Last week, inRacingNews‘ Eric Forster interviewed Scott Brackenridge and Mike Budzien—the two individuals who have been the impetus behind promoting V8 Supercars participation in the North and South American time zones. Read on to find out where these guys are coming from (one is a Late Model devotee; the other an open-wheel road racer), why the Ford Falcon is so much fun to drive and race, and what the need for V8SC Americas is anyway.
Eric Forster: How long have you guys been organizing V8 Supercars Americas? What was the impetus to get you started on it?
Mike Budzien: I think Season 4, 2011, was when Scott and I first started promoting the car, so it’s still a pretty recent venture for the both of us.
Scott Brackenridge: [We] started chatting about trying to organize a time to get people together to actually log some official races.
MB: The V8SC is one of those cars that (I hate to use the term “unpopular”) really struggles to get a turnout on a regular basis—right up there with the Sprint Car and the classic Lotus. The Aussies had organized themselves to all meet once a week for one or two races in certain timeslots—to get the best chance of races going official. Problem is, on this side of the world those timeslots ended up being something like 3:00 AM on Monday mornings. Last summer when I first started racing the Falcon, a band of Americans and a few Europeans had organized their own timeslot for Thursday nights, and things were going pretty well. But then the switch from Daylight Savings Time kicked the iRacing server schedules off by an hour, and through sheer misfortune our regular time took place just as everyone was either coming home from work, sitting down to dinner, or putting the kids to bed: the official American V8 races evaporated overnight. I was still showing up just for the sake of showing up, and then one Thursday night Scott jumped on with me and was blown away by the fact we were the only two cars in the garage. After telling him about the DST issue, he came up with the idea for promoting a new timeslot for Western-hemisphere V8SC racing, and between the two of us it kind of snowballed from there to what we have now.
SB: The interest was out there, it just took a little organization and promotion. It started as “North American Prime Time” on Thursday nights, but we re-coined it V8SC Americas this season and took it a little more seriously, once it looked like it was really starting to take off.
EF: With two slots (02:45 GMT Friday and Saturday/ 9:45 PM EST Thursday and Friday) going official each week, and even some splits happening, it looks like “V8 Supercars Americas” is here to stay: are you seeing an upswing in interest and attendance this season?
MB: It goes up and down from week to week, but yeah, we are seeing a slow but steady increase in car counts. When we first started promoting in the latter half of Season 4, 2011, we were getting handfuls more cars showing up, but I think Scott only had one of his Friday night races go official—barely (we need 8 cars to make an official race). Also, the drivers we were getting were always a different crowd: we didn’t see too many repeat drivers that season, which told me that there was interest in the car. It was just a matter of getting the word out to get ALL of those drivers to start showing up regularly.
SB: Every session has gone official this season. We have developed a core group of competitors that show up every week; however, there are also new faces almost every week, which I think shows that interest and participation will continue to grow.
MB: Maybe some of them were holding out on us, because for the start of this season at Okayama in Japan, we had both of our races easily go official right off the bat, and it has been solid ever since. And we are getting repeat drivers now—guys like Curtis Chippeway and Jeremy Burris—but we continue to see new faces in the field each week, so I know there’s still potential to get more drivers actively involved with the car on a regular basis. It also great to see people, like Graeme Phyland, getting into it with his highlight reels (available at http://www.youtube.com/user/NOSBonus888#g/u), and also Michael Booth, who includes us in his weekly pre-race reports on the forums—not to mention you with these articles!
EF: Right on . . .
“I think this is probably the series with the most potential for participation growth on iRacing.” — Mike Budzien
SB: A special mention should also go out to Trevor Johnson, as he followed our lead in solidifying and promoting Sundays as V8SC Europe, which has also strengthened the series significantly. In combination with the official link to the real V8SC series and pending the debut of the new tire model (NTM), I think this is probably the series with the most potential for participation growth on iRacing.
EF: How would you characterize the races?
