Holden engine stalls

UNCERTAIN: Red Bull's Commodore ZB racing at Symmons Plains. The new engine for the model has been put on hold and Triple Eight Race Engineering has been left holding the fan belt after a big investment. Picture: Paul Scambler
UNCERTAIN: Red Bull's Commodore ZB racing at Symmons Plains. The new engine for the model has been put on hold and Triple Eight Race Engineering has been left holding the fan belt after a big investment. Picture: Paul Scambler

On Friday of last week at Symmons Plains Holden Motorsport announced they were suspending development of the twin-turbocharged V6 engine, designed for the new ZB Commodore race car, effective immediately.

The 5.0 V8 engine has been the staple diet of the Touring Car/Supercars championship for 25 years, but the introduction of the Gen 2 Supercar regulations from the beginning of 2017 opened the door for different engine configurations and body shapes.

Any new model car would still retain the “Car of the Future” regulated chassis platform with manufacturers simply adding their current bodywork panels.

For example it would have been possible to compete with either a two-door Chevrolet Camaro or the Ford Mustang and retain their V8 engine configuration or even a twin turbocharged V6 Nissan R35 GTR.

With the demise of the Australian-designed and -built Commodore, Holden made the decision to import the Opel Insignia, rebadged as a Commodore, but fitted with either a turbocharged four cylinder engine or a V6 engine.

At the end of 2016 it was announced that Walkinshaw Racing had lost their exclusive status and financial backing as the official Holden Racing Team with the Triple Eight Race Engineering team named as the replacement from 2017 for three years.

As part of the deal, Triple Eight would take responsibility for developing the new ZB race car, in conjunction with Holden, and also combine with GM Racing in America and Holden to develop the new twin-turbocharged V6 engine.

Work on the new engine had commenced in 2016 with the intention that all Holden teams would be required to switch to the new engine as early as this year, but that requirement was delayed till next year.

The ZB hasn’t exactly worn out the carpet with less than 600 sold last month.

Then came news from Triple Eight that it was looking to introduce the new engine in a wild card entry for the Bathurst 1000 this year.

It’s understood rival Holden teams would have had to lease the engines from Holden and not surprisingly, there was some rumbling from the fans as to whether Triple Eight would have an unfair advantage.

At Bathurst last year Greg Murphy drove the Holden Sandman test mule, fitted with the new engine in some demonstration laps, and from all accounts there were no issues.

Holden Motorsport Executive Director Mark Harland said at Symmons Plains “after working closely with all Holden teams we have decided to put a hold on the development of the V6TT Supercars engine.”

Triple Eight team boss Roland Dane added “we’re very confident that the engine package would have been fully competitive and know that we have an extremely valuable bank of knowledge to refer to as and when a different engine platform is explored again in the future.”

So the obvious question is just what were the main factors that caused Holden to shelve plans to introduce the new engine?

From Dane’s comments it seems the decision wasn’t made until very recently and you have to wonder if he has been caught off guard.

Dane has stated that the engine project has not been formally scrapped but no time lines for a future introduction have even been suggested.

So far millions of dollars have been spent, not just on the engineering required to make the change to the five-door configuration of the ZB, but also in the development of the engine.

Triple Eight Race Engineering has devoted thousands of hours and money to develop the complete ZB package with the expectation they would recoup that expenditure and more from other Holden teams, but at this stage it’s not going to happen.

Just to add fuel to the fire it was announced by Holden on Tuesday that Mark Harland had left the company with no reasons given.

I can’t help but feel there is more to this than meets the eye, not the least of which would be the distinct possibility the other Holden teams were determined to stay with the tried and proven 5.0-litre V8.

Add to that the overwhelming response from race fans, on various forums, who have no interest in anything but a V8 engine despite the fact those engines are out of touch with today’s advancing engine technology.

And what is the future of the Commodore in Australia.?

The ZB hasn’t exactly worn out the carpet, with less than 600 sold last month. Small-capacity technically-advanced cars, SUVs and four-wheel drive crew cab utes are now what buyers want.

And what is Opel’s future?

Under General Motors’ ownership the company suffered huge losses in recent years and is now under the ownership of the giant French Groupe PSA who manufacture Peugeot, Citroen and other brands, and is the second-largest car manufacturer in Europe.

If the Insignia fails where does that leave Holden?