It’s getting close, reader. Close to the start of the 2007 V8 Supercar season.
Much has transpired over the ’off’ season. The biggie, for Bannerman and doubtless any other real aficionados of the sport, is the almost inevitable signing by the Seven Network of this country’s most authoritative commentator on V8 Supercars, Neil Crompton. Without Crompton behind the microphone and in front of the camera, Seven would not have won the fans. Sure, they’d have gathered the viewing public, but the real fans would have been sorely aggrieved. Bannerman remembers the Mike Raymond years of Seven Motorsport, and still blanches at the memory.
On the team horizons, Optima Sports, the Gold Coast based Fujitsu series team which was involved in the fatality at Bathurst in 2006, has folded. The team owner, David Macdougall, has stated that without a suitably financed driver to sit behind the wheel, the team cannot progress. Without 2006 driver, David Clark, who is still recovering from serious injuries incurred in the incident which killed fellow driver Mark Porter, the team is not able to ’buy’ another steerer and source the finance to necessary to run another season, even in the feeder series.
Holden Racing Team (HRT) and Toll/Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) Dealer Team have been at loggerheads with the series administrator, TEGA. The Touring car Entrants Group Australia board has had serious issues with the ownership and control of the two teams appearing to be under one umbrella. The rules of the Supercar game expressly forbid such an arrangement. This confusion has reigned for over two years now, since the collapse of Tom Walkinshaw’s motorsport empire in the UK. Walkinshaw owns the Holden Special Vehicles engineering and retail operation in Australia. He also manages HRT on behalf of the current owner, Mark Skaife. There is also a strong inference from other teams in the paddock that Walkinshaw also manages Toll/HSV Dealer Team operations on behalf of the parents of current champion Rick Kelly and brother Todd. As at yesterday TEGA indicated satisfaction with information demanded from both teams, sufficient to permit both teams to appear on the grid at the season opener in Adelaide next weekend. HRT are yet to provide irrefutable clarification of the teams ownership/control to TEGA. Bannerman intends watching the news releases closely on this score.
In a part of the silly season musical chairs changes, HRT has secured the services of Glenn Seton from Stone Brothers Racing, for the 2007 endurance races later this year. Seton will also become involved in testing. It seems the 41 year old will get another opportunity to tilt at his motor racing windmill at Mt.Panorama this coming October.
On teams to watch from the get-go for 2007, don’t take your eyes off HRT / Toll-HSVand their new VE Holden Commodore mounts; nor the updated BF mkII Ford Falcon of Ford Performance Racing. The VE was apparently quite stunning straight out of the transporters at Winton earlier this week. While the HRT website doesn’t mention lap times, the FPR site does. Bannerman finds this somewhat revealing, but marketing and motorsport are both all about smoke and mirrors. There’s not a lot to be read in one team saying a little and another saying a lot. Not at this stage in the season, anyway. Still, with Steven Richards switching from the ’Dark Side’ to the Blue Oval, FPR do stand quite a good chance of taking a march on other teams. Richards is a little under-rated, or was at any rate, driving a Perkins Commodore. Not that Larry Perkins can’t build a good car, because he can, but 2006 efforts by Perkins Engineering weren’t that remarkable.
On the subject of Jack Daniel’s Racing – Larry Perkins proxy involvement in the sport – with the departure of Steven Richards from the fold, the team is now staffed behind the wheel by two 21 year olds in Jack Perkins and Shane Price. Young Jack is, naturally, the loin fruit of team owner Larry. Son of 1970’s Toyota touring car driver, Drew Price, Shane drove for the Captain Crash team, Sirromet Wines, as a part of the Fujitsu series in 2006. (Bannerman doesn’t have much respect for Paul Morris as a driver.) Prior to that, Shane Price drove with the Holden Young Lions program in 2005 after a rather stellar year in Formula Ford in 2004. Both youngsters have potential.
A brief scan of the team line-ups for season 2007 doesn’t really reveal much competition for the three teams mentioned above as performing well at Winton this week. Let’s take a brief look…..
Tasman Motorsport – Jason Richards and Greg Murphy
Bannerman finds the presence of Murphy in the same team as Richards to be a rather odd pairing. Murphy, once a ruling rooster in the paddock when riding the now defunct K-Mart Racing beast, has fallen flat over the past few years. Wins have been decidedly absent and his frustration level palpable, even over television. Richards, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength as his style and demeanor have matured. His machinery has let him down from time to time, but over all, his 2006 season was impressive. Two kiwis together? Hmmm…….maybe. It’ll all come down to engineering skill and ability of the team to provide equipment which matches the driver’s capabilities. Personally, Bannerman doesn’t believe Tasman Motorsport can deliver.
Stone Brothers Racing – James Courtney and Russell Ingall
The young gun and the old stager. Former champion Ingall really only reached those heights in 2005 because he had Marcos Ambrose to aim for (at?). He’s a capable steerer, but discipline doesn’t seem to be the Enforcer’s strong point. Young Courtney, as a protege of Neil Crompton who, by the by, brokered his departure from the Japanese GT championship and his replacement of Marcos Ambrose at the end of 2005, has big shoes to fill. He’s young, fit and can obviously point and accelerate a V8 Supercar. By the end of season 2006, he was starting to come to terms with the genre, but clearly has a long road in front of him. Equipment won’t be the problem for Stone Brothers. Their ability to build winning motor cars is legendary. It’s the nuts behind the wheels which will determine success or failure.
WPS Racing – Max Wilson and Jason Bargwanna
Two really nice guys and capable steerers, but quite frankly, and this is only Bannerman’s perspective, they’re driving for a team which is more interested in getting the Wright Patton Shakespeare name out in the marketplace than winning motor races. The cars are mobile billboards, little else. Sure, the team is part-Orrcon and managed by Mark Larkham, but the heart of Craig Gore is really more fond of money than kudos on the podium. Worth considering? Well, they’ll do okay, and Bannerman hopes sincerely that they do, for the sport’s sake. But podium finishes? Highly unlikely.
Supercheap Auto Racing – Paul Dumbrell and Cameron McConville
The circus’s fitness freaks, both Dumbrell and McConville have come together for season 2007, planning to take on the world. Dumbrell comes from the Perkins operation and McConville continues on from his debut year with Paul Weel Racing, the team owner, in 2006 opposite Greg Murphy. Both nice guys and both experienced racers, but as with WPS, it’s the machinery which will ultimately restrict their potential. Greg Murphy didn’t bolt from Supercheap because Tasman offered him more money. He would have bolted for a better opportunity to drive competitive machinery. It’s the mark of a racer. Worth considering for 2007? Unless Kees Weel is in the back pocket of HRT, even his signing of former HRT Chief Engineer, Jeff Grech in a management consultancy role isn’t likely to turn a sows ear into a silken purse.
Team BOC Racing – Brad Jones and Andrew Jones
Uncle and nephew, managed by brother/uncle to both drivers respectively, Kim. A real family operation and one which Bannerman is surprised to see still fronting up for another season after a disastrous 2006. Especially sporting BOC gases sponsorship. Still, perhaps the Joneses managed to tie up an iron clad sponsorship contract. Who knows. Using essentially Stone Brothers engines and technology, Team BOC is just another proxy Ford team which will run around the tracks this year, showing the flag and sponsors decals. 2006 co-driver, John Bowe, has gone his own way this year and probably not too soon for the Jones clan. Bowe can be quite testy when he’s not at the point end of things or can’t get his own way. Ask Dick Johnson. Will Team BOC do any good in 2007? Look at 2004, 2005 and 2006 and make up your own mind, reader.
Dick Johnson Racing – Steven Johnson and Will Davison
Yet another livery change and sponsorship setup for DJR in 2007. Obviously the FirstRock Homeloans and telecommunications spin-off the Johnson empire spawned in 2006 wasn’t generating the kind of money a competitive team needs to run two cars up the front of the pack. Not that DJR has seen the front, or anywhere near it for many years now. Johnson’s racing stable has grown enormously since the 1980 ’Rock’ incident, which perversely engendered a career proudly displaying five Australian Touring Car Championships and three Bathurst victories. However, the wheel of time always turns and those successes are long ago. DJR has struggled since the end of the Ford ’E’ series race cars in 1998, more so since the introduction of Project Blueprint in 2003. Can the team come to grips with an engineering technology which has thus far eluded it? 2007 will tell. Two youngsters in Johnson Junior and firebrand Davison don’t leave the team short of hungry desire to win races. As is almost always the case, it’s the cars which will make or break.
Team Vodafone – Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup
Season 2006 runner-up, Lowndes, lost his opportunity to take the championship in the penultimate round in Tasmania. Equipment failure, other drivers miscuing, and foul weather combined to ensure that Lowndes missed out on the points which took Rick Kelly to a year end championship win. The blow was cruel, but probably timely as 2006 was a bumper year for Lowndes and Whincup. Both drove exceedingly well, competitively and with controlled aggression. Whincup was especially surprising, appearing to grow in stature with each race. The Falcons they’ll drive will be the same as last years in that both will be powered by Stone Brothers engines. The Triple Eight Racing engineering of the race cars themselves was excellent and Bannerman sees no reason to doubt further advancements. Lowndes is hungry for a championship in a Ford, and with an even hungrier Whincup as team mate, this new-liveried team for 2007 really looks the goods. Bannerman rates them equal front runners along with HRT, Toll/HSV and FPR.
Fujitsu Racing – Jason Bright and Alan Gurr
This team, owned by Jason Bright, is a virtual unknown to Bannerman. Certainly, the team has fielded cars under various drivers for the past two years, but the lack of pertinent comment from Bannerman means that the team itself hasn’t performed worthy of notice in that time. Bright is a competent driver, to be sure, having spent 2006 with FPR enjoying considerable success there. However, there he was a driver, nothing else. With his own team, he is owner AND driver, with all the attendant concerns that come with ownership of a multi-million dollar business in motorsport. Bannerman sticks by the old sage that owner-drivers never perform on the same level as contracted drivers. He’ll stick by that for 2007.
Now we enter the field of the also-rans and hangers on. Garry Rogers Motorsport; Team Sirromet Wines; Autobarn Racing; Team Kiwi Racing and Paul Cruikshank Racing. GRM is essentially the top level training team for V8 Supercars. Rogers is renown for taking on the young guns and giving them a run. The likes of Cameron McConville, Jason Bargwanna and Garth Tander. All of whom have gone on to greater things. Team Sirromet is an extravagant tax vehicle for Terry Morris, father of Captain Crash, Paul, and definitely not a serious front runner. The other three are all privateers, in fact, were it not for Morris’s copious business connections, Sirromet could also be classed the same. Interestingly, Paul Cruikshank Racing is providing the seat for John Bowe this year. Bowe has indicated that 2007 will be his last in V8 Supercars. Bannerman has mixed feelings. He has found Bowe to be a rude and arrogant SoB in his earlier years, especially when DJR was riding high in Sierras. However, talented drivers deserve respect for their skills, if not for their personalities.
So there we are, reader. A lengthy, but hopefully informative rundown on what awaits fans of the most exciting form of circuit racing this country has to offer. The whole shebang kicks off next Thursday, March 1 in Adelaide for the Clipsal 500. A 500 km, two-race event over the Saturday and Sunday, with practice and qualifying to be conducted on the Friday. The old Grand Prix circuit with its concrete walls and tight turns always taxes the teams and drivers fresh back from a long break from racing. How taxing will it be? Bannerman suggests you tune in to Channel Seven and find out.