name who could tell me why this wouldn't work, but so what? In another sixty years, what would everyone remember - an awesome car, or that Ford lost money again? Aren't they closing down anyway? And before you object that this is the nostalgia goggles talking... well, what do you think importing the Mustang is?

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Tone-deafness in Advertising

Old news, because this post was conceived in the tail end of 2013, but oh well: McDonalds is in trouble again, this time for providing their workers advice on how much to tip one's pool cleaner, personal trainer and masseuse. Seriously. This came only a couple of months after trying to show how easy it is to live on a McDonalds wage if you're clever, frugal... and have a second job elsewhere. The fact that this happened twice over seems to prove McDonalds has no interest in learning from it, but the buzzword that keeps coming up is "tone-deaf", a pretty handy word. I love the image of big CEOs trying to play along to everyone else's song, which they can't hear because it's in the key of Poverty.

They're not embarrassing themselves in such an extreme way, but Ford's musical ear doesn't appear to be any better than Maccas head office. In May they made the announcement we'd long feared, that they would stop building Falcons here in 2016. But then in November came the news that, in 2015, they'd be launching the latest version of the Mustang. Ford seems to have every intention of racing it in V8 Supercars and making it their flagship model from 2015 onwards.

Not cool, guys.

It's not that the Mustang badge doesn't have an absolutely glorious history in this country - it does. Five Australian Touring Car titles in a row speak for themselves, and the Trans-Am version gave a certain Allan Moffat his foot in the door of the Aussie tin-top scene. Very worthy accomplishments for a very worthy nameplate. And I genuinely did like the rebooted model when it came out in 2005, especially the tuned Roush version that looked like an absolute beast and backed the show up with plenty of go. Buuuut... this is how the campaign started, with a Facebook post and an especially cringe-worthy...

Not making that up - Mustang Inspires. You bloody wish, Ford. Now, it's not that the Mustang sounds like such a terrible car. In fact it sounds pretty good, even if I'm not sold on some of the features, like a turbocharged EcoBoost engine option. Yeah, okay, right engine for the times I guess. It'll also be the first Mustang with rear coil springs. That should mean the handling is superb. Which just might ruin the car entirely. A Mustang is supposed to be a pony car with a big V8 and shocking handling. Surely a Mustang with an efficient engine that can corner like a dream is just an obese MX-5?

That remains to be seen, for now we'll give it the benefit of the doubt: what really sucks here is the timing. What Ford is trying to do here, swapping out the Falcon for the Mustang, is like sending one of their exquisitely-suited jerk-off execs to a hospital to see a man grieving at the bedside of his dying wife. They've been together for sixty years, been to Hell and back, shared the good times and bad... but now they're staring down the barrel of permanent, final separation. And in walks our exec with a shit-eating grin and says: "Hey bro. I heard you're about to become single, so I thought I'd play, 'Have you met Candy?' She's a former Vegas showgirl, but she just moved here and she's really into you. I thought you two might hit it off!"

See the problem? When I rise to power, Every. Single. Sales and marketing professional will have this pinned up somewhere in their cubicle, on pain of... really severe pain, I guess.
Millennials have been socialized to be amazingly aware of being marketed to, and they react poorly to such poses adopted solely for the purpose of winning their business.

The problem, though, is that the marketing that worked so well on Baby Boomers, feels plastic and inauthentic to emerging generations. They tend to be not so much immune to slick marketing as repulsed by it. To a generation that grew up watching TV and engaging the world online, attempts to package important things via slick marketing sound contrived and hollow.

Those are actually from blogs about getting Millennials back into church, but the point stands. You could argue point that doesn't really apply because the Mustang is actually a cynical cash-grab aimed at Baby Boomer nostalgia. It's an idea with some merit - Boomers are starting to retire and are buying possibly the last cars they'll ever own - but I'd respond by pointing out A) they're marketing it with a hashtag, and B) Ford and the churches still have the same problem - if they want to remain in business beyond 2025, they need the loyalty of Millennials.

And the really sad thing is, Ford would be doing a brilliant job of earning our loyalty if they'd just turn their marketing machine off for a second. The Territory? I see them everywhere I go, fantastic car. The Mondeo? Battling to find anyone with a bad word to say about it, and it's pulling double duty as America's Fusion as well. Fiesta? Nobody can believe you can get so much performance for so little money. And the Focus? Man, the Focus is one of the two most popular cars in the world (the other's the Toyota Corolla) and has a reputation as a fun, practical, very cool car - a reputation Ford are doing their best to ruin by hiring dickhead trendies to advertise it.

