Kurt Busch Turns Into Superman For A Day
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch admittedly found himself operating on “information overload” while hot-lapping in an Australian V8 Supercar at Circuit of The Americas.
The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion, Busch swapped rides with 2010 Supercar champion James Courtney Tuesday during a promotion for the inaugural appearance of the Australian production sedan-based series in North America. The Austin 400 is scheduled for May 17-19 on the 3.45-mile, 20-turn Texas layout that also is home to the Formula One United States Grand Prix in November.
Before strapping into Courtney’s Holden Commodore, Busch became the first Sprint Cup driver to lap around COTA in his regular ride, the Gen-6 version of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS.
“I had a blast driving my car on the road-course and even more of a blast in the V8 Supercar,” said Busch, who joined Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing in October. “The track is somewhat comparable to Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. It’s tight, flat, (with) very technical corners – point-and-shoot. It really was a blast. And the track is very forgiving.”
Busch’s 2013 Cup car weighs 3,330-pounds, or 150 pounds less than the Gen-5 “Car of Tomorrow” Chevy Impala it replaced. Courtney’s Holden Commodore, a product of General Motors, weighs 3,100-pounds. The Cup car is equipped with a traditional H-pattern, 4-speed gearbox. V8 Supercars feature a sequential gearbox; the H-pattern hasn’t been used in the series since 2007.
“I knew it was going to be a whole different feel to shift and drive from the right side, but I was really looking forward to it,” Busch said. “It’s amazing, there are similarities and differences between the two cars. Sitting on the right side, shifting a bunch of gears with my left arm, you’re not in your comfort zone. And it’s hard to understand what task of the car is next until you start checking things off your list that you learn on the racetrack. So there were quite a few things going on – information overload – to say the least.”
A winner in NASCAR’s Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck series, Busch also has the distinction of having qualified an NHRA Pro Stock Dodge Avenger fielded by Allen Johnson and J&J Racing for the 2011 Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. The previous year Busch entered the Gators in a Super Gas Dodge Challenger he helped rebuild. Safe to say, Kurt knows his American hot rods.
“The quickest way I can compare the Australian V8 Supercar to what people are familiar to in the States is it’s a Muscle Car, but it’s a sports car at the same time,” Busch said. “Much more power than what you see in the GT classes in the (Rolex) Grand-Am Series. And the ability, though, for what I see on TV, for these guys to run side-by-side, nose-to-tail, is the control of the cars. The balance they have make it a treat to drive.”
Holden Racing Team’s Courtney was joined for the session by fellow-V8 Supercar contender Fabian Coulthard of Lockwood Racing. Like Busch, Courtney has wheeled a wide variety of race cars including Le Mans and Japanese-specification sports cars and Formula 1, Formula 3 and Formula Ford open-wheelers.
“The NASCAR car was massively impressive, a beast of a machine with a lot of power,” Courtney said. “It was pretty wild sitting on the other (left) side of the car and shifting an H-pattern gearbox. The car was bigger and heavier. It’s really quite an experience. It was also cool to blow past the V8 car on the straight.
“The steering wheel, it feels like it’s massive. To run side-by-side I was nervous because it’s moving around a bit more than what I’m used to, but the car was excellent. Changing with the H-pattern is different. It’s done almost automatically in the (Supercar) at home, so you never think about it. Another thing that is quite different is the braking performance. It’s (Cup car) built for speedways, not really road-courses. It’s a very different machine.”
Courtney and Coulthard began their promotional duties last weekend during COTA’s inaugural Red Bull MotoGP, driving demonstration laps before an international crowd of two-wheel fans.
“The sport has really grown,” Courtney said of the Supercar Series. “It’s the second or third-most watched sport in Australia; interest and momentum has grown worldwide.”
Coulthard added it was a privilege to bring V8 Supercar style of racing to COTA, first purpose-built F1 facility in the United States. “We are all about the crash-and-bang – hard and robust – and it’s an awesome experience to come here and have Americans watch us in their home country.”
Courtney and Coulthard are scheduled to compete in the next round of the Supercar Series in Perth, Western Australia, on May 3-5, before returning to Texas along with a full complement of tour regulars representing Holden, Ford, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz AMG.
The weekend will include the Pirelli World Challenge’s GT, GTS, Touring Car and Touring Car B-Spec teams competing in a support event role. GT and GTS teams and drivers will compete in two races, while TC and TCB competitors will run three events.
Busch reiterated he thoroughly enjoyed driving the Supercar, one he’s “watched and admired” for years on TV. “It was also a little weird driving the Supercar and watching my (Furniture Row) car stretch its legs down the straightaway,” Busch said.
Three-day tickets for the Austin 400 start at $69 and are available at http://circuitoftheamericas.com/v8-supercars. Children age 12-and-under will receive free general admission when accompanied by an adult with paid admission.
Group-based road-course qualifying will be used in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series during its road-course events at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International this summer. Under the new procedure, cars will qualify in groups instead of the traditional single-car time trial laps held on oval racetracks. The procedure previously has been used in NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Touring Series competition.
“The change will add an exciting element to road-course qualifying,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “Fans will be treated to new strategy and increased competition with several cars on track at once.”
Variations of the group qualifying format are used to set fields for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ street and road-course events and Formula 1 World Championship’s entire schedule.
New qualifying rules for Cup at road-courses are as follows:
_ Cars attempting to qualify will be divided into groups. The number of groups, and amount of cars in each, will depend upon the number of cars that practice for the event.
_ Group assignments will be based on final practice times.
_ Each qualifying group will be on-track for a set period of time, determined by the Series Director.
_ A car’s best lap time during the group session will be the qualifying lap time of record.
_ A group’s time begins when the first car receives the green flag at the start/finish line.
“This is going to be a terrific new format for our NASCAR weekend,” said Steve Page, president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway. “It will intensify the action, with multiple cars on the track at the same time. It’s a very positive development for our fans.”
The format will debut with the Toyota Save-Mart 350 at the 1.99-mile/12-turn Sonoma Raceway on June 23 and return at the 2.45-mile/11-turn Finger Lakes Region circuit for the Cheez-ItTM 355 at The Glen on Aug. 11.
“The new format of qualifying at Watkins Glen International enhances the fan experience, which is our top priority,” said Michael Printup, WGI president. “Qualifying on Saturday for our Cheez-ItTM 355 at The Glen is even more of a not-to-be missed aspect of a weekend of high-quality racing.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment