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How SuperVan went faster than Ford expected

IF YOU were surprised to see Ford’s electric SuperVan 4.2 lap Mount Panorama in 1 minute and 56 seconds on Sunday, don’t be embarrassed.

Ford was surprised too.

The 2000-horsepower electric van’s fastest-ever lap of Bathurst for a closed-wheel vehicle grabbed headlines at the Thrifty Bathurst 500.

VIDEO: SuperVan Bathurst record onboard

It capped off a campaign that had also taken in the previous weekend’s Repco Bathurst 12 Hour and begun with considerable pre-event preparation.

SuperVan and crew. The machine was created by Ford Performance and STARD Advanced Research and Development. Pic: Supplied

“We said it should go around 59 (1 minute and 59 seconds),” admits driver Romain Dumas. “On the sim we were driving 58, 57 high. We went a lot faster than what we expected.”

Dumas and Ford’s team of trackside engineers – led by Sriram Pakkam of Gen2 Mustang aerodynamics fame – didn’t just want to push SuperVan beyond its expected limit. They had to.

When the plan to bring SuperVan to Bathurst was hatched, the quickest closed-car lap recorded at the Mountain was a 1:58.68s set by Luke Youlden aboard a Brabham BT62 in 2019.

That was surely within reach.

SuperVan features a spaceframe chassis and four electric motors. Pic: Supplied

Mercedes then threw a spanner in the works ahead of the 2024 Bathurst 12 Hour when it launched its own record attempt with an ‘unrestricted’ AMG GT3.

“We didn’t know the AMG was going to come here,” explained Ford Performance boss Mark Rushbrook at Bathurst. “That gave us a target to go for, for sure.”

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The beefed-up Benz – which featured revised aerodynamics, including a Formula 1-style Drag Reduction System, and GT ace Jules Gounon at the wheel – left the target at 1:56.61s.

There were no such heroics from the SuperVan during the 12 Hour weekend.

Cooling the beast in pitlane. Pic: Supplied

As has been well documented, the steering loads induced by the undulating Mountain required a global engineering effort to resolve, with finishing touches put on by a local Bathurst fabricator.

Then there was the human challenge.

SuperVan may have been at Bathurst for two weeks, but Dumas’ Mountain mileage across all track sessions in the machine was minimal.

“All drivers, they need laps to feel the track, to see how you settle the car, how you turn… this was the biggest challenge,” he says. “Each day we are doing three or four laps.”

Dumas had a bit on behind the wheel. Pic: Supplied

Although Dumas had plenty of previous Bathurst experience thanks to three 12 Hour starts during his time with Porsche, getting the most out of the SuperVan was a different challenge.

Incredible acceleration and top speeds – which Ford would only admit amounted to at least 300km/h on both Mountain and Conrod Straights – meant little without cornering confidence.

Dumas indicates that the secret to the extra speed on Sunday was taming that acceleration.

“To have 2000 horsepower, we have too much on top of the Mountain. We don’t need that,” explains Dumas of the machine that was originally designed for the Pikes Peak hillclimb.

SuperVan stands at roughly twice the height of a GT3 car. Pic: Supplied

“Let’s say, we have to find the right line between having a good chassis, comfortable, and to have a lot of power, you know.

“We are tuning for two days. (Saturday) I really start to say ‘OK, now on top (of the Mountain), it’s too complicated for me to drive, it accelerates so fast because the walls are so close’.

“We found (on Sunday) exactly what we should do, and we went on the right direction. That’s why we went so much faster.”

Sunday morning’s run of 1:56.76s was so close to the record that Ford asked Supercars for an additional slot in the schedule for one last blast.

The van creates 2000kg of downforce at 240km/h Pic: Supplied

Supercars duly delivered, and so did Dumas, who stopped the clocks at 1:56.28s. The Frenchman’s delight was so overwhelming that he undertook an unplanned victory lap.

Once back in the garage, the inevitable talk began about how it could have gone faster still.

“Unfortunately, we did not have any more new tyres for the afternoon, so we just try, but I was sliding a lot,” added Dumas. “I think new tyres could have been a little bit faster.”

With Mount Panorama conquered, the SuperVan’s Australian tour will now take in the Adelaide Motorsport Festival and Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.

Through The Chase. Pic: Supplied

Then it’ll go on static display in New Zealand, before returning to Europe ahead of a trip to Goodwood in July. An attack on the Nürburgring Nordschleife is surely inevitable.

All this begs the question: why do it? What does the SuperVan project do for Ford, beyond tearing up an incredible amount of money?

“It is the electrified powertrain technology, but is also the total vehicle and other things that affect road cars, like aerodynamics,” states Rushbrook of SuperVan’s benefits.

“When you have aerodynamic expertise… you train those people and you better your tools so that you can then apply that to road cars.

The view from above. Pic: Supplied

“Sometimes you apply that in a different way, but it’s the processes that matter.

“For electric vehicles on the road, it isn’t as much about the downforce, but it’s about low drag and the more you can take drag out.

“The smaller you can make your battery or the more you can extend your range, (more) customers want to buy your vehicle.

“It’s a smart way to get range without putting a bigger battery in it.”

Dumas, Rushbrook and Pakkam celebrate. Pic: Supplied

The woosh of electric motoring may not be every Bathurst fan’s cup of tea.

But for those who love seeing a car company – and a driver – exploring the limits of what is possible, Ford’s SuperVan pressed all the right buttons.

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