Australia’s Improved Production Racing brings together well executed builds, talented drivers, and interesting circuits for a thrilling spectacle that’s seldom matched in other forms of club racing. Perhaps it’s something in the water, perhaps it’s the macho mentality down there, perhaps it’s the rich history of road racing. Whatever the reason, the Australians certainly know how to put on an incredible show with relatively modest racing cars.
The relaxed rules allow different marques and models to distinguish themselves. Their own respective strengths and weaknesses are made clear through competition, as we’ve seen in another Improved Production battle featuring an agile Civic and a turbocharged Toyota AE86.
This battle stresses the differences of power, roadholding, and weight even more. In this three-way scrap, a well-sorted Subaru WRX faces off against V8-powered Holden Monaro and Holden Commodore at the tight and mountainous Barbagallo Raceway in Perth, Australia. The course favors the powerful, but a tight series of off-camber corners there gives the nimbler cars a chance to shine.
Playing to One’s Strengths
Peter Major, the crafty charger behind the wheel of the Subaru, may not have as much power to call on as the men in the big-bore Holdens, but he has some strengths of his own. Extra agility, shorter stopping distances, and an ability to deploy power in most places allow Major and his Subaru a chance against these V8-powered beasts.
That said, the power of an LS is nothing to be taken lightly. Matt Cherry’s Holden Monaro, the car which shares its tail with a Pontiac GTO, is in another league on straights. Therefore, Major’s attempts to outdrag either of the cars is fruitless. Even when Major gets a better run along Barbagallo’s back straight and pokes ahead momentarily, his Subaru cannot hope to match the Monaro in sheer acceleration (2:55, 3:52). There are a few ways Major can strike back, however.
Dictating Pace with Clever Positioning
Intelligent placement of the car, great braking, confidence in close quarters, and better entry speeds are all skills which help Major defend from John Callegari’s Holden Commodore behind. He compromises his entry into Barbagallo’s Turns 1, 6, and 7—all corners preceded by a lengthy straight—by diving to the inside. This upsets Callegari’s rhythm, and reduces some of the horsepower advantage.
Even on the few occasions when Callegari almost outdrags him along the back straight, Major can regularly outbrake the heavier Holden (2:06) and time his passes to cause Callegari to hesitate slightly; preventing a strong run onto the front straight. Defending along two sequential straights against a car with more horsepower deserves a tip of the hat.
Searching for an Opening
It’s obvious the Subaru is at its best in the slower Turns 3, 4, and 5. After taking a spectacular agricultural trip (4:46), it’s clear where Major’s planning to make a move. After all, most of the remainder of the circuit favors V8 power, so it’s the adversely cambered set of tight bends where he must strike. On the following lap, Major manages to get the power down earlier coming out of Turn 4 and runs around the outside into Turn 5 (5:53). Though this compromised line limits Major’s exit speed somewhat, sometimes positioning takes precedence over outright speed. From there on, he can rely on some of that positioning to stay ahead of both Holdens and finish an impressive second.
Considering the tough dicing witnessed from the sidelines, it might come as a surprise that Major’s steering inputs look so measured. Only once does he seem to show any real emotion; a brief wave of the hand after getting squeezed harshly (4:52 in the footage below). Cool, composed, and clear-thinking, he kept his nerves under control in order to pounce at one of the brief opportunities presented to him. One lap later, he could look in the rearview and smirk.