THE 2017 SUPERCAR SEASON IN REVIEW PEOPLE, PERSONALITIES, POLITICS AND PERFORMANCES

It is unfortunate