With Mark Larkham selling off his Level One V8 Supercar licence, it is now highly likely that the much sought after 32-car field will be a mainstay of the V8 Supercar Series, but with the move to merge with WPS signalling the survival of Larkham's V8 interests, there are other problems being faced by Australia's top motorsport series explains Matthew Agius.

Historically, the Australian Touring Car Championship prided itself on the reputation of glorifying the privateers and typical 'Aussie battlers' of the sport. That was during the early days of the sport. The switch to a two-make formula in 1993 - a format that would evolve into today's V8 Supercar category - effectively continued this tradition of providing a national-class series where privateers were welcome competitors.

However it has been in the previous few years that V8 Supercars began to move away from encouraging the participation of single-car outfits, and heralding the switch to a Formula One style series, by which teams generally entered two cars.

In 2004, David Thexton - a perennial backmarker of the sport - elected to sell his franchise and allow the move for WPS Racing to enter the sport. By this stage, Thexton was one of only five single-car outfits in the field, with Tasman Motorsport, Steve Ellery Racing, Team Kiwi Racing and Paul Morris Motorsports each running a single car.

By the 2005 championship - no independent single car outfits were racing in the series. True, Toll Racing and Autobarn Racing were both licensed to separate entities, yet they had a technical association with Perkins Engineering. Much the same with Team Kiwi Racing and Paul Morris Motorsports - who forged a technical partnership to improve each entity's interests in V8 racing.

Indicators that running-costs in the sport are beginning to spiral upwards are more evident than ever before.

Larkham Motorsport has merged with WPS Racing - a win-win situation for both teams - Mark Larkham can continue to run in V8s, whilst WPS boss Craig Gore can benefit from his new partner's racing expertise.

However, it appears no longer feasible for Britek Motorsport to run a second car - probably due to a lack of development opportunities, but now also because of the costs required to field two cars in the series.

Team Dynamik famously sold off one of its Level One franchises to Tony Longhurst, and will probably continue as a one-car outfit in 2006.

Paul Cruickshank Racing is posting a daring challenge in 2006 by entering the series as a single car team - although it is unlikely that PCR will be contesting for wins from the get-go.

So with costs to run a V8 Supercar beginning to hit home, smaller teams with lower sponsorship income are finding it harder to justify two-car operations and are either downsizing or dropping out of competition into the Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series, a less competitive series - popular for training enduro drivers.

And with teams shutting up shop - seasoned drivers are missing out. The Larkham/WPS merger will see one of Craig Baird (a former race winner with Stone Brothers Racing), David Besnard (a former Queensland 500 winner) or Jason Bargwanna (who won the Bathurst 1000 with Garth Tander) miss out on a race seat with the team.

After being dropped by Dick Johnson Racing at the end of 2005, Glenn Seton has already conceded he will not drive in V8 Supercars on a full-time basis in 2006.

"There's nothing I can do about it..." the double ATCC Champion told Australia's The Age newspaper. "The situation at DJR happened so late in the season, it left me with very few options.

"And because I have been with Ford for so long, that also cut down on my options. Having been with them so long, I didn't really want to go elsewhere. I am hoping that if I can secure a drive with one of the good teams -- like Stone Brothers Racing or Triple Eight -- in the endurance races, I can show people what I can do. I might even win Bathurst at last. And who knows? I might be able to show that I am worth a full-time drive in 2007 again."

The much-vaunted International expansion of the series already seems to be encountering difficulties with China seemingly wanting out of hosting V8 Supercars in 2006, but at least Bahrain has a market for V8s, with the GM Lumina actually being a re-branded Commodore.

Are high costs and reduced fields going to signal the end of V8 Supercars? After building a reputation as a close competition where cars are usually separated by less than a second, will the poor become poorer when running a team is at a premium expense? At this stage the lifeblood of the series is peaking, but how many teams will fold in the next five years if other series offer justifiably cheaper alternatives?

Despite this, V8 Supercars currently offers an unparalleled outreach to the Australian public - as the top racing series in the nation with significant coverage on Network Ten, the commercial positives are impressive, however it will certainly be a much more empty series without some big names gridding up at the season opening Clipsal 500 Adelaide.

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