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Old 07-17-2001, 18:45   #1 (permalink)
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Location: Sydney Australia
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BRUTE STRENGTH
Bruce McMahon
Courier Mail 18-07-2001

THE tail's wagging the dog as Gary "Growler" Young hustles the white ute through the last right-hand turn on to the front straight. With flair and a flick on the wheel, Young has got the back end out, a little bit of oversteer for show. He straightens and the 5.7-litre V8 opens up and up, rev limiter at 5500rpm, touching fifth and closing on 190km/h as the straight swings right.

Into the back right-hander, a longish corner, and the Pirellis are howling blue murder. But there's grip and the SS Holden's out and up through the gears before a stab at the brakes, back down the gears, turn, scream, straighten and away.

The tyre noise is pronounced because the rest of the ute is so quiet. After all, it's back to work on Monday, a CD in the slot and tools in the back.

These are Australia's own rumbling, tumbling V8 roadsters -- homegrown Ford and Holden utes -- which have fired up the country's race fans in a spectacular new production series.

Commodore and Falcon utilities, long-time market foes, are now locked in a tyre-spinning duel across a six-round championship.

It ends with a meeting on the mountain when the V8 BRute Muster takes on Mount Panorama in three non-championship races on the first weekend in October, a support series for the classic Bathurst 1000.

These are quick machines with a surprising amount of race-track handling. And plenty of fun, inside or out.

Young, a Melbourne construction manager, is hooked.

"I've got a real passion for driving and I'm just loving this," Young says.

"These things are close to a race car on the track. It fits in with our business and our sponsors. Even when you put the things out on display, people go off."

Young and Melbourne businessman Rod "Redline" Wilson are BRute evangelists.

Wilson has been behind the wheel of competition cars and now is distributing Pirelli race tyres.

"I wanted to get into something low-key, something where I wasn't competing with customers," Wilson said. "But in all my racing I've never heard crowds yelling and screaming on the last lap. This ute racing has struck a real nerve. "

Part of the success of this 21st century Holden-Ford battle is the simplicity of the rules. The utes are modified only for racing safety and reliability, plus keeping the performance equal. There are brake and suspension modifications, plus a competition clutch, limited-slip differential and performance exhaust.

A Motec engine computer cuts the Holden's power a little and lifts the Ford's 5-litre a tad. The result is that both V8s pump out about 220kW. Engines are checked and sealed.

The only individual changes permitted are tyre pressures and wheel alignments. The tyres are treaded Pirellis, road-going tyres used for club competitions.

It's about a $30,000 package on top of the new SS or XR8 workhorse SS.

Wilson uses his Commodore as a work ute, driving it home at night. He rolled up to Melbourne's Calder Park recently with a ute-load of Pirelli tyres for the Prancing Horse Ferrari team of Nations Cup cars.

He unloaded the rubber then heaved his briefcase, grabbed his helmet and did 15 laps before heading back to work.

It is a labour of love this BRute racing business. Race on Sunday, work on Monday.

FACT FILE

QUEENSLAND ute lovers can catch the BRute Muster on Sunday at Queensland Raceway, outside Ipswich.

The racing, part of the 2001 PROCAR Series weekend with Nations Cup exotica and GTP production cars, will be

complemented by a ute muster with prizes and parades for winning vehicles in eight categories. Entry is free and can be made by completing an entry form at www.procar.com.au.

Race-day ticket are $25 for adults and $15 for pensioners and 13-18-year-olds.

Children aged under 12 are admitted free.

Saturday entry is $15.

THE Ford-Holden battle has raged from the bush to Bathurst for decades.

In recent seasons, the Commodore has outsold the Falcon -- except in the showroom ute showdown. Here the AU, and now the AU II, have reigned supreme. Good looks, handy capacity and a host of clever ideas saw the AU ute of 1999 take off like a scalded cat.

Early this year, Holden replied with the stunning, all-new VU utility, the first new Holden ute in a decade.

Last year, 13,698 Falcon utes hit the highways and byways, compared with 6361 VS Holden utes. Last month it was 1730 Falcons to 1048 Holdens.

On the road there is little to separate the pair. Both are quick and comfortable, most appreciated in the 5.7-litre V8 SS Commodore and the 5-litre XR8 Falcon. The Holden produces 225kW; the Ford now has 220kW.

Both utes look good to great. The AU II with XR gear is a little sharper and more aggressive in its approach; the SS Commodore ute has a flowing style.

The Falcon is a mite quicker on turn in. The rear is obedient and can be held easily on the throttle and steering wheel.

The Commodore's ride is perhaps a little plusher. There's more understeer and the independent rear, while perhaps more foolproof, settles at its own pace.

Each appeals as a good-looking vehicle for work and play -- the Ford leaning toward the work side of the equation, the Holden to the recreational side.

The XR8 comes in at $36,009; the SS Commodore ute is $37,050.

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