Feb 182008

When questioned on the subject of retirement, Mark Skaife had this to say:

“I wouldn’t see this as my last year, but let’s just see how things go along”

Skaife, aged 40 and owner of the Holden Racing Team operation, claims as he has done every year that I can recall, that this year the gloves are off. Silly statement really, because fireproof gloves are part & parcel of the race drivers kit, just like the fireproof balaclava and underwear.
Skaife believes that having reigning V8 Supercar champion, Garth Tander, as a stable mate will spur him onto the bigger & better efforts behind the wheel in 2008. Frankly, I don’t see it happening. Both Tander and Skaife to a lesser degree, have the metal to be serious challengers for the championship. So does at least one-third of the tier one teams. Most Ford teams use Stone Brothers engines these days and most Holden teams use HRT sourced technology. Larry Perkins still does his own thing and maybe having Todd Kelly driving in place of son, Jack this year will see that team rise in the ranks, but I question whether Todd is hungry enough.
When you get right down to the nitty-gritty of what makes a champion driver in a winning team, it’s that burning desire to win, and win at practically any cost. The rules are hard and tight these days, and while panel rubbing might be deemed mildly acceptable, biff-and-barge isn’t. Add to the mix the fragile nature of a high-speed V8 missile on any Australian race track and it’s easy to see that driver skill, attention to detail and burning desire are what will make a winner. Certainly, the car itself has to be top notch but I’d suggest that very few of the machines which roll out of transporters and onto race tracks are under par as potential race winners. As with any aspect of the motor car, it’s not the vehicle that’s often lacking. It’s the nut behind the wheel.
Which brings me back to the Holden Racing Team and Mark Skaife. He’s only 40, and depending upon your view, in his prime. I’d suggest that Tander, being younger, is the quicker of the two on any goven day, but the differences would be 10ths of a second. Skaife’s major drawback, and the principle difference between the two HRT drivers, is that one owns the team with all the attendant foibles and dramas which go with ownership, and the other just has to turn up and drive. I wrote it during 2006 and 2007 and don’t see anything changing for 2008. Mark Skaife has had his day as a pack-leading race driver. While-ever he has the burden of ownership/management on top of driving duties, he’ll never again be a force on the track. Not that I believe he couldn’t be, but as a driver alone.
Larry Perkins, Dick Johnson, Peter Brock….all were magnificently talented drivers, but all were also team owners and eventually that additional burden tells on them. You can’t be a business operator and a race driver. You can be one or the other. I’d suggest that this year, if HRT lives up to my expectations, will be Mark Skaife’s last year as a competitive driver in the V8 Supercar series. His business is suffering because he can’t or won’t see the obvious. It’s business which feeds motorsport the dollars, both internally and externally. Sometimes the hard decisions have to be made for the greater benefit. I reckon Holden Racing Team can become a force in the championship again, but not while Mark Skaife drives car #2

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