Circuit racing comes in all shapes and sizes. From Hyundai Excels to historic touring cars, to juniour Formula Ford to the high intensity and technological advancements of Formula 1. From a grid of high-end European supercars to a handful of Super Trucks.
The latter had been on my radar for a while, and during the second round of the Victorian Motor Racing Championships at Winton raceway, I was able to take a closer look.
The first ever truck race was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the US in 1979, whilst the first championship began in 1982. From 1986 onwards, trucks would start to become highly modified, as the sport spread worldwide from the USA to Brazil and even India, sometimes even with manufacturer support. Today, the FIA European Truck Racing Championship is the most popular racing series for trucks, which began in 1985.
In Australia, Truck Racing began at a wet Calder Park Raceway in 1987. First, these meetings were one off events, but eventually, a full championship was created, racing at tracks across Australia. Today, Winton and Wakefield Park are the only tracks that hold rounds of the Australian Super Truck championship.
In Australia, there are three classes of Super trucks. Type A have no restriction on the size of their engine, an automatic gearbox and must have a minimum weight of 5,500kg whilst Type B Super Trucks have a manual gearbox and must weigh at least 5,000kg. Light Trucks are powered by a 7.5 litre diesel engine and must weigh at least 3,400kg.
Mark Noonan's Super Truck is originally a Scania T143, powered by a 12-litre turbocharged engine, with a wastegate and different injectors an upgraded ecu. King shocks are at each corner of the truck, and their big coilover setups allow adjustments particularly when it comes to dampening the bumps over the kerbs and around the track. Inside, everything is pretty ordinary for a racing machine, apart from the automatic gearbox, an Allison World Series transmission runs through the gears, which Mark describes as 'perfect'.
For safety reasons, the trucks are restricted to 160km/hr on track, and I assume that's also why they race on the Winton Short track, void of the two long straights. I've watched enough crash compilations to know that if a Super Truck goes off track, a gravel trap and tyre barrier isn't going to be enough to stop it.
Regardless, these drivers, in these Super Trucks use every centimetre of track, and then some.
You gotta work pretty hard! [The truck] is direct to put onto the apex, but to keep it there you are just working the wheel" -Mark Noonan
On track, the Super trucks clock in approximately 1min 16-18 second lap times, whilst the Light Trucks are only a couple of seconds slower. Steve Zammit however would claim pole position with 1:14.268 lap time, 1.7 seconds faster than the nearest driver. Within the Super Truck championship is a separate team's championship, where a co-driver is put into the cockpit and that driver competes in that separate championship, while additionally adding points to the main championship.
When parts do break, it's a bit of an ordeal to fix. More, larger bolts and much heavier parts make fixing these trucks a workout. This became apparent watching the Gle Racing team replaced a cracked brake disc on their Kenworth T900 early on the Saturday. The grease, timer ticking towards the first race, large components around and including the brakes, and the use of heavy duty, often homemade tools showed how much work and heavy lifting needs to go into, what would be on a race car, a relatively simple exercise. I was certainly surprised when the truck came onto the circuit for Race 1.
Thus, working on trucks can be a dirty exercise, so minimising servicing needing to be done by taking care of the trucks on track helps. But notably, these trucks are pushed to the limit, and it doesn't matter how much they'll need to clean them afterwards.
As the chequered flag flew on the final race, it would be six-time National champion Steve Zammit who would clean sweep the weekend. It was only Lachlan Fern and Mark Noonan who would stop the Direct Power Steering team from taking victory in the two team championship races during the weekend.