Hate to tell you, Ford, but the people in that ad aren't your customers. They bought an A-Class or MiTo or Fiat 500 instead (hell, having seen it, I'm thinking of buying a Fiat 500). You're doing a great job at the stuff that matters - the actually-building-cars part. But you're doing a lousy job at drumming up enthusiasm for them, precisely because you're so desperate for us to be enthused about them. And the final insult is that you're refusing the make the car we really do want... which I'll get into in my next entry.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Footballs, Meat Pies, Kangaroos and Nationalism

I know there'll be a couple more years of Ford vs Holden yet, but now both have announced the end of manufacturing, I don't think it's too soon to declare a winner. It's Holden. By a landslide.

I don't just mean in statistical terms, although those do overwhelmingly favour the General. Ford drivers might have taken more Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercar crowns (23 to 18), but over a third of those came from imported cars – Mustangs and Sierras, plus a lonely Pommy Cortina. Boil it down to the all-Aussie Falcons and it's a much less friendly 15 to 18. In the only race that actually matters, it's even more lopsided: Holden have earned 29 Great Race laurels to Ford's 19.

But it's more subtle than that. How many famous names pop into your head when you hear the phrase “Holden driver”? I bet with most of them I don't even need to give their first name: Brocky, Skaifey, Lowndsey, Gricey, maybe Tander and even Ingall (even the Enforcer, who won his only title in a Falcon, is still mostly considered a Holden driver). Against that, how many genuine Ford drivers are there? Allan Moffat, Dick Johnson, Marcos Ambrose... and that's about it. Whincup won his first title in a Falcon, but he's not so much a Ford or a Holden man as a freak of nature. Today only Frosty stands defiant as a Ford driver as opposed to professional V8 driver, and he, like his team, is a frustrating underperformer.

This points to something I have to give Holden credit for: they've done a much better job of creating a culture of loyalty to their products. Part of this is taking a long-term view of racing and ensuring your fans (read: customers) have a Holden team to cheer for year in, year out, regardless of whether they're winning. There's been a Holden factory team out on track, without fail, since 1969 (indeed, thanks to a semi-independent Holden Special Vehicles, for a few years we had two factory Holden teams – HRT and the HSV Dealer Team). And remarkably, despite effectively being the Establishment, they managed to create an image of being the underdog, battling valiantly against the might of the Ford factory teams.

That's quite a con. Other manufacturers should take notes on Holden's handling of the old Dealer Team. Officially it wasn't Holden's own team, entered by a group of dealership owners in Sydney and Melbourne, so it bypassed General Motors' pesky “no racing” directive. For a team with no official backing, HDT got an impressive amount of official backing, but here's the thing – so did all the independent Holden drivers. Although running their own team, Holden weren't especially fussed who did the winning, as long as they were driving a Holden. How brilliant is that? Supply two-thirds of the grid, make it look like your cars are better than your team, and still claim underdog status when Ford come back with another monolithic overfunded factory team.

But it's more than that (and this is where it starts to make us look bad) – it's also because Holden has always been distinctively true-blue Aussie, where Ford takes a slightly more international approach. It's a fault line that divides Australia to this day: Blue-collar vs white-collar. Beer or latte. Labor or Liberals. Yob or wanker.

Of the two, Ford's been the more wankerish, the company more likely to rely on foreign talent like a Canadian star driver or a eurotrash hatchback (while we're on the subject, how much of the Sierra's success here was down to the hard work guts and slog of DJR? Let's not imagine what Ford's final score would look like if not for Dick Johnson). Holden, by contrast, has always taken the yob option, and although it did give them a reputation as the brand of choice for knuckle-draggers, it also made them look patriotic. A Holden owner is a living racial stereotype - a white, blond, rough, six-foot, unsophisticated wildlife expert and obsessive beer drinker. He wears a khaki shirt and shorts and his most priceless possession is a large knife. If not cheering for Skaifey or trying to catch crocodiles he will be surfing or barbecuing snags. Only Holden is Australia's Own ®.

All of which is just a long-winded way of saying, it's very hard to give Holden the credit they're due, because it amounts to giving a big thumbs-up to the ugly side of Australian nationalism – Bondi riots, flags across everything, and bumper stickers reading “Fuck Off, We're Full”. Holden represents the Australia Johnny Howard believed in, an Australia that's dying a day at a time. Ford leans slightly more toward the multicultural, latte art-snob country we want to be... which makes it painful that the final performance Falcon, the GT R-spec, is as limp as boiled asparagus next to the red-hot Commodore GTS 430 it's up against.

And that's the irony of the final round of the Long War: Ford is the international brand, but it was HSV who finally delivered a vehicle capable of taking on ze Germans. But that's something we'll be looking into next week.