Two former champions in motor racing series on different sides of the world got a chance to try trading places this week at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Former NASCAR Sprint Cup title winner Kurt Busch and former V8 champion James Courtney were able to drive a few miles in the other man's shoes in a specially organised driver swap event at the circuit following Sunday's MotoGP there. The V8 Supercar series will be holding its first US event at the 3.4-mile COTA next month on May 17-19.
"I'm flattered to be invited by Circuit of The Americas and the Australian V8 Supercars Series to participate in this unique event," said Busch. "Getting a chance to drive a V8 Supercar was high on my wish list, and the chance to do it at Circuit of The Americas makes this a dream opportunity.
“It's amazing, there are similarities and differences between the two cars,” continued Busch, who won the Cup Series championship in 2004 and who currently drives for Furniture Row Racing. He finished in 15th place in the most recent race of the series at Kansas on Sunday.
"There were quite a few things going on - information overload, to say the least," said Buch as he got to grips with using an unfamiliar sequential shift gearbox. "It's hard to understand what task of the car is next until you start checking things off your list that you learn the racetrack as well.
"It definitely makes it interesting to drive both cars on the track at the same time," he added. "The quickest way I can compare an 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."
A V8 Supercar is 180kg (400lbs) lighter than its NASCAR equivalent but the engine only has 650 horsepower compared with the Cup car's 950. That makes the Cup car faster in a straight line but the V8 Supercar more nimble through the corners balancing out the overall performance.
The biggest challenge for Busch was that Australian cars are right-hand drive, a very odd experience for an American to cope with. "Sitting on the right side, shifting a bunch of gears with my left arm, you're not in your comfort zone," he admitted.
James Courtney, the 2010 V8 Supercar champion, also found the switch of sides in the car to be a big hurdle to feeling comfortable in the car, as well as having to revert to an old-style manual gear shift.
“It was pretty wild sitting on the other side of the car and shifting an H-pattern gearbox,” Courtney said. "Changing with an H-pattern gearbox is different; it's done almost automatically in the car at home so you never think about it.
"Another thing that is quite different is the braking performance," he continued. "The car was bigger and heavier. It has so much power. It's really quite an experience. It was also quite cool to see blow past the V8 car on the straight. It was really good.
Adding that the oversize steering wheel favoured by NASCAR "feels like it's massive," Courtney said that he was still far from confident handling the stock car at the end of the day's track opportunity: "To run side-by-side I was pretty nervous because it's moving around a bit more than what I'm used to, " he said. "But the car was excellent ... It's built for Speedways, not really road courses. It's a very different machine."
For his part, Busch was envious of what he'd seen of the V8 series' close quarters running: "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 makes it a treat to drive."
Another former V8 Supercar champion form Australia, Marcos Ambrose, currently competes full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty Motorsports, and has two poles and two wins to his credit as well as a further four wins in the second-tier Nationwide Series competition.
The swap came a day after multiple MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi had a similar experience, trading his usual Yamaha motorbike for a much heavier NASCAR stock car at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday when he was given the opportunity to drive Kyle Busch's #18 Cup car.
"Exciting, high speed and a great feeling in the corner," Rossi said afterwards, adding that many of his friends were NASCAR fans. "You are glued on the racetrack. It was great, I enjoyed it a lot. I love driving the race car, and I always have, so it was exciting to drive a NASCAR." See the full story on Rossi's day at Charlotte Motor Speedway
in the MotoGP channel. Penske appeal date set
The date for Penske Racing's appeal against heavy sanctions imposed after the team was found to have unapproved rear end suspension components on the cars of Brad Keselowksi and Joey Logano at Texas will be heard at 9am on May 1, NASCAR announced on Tuesday. Three members selected at random from the National Stock Car Racing Commission will hear the appeal which will take place at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
The drivers each lost 25 points in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship and face losing key members of their race teams - including both men's crew chiefs - is the penalty stands. Penske has a right of last appeal to NASCAR's chief appellate officer John Middlebrook if the May 1 ruling goes against them.New road course qualifying procedure
NASCAR has announced a new qualifying format for the Sprint Cup races it holds on road courses such as Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway in future.
Instead of the traditional single-car runs held on ovals, cars will now be divided up into groups based on final practice times and will have a designated period of running with the car's best lap time during that period taken as their qualifying lap. NASCAR's Nationwide Series already uses a very similar system for its own road course events, which saves time in and makes road the sessions more interesting as a whole.
"The change will add an exciting element to road-course qualifying," said NASCAR's vice president of competition Robin Pemberton. "Fans will be treated to new strategy and increased competition with several cars on track at once."