MB: I’d have to say “laid back” is the best way to put it so far. Save some bumping and banging towards the starts, people tend to race within their comfort zone and treat each other with respect, which goes a long way in racing. It’s still tight and accidents do happen, but I almost always see and hear apologies come up over voice chat or in the text box. It’s the nature of racing, and I think everyone realizes that. Even though we’re only running two races a week on two different days, I’ve yet to see anyone get really broken-hearted over a crash, and that shows a lot of maturity out of our drivers. It also helps that these Ford Falcons are incredibly tough—possibly the most durable cars on the iRacing service—so terminal damage and meatball flags are something of a rarity. Even with Safety Rating on the table, our more experienced drivers aren’t too afraid to get in close and take a few chances, because if something goes wrong, the car can take it.
SB: There is no doubt that there are some serious racers who show up for our events. Some of our top regulars—like Curtis Chippeway, Ray Butcher, and Chad Chastain—would no doubt be very competitive in the Australian official main races. The racing is close, intense and racing incidents do happen; however, it is also some of the cleanest and most respectful racing I have ever seen on iRacing. It is very much a friendly, collegial atmosphere, with participants of all levels of experience and speed. I like to think of V8SC Americas and V8SC Europe as “feeder regional series” to the officially sponsored Aus/NZ Monday-night online series.
“The racing is close, intense and racing accidents do happen . . . it is also some of the cleanest and most respectful racing I have ever seen on iRacing.” — Mike Budzien
EF: It’s called “V8SC Americas,” but I see Europeans and Australians competing too; is that OK with you guys, or is the series intended to be North and South Americans only?
SB: Definitely not! Everyone is welcome at V8SC Americas events. We now routinely have competitors from across the globe, especially from Aus/NZ and Europe. Actually, the biggest boost to participation early on happened when we got the support of participants “down under” for our Friday night events. Without their support on the track—and in the forums—it might never have got off the ground. And I second Mike’s comments on Michael Booth, who writes up the weekly Track Prep article for the official series. He has been, and continues to be, one of our most vocal supporters.
MB: We’ve always welcomed anyone of any skill level who can make it for our timeslot. Like I said before, our goal was to give people on the other side of the world, who wanted to race the V8SC in big, official fields, a chance to do so without having to be up before the break of dawn on the first day of the work week. As soon as he learned about it, Scott’s always been big about his Friday slot being a good shakedown event for the regular Australian series drivers, being that it’s right in the middle of their Saturday. It has been my experience in racing that it’s never a bad thing to have a few “expert” drivers show up to what’s touted as an entry-level event once in awhile, just so those drivers get a chance to gauge themselves against the best and see firsthand where they are and how much farther they can still come.
EF: Do you think adding the new tire model (NTM) to the Falcon will generate additional interest in the series? Are you concerned about the transition period?
MB: I’ve seen that come up a number of times on the forums: people who want to get into the Falcon but are holding off because it’s still on the old tires. Granted, the fast guys in the V8SC make it pretty apparent where the old tire model falls short, but in my opinion, even if our current car’s tires aren’t the picture of realism that the NTM has been bringing to the other road cars on iRacing, it’s still a blast to drive as it is.
SB: Like anything else, change brings controversy, but it also spices up the competition a bit. In other series the NTM appears to be a popular improvement. There are many people voicing in the forums that the only thing holding them up from joining us is the upgrade to the NTM. I hope the iRacing powers-that-be are taking note that the time for the V8SC NTM upgrade is has come!
MB: Grant Reeve (iRacing software engineer) posted elsewhere on the forums that he uses the Falcon to bench-test all new changes to the NTM, and between that and the effort that (professional V8SC driver) Shane van Gisbergen has been putting into advancing our V8SC, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it; but, as a mechanical designer and engineering student, I know that the possibility for teething issues with any new product is always there, so I’m not going to be the one to tell everybody that the V8SC will be mind-blowing once it gets the NTM, at least until I’ve driven it myself and heard from others about it. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to engineering; there’s always room for improvement, so I’m content to cross that bridge once we get there. For now though, the old tire model is still plenty capable of putting on a good show for our drivers.
“The Falcon is a natural transition for current Mustang drivers looking to move up.” — Scott Brackenridge
EF: Do you think the Falcon is the natural next-step for Mustang drivers? What kind of differences or similarities do you see? What does the up-and-coming Mustang driver need to know about the Falcon to make the transition?
SB: I think the Falcon is a natural transition for current Mustang drivers looking to move up; however, the Falcon presents a unique driving and setup challenge. The V8SC is much more powerful and has crisper handling characteristics, but initially it can be a challenge to learn. With the locked differential, 90% of driving the car is done with your right foot, almost like a Sprint Car. For races, tire management is crucial. Abuse the car, and you’ll be on rims for the last 10 laps. There are plenty of people in the community, however, who are willing to share setups and advice, (including three-time defending series champion, Madison Down).
MB: Beyond the badge the cars do share a lot of traits, and whenever the V8SC series moves to a new track, I’ll still unload the Mustang first to scout out the course. Layout-wise the two are identical: front-engine V8’s with the transmission right behind it, and a live axle out back. The Mustang doesn’t have nearly the motor the Falcon does, but it doesn’t have a whole lot in tires either, so the two do share a lot of handling characteristics. I’ve even heard of people refer to the Mustang as a “little Falcon.” Besides the obvious disparity in overall speed, the only real appreciable difference I’ve been able to detect is what they do in extremely low-speed (1st and 2nd gear) corners. The Torsen rear end in the Mustang allows it to roll through tight turns with ease while still giving you the option of gassing it and steering with the throttle almost like a dirt car, but without having to deal with the rear axle unloading to one side. But the solid spool in the Falcon means you have to learn just how hard to throw the car into the corner so it unloads the inside rear tire without getting too loose; otherwise, both rear tires bite and it pushes like a dump truck. That seems to be the thing people new to the Falcon struggle with the most initially: learning to overcome the spool properly. Until they do, it just seems like the car pushes or spins out completely at random. For me it was like flipping a light switch: I struggled with getting over that spool gear for the longest time, until I just happened to nail it perfectly once—then again, and again—and started realizing what I was doing to make the car turn: it was smooth sailing from there on out.
“For me it was like flipping a light switch.” — Mike Budzien
EF: You guys are Americans, so shouldn’t you be driving NASCAR or something? What drew you not only to V8SC, but also to spending your time organizing public events for it?
MB: [chuckles] what’s really interesting is this isn’t even my first vehicle of choice on iRacing. I devote most of my time to the Late Models on the oval side of the service—building and sharing setups on the forums and helping the new D-license oval drivers get acclimated to racing something they can wrench on. In the real world, I’m racing radio-controlled short course dirt off-road trucks on Fridays (which is how Scott and I came up with alternating promoter duties between Thursday and Friday) and keeping up with the west coast desert-racing scene. When it comes to the iRacing Ford Falcon I’m in much the same boat Scott was. I’d seen the Big Pond Australian V8 Supercars on TV and thought it was some of the best touring car racing on the planet, but at the time I hadn’t put any effort towards my Road license—and running a Class C car looked like a lot of work. Ray Butcher (one of those West Coast off-road friends of mine) started nagging me about racing the V8, and I was on the fence until he told me “Dude, half the time you drive it like a dirt car anyway: you’ll get it no problem.” Since then it’s been the most fun I’ve had in a simulated road course car—both just in driving and while in competition—and it keeps getting better and better.
SB: Tin-tops? Are you kidding me? Oh wait, these have roofs too . . . As an open-wheel formula car iRacer in my previously life, I was looking for a new challenge after running Star Mazda for several seasons. One practice session trying the car out and I was hooked. What’s keeping me is the great community that has developed around the series.