A very select number of next-generation Holden Commodores will be rear-wheel-drive and are expected to offer twin turbo V6 performance.
They will be the Commodores built to spearhead Holden’s renewed commitment to the 2018 Supercar Championship.
The first new shape Commodore racers are expected to be on the grid for the opening round of the Supercars season in 2018, within weeks of the production car going on sale.
Development of the car is in the hands of the Triple Eight Race Engineering squad that will assume the Holden Racing Team moniker as the sole factory-blessed team from next season.
Holden recently confirmed a three-year deal with Triple Eight that will see the team build and race the new Commodore from 2018 as well as sell cars to other Holden teams.
Holden hasn’t confirmed an engine for the new racer but it seems likely it will use a twin turbo V6 unit. That engine could come from the wider GM family.
There is a V6 turbo engine in the GT3-specification Cadillac ATS-V.R campaigned in the Pirelli World Challenge Series in North America since 2015.
And a new Dallara chassis Cadillac with V6 turbo power is expected to be announced soon for the Daytona Prototype International category of the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship debuting in 2017.
From shortly after its debut in late-1978, the Commodore has enjoyed an unbroken tenure at the top level of Australian motor racing with the first of 24 Bathurst 1000 victories and 14 Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 Supercar Series drivers’ titles being delivered in 1980.
But the Commodore’s first headline motorsport success came as a six-cylinder rally car when Peter Brock headed a 1-2-3 finish for the VB model Commodore in the Repco Round Australia Trial in August 1979.
THIS car might not be much to look at — covered in stripes designed to trick spy photographers — but underneath the camouflage is the Holden Commodore of the future.
Holden has provided a sneak peek at the German sedan that will replace the locally-made Commodore after 40 years — when the Elizabeth factory falls silent forever in late 2017.
The new model is not due in showrooms until February 2018, but Holden wants Australia to know the Commodore is here to stay — even though the car itself is changing.
There is no V8 — which accounts for more than one-third of sales — and the new model is smaller than before. It’s also a hatchback, not a sedan, to create more bootspace.
Unlike every large Holden family car since 1948 — and every Commodore since 1978 — the fifth generation Commodore will be available with choice of four cylinder petrol or diesel front-wheel-drive power, or a V6 all-wheel-drive.
Our first taste of the new Commodore is a 20-minute drive inside Holden’s top secret test track on the south eastern outskirts of Melbourne.
Although the new Commodore was designed and engineered by Opel in Germany, Holden engineers have had a hand in its development, to make sure it can handle harsh local conditions.
The first time a German sedan came to Australia as a Commodore, in 1978, it shook apart.
News Corp's motoring editor Joshua Dowling, pictured test driving a camouflaged version of the 2018 Holden Commodore. Picture: Supplied
News Corp's motoring editor Joshua Dowling, pictured test driving a camouflaged version of the 2018 Holden Commodore. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
Two cars — valued at close to $500,000 each because they are built by hand — are the first to arrive from Germany for testing on local roads.
Which is why Holden minders pleaded with the small group of media to be especially careful: the cars are only “65 per cent” close to showroom ready.
The steering and the suspension are yet to be finessed and much of the cabin plastics are unfinished.
These two cars are part of a fleet of more than 100 identical prototype vehicles being evaluated around the world. Holden will receive up to 10 prototypes over the next 12 months before the car is finally “signed off”.
Because the new Commodore won’t be unveiled until December, Holden is forced to keep the cars camouflaged.
Holden has kept the design of its new Commodore under wraps. Picture: Supplied.
Holden has kept the design of its new Commodore under wraps. Picture: Supplied.Source:Supplied
The disguise may seem over the top, but the car industry is paranoid about buyers losing interest in current models if they see the next one too soon.
Which is why even the interior of this car is cloaked in fabric — to hide interior details and technology from prying eyes and shutter bugs when the cars are parked during real-world testing.
So, what’s it like to drive?
The V6 sounds the same as the current Commodore, which is neither particularly appealing nor particularly offensive.
It has fair amount of grunt (for the tech heads: 230kW of power and 370Nm of torque) for a fleet sedan.
But performance buyers may be disappointed to learn there are no turbochargers on the V6: Holden says there’s not enough room under the bonnet.
Instead, performance has been given a boost by a nine-speed automatic transmission and a drop in the car’s overall weight.
The new Commodore is up to 300kg lighter than the current Australian-made car — and 170kg lighter than the Opel Insignia it replaces.
Armed with all-wheel-drive grip, the new Commodore has a sure-footed feeling. We’re curious to see how the four-cylinder front-drive performs, but that will need to wait for another day. Those cars aren’t here yet.
The seating position is low and sporty and the steering is precise and direct. City drivers might be pleased to know the turning circle is much tighter than the current car — although Holden won’t reveal exact numbers yet.
The other obvious change is size: the new Holden Commodore has shrunk. It’s smaller than the current car and slightly bigger than the model introduced in the late 1990s.
The new Commodore is much narrower than before — so the driver and front passenger are much closer shoulder-to-shoulder. The back seat would struggle to fit three adults across the back, whereas the current car can do that with ease.
Holden says buyers looking to carry a family have migrated to SUVs; sedans are typically bought by fleet buyers these days.
To try to broaden the new Commodore’s appeal, the hatchback lifts up and the back seats fold flat to reveal a massive cargo bay — another attempt to claw back ground from SUVs, which offer more practicality.
With that in mind, the only question left to ask: is it a Commodore?
That’s a tough question to answer. Holden says the Commodore had to move with the times. But did they need to put a Commodore badge on this car?
The early signs are that the new Holden will be a fine vehicle. And it will be loaded with technology, most of which is being kept secret until the formal unveiling in December.
But for me, for now, this is not a Commodore. Regardless of how good it might be.
Holden Racing Team driver Garth Tander has told of his disappointment at losing his seat at Walkinshaw Racing to Scott Pye less than a week after winning the Sandown 500.
But the 2007 Supercars champion has vowed to respond strongly at Bathurst next month as he aims to defend his Enduro Cup crown.
A factory driver for HRT for the past nine years, the off-contract Tander learned on Thursday that he would not secure a new deal with Walkinshaw Racing, which has signed Pye to drive alongside James Courtney for the next three years.
The driver change follows the loss of the team's factory backing from Holden, which will see the famous HRT name shift to Red Bull Racing from next year.
Tander said he had been ready to discuss his future with the team, but the 39-year-old said he could tell "they were not all that interested".
"It's disappointing, the first time that I was in the office after winning the race on Sunday, I was told that I'm no longer required for the future," Tander said.
"So that is obviously disappointing given that I have been a factory Holden driver for nine years, but that's life.
"Clearly the team felt that they needed to make some changes on the back of losing the Holden funding and clearly they decided they needed to make that change.
"It would have been nice to at least have a discussion, but that didn't even take place. That's their decision. Disappointing, but that's motor racing."
Tander said he did not yet know what his next move would be, but suggested he would like to continue in Supercars.
His name has been linked to a return to Garry Rogers Motorsport, where he last raced in 2004, as a replacement for the DJR Team Penske-bound Scott McLaughlin.
"Racing is my life, it's all that I've ever done and it's what I will continue to do," Tander said.
"I've always prided myself through my career on challenging myself to race against the best and in the most competitive environment and Supercars is clearly the most competitive environment at the moment.
"I want to continue to challenge myself so we'll just see what options present themselves for the future."
The three-time Bathurst champion has finished in the top 10 of the championship every year since his title win in 2007 and sits eighth in the standings this season.
Despite losing his seat, Tander remains determined to deliver a strong finish to the season after claiming a drought-breaking win at Sandown - his first since Townsville in 2014.
"I'm just focused on Bathurst obviously in a couple of weeks' time and to try to win a couple of races to finish the year off in style," Tander said.
"Certainly since we have rolled this new car out, it's quite obvious there has been an upswing in performance and it's not like I'd forgotten how to drive and I've remembered how to drive again. I think it's no coincidence that the speed has come back with the change in cars.
"I'll only have a handful of races with that level of equipment available to me at HRT, which is a little bit disappointing and a little bit frustrating because I haven't been able to show what I feel I was capable of doing and we certainly showed that on the weekend.
"That's disappointing, but all we can do now is look forward to the future."
Holden Racing Team's loss of factory support is the result of poor decisions by the team's owner, an ex-Holden motorsport boss has claimed.
John Crennan, who guided the HRT and Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) operations for two decades from 1991, says Walkinshaw Racing boss Ryan Walkinshaw is to blame for the decline of Supercars' most successful team.
On Tuesday, Holden announced they would only provide factory funding for the Triple Eight Race Engineering outfit owned by Roland Dane from next year onwards.
It brings an end to a 26-year relationship between Holden and Walkinshaw Racing which resulted in six drivers' championships and seven Bathurst 1000 wins.
Crennan says Walkinshaw has made "monumental mistakes" since inheriting ownership of the team following the death of his father Tom in 2010.
Crennan, who is currently working as a consultant for American giant Roger Penske's Australian operations, says among Walkinshaw's mistakes is an outspoken presence on social media and not moving from England to Australia to oversee operations.
He also says the poaching of respected team manager Adrian Burgess from Dane's team in 2013 put Walkinshaw in his fellow Englishman's crosshairs.
"His appointment of Adrian Burgess created an intense enemy in Roland Dane whose experience, influence and guile to my mind was always going to see a monster come back at some point," Crennan told motorsports website Speedcafe.com.
"It worried me at the time and I thought there would be a reset on that at some point."
In the wake of Holden's announcement, Walkinshaw has committed to racing a two-car team in next year's Supercars championship.
While partnering with a new manufacturer, such as Japanese brand Toyota, has been mooted, Crennan believes associating the team with the name of legendary driver Peter Brock could be the key going forward.
"I would be seeking to gain permission from the Brock family to use the Brock name and I would have that seen as a memorial to Peter Brock so that the Brock name could live on with his connection to HDT (Holden Dealer Team) and HRT," Crennan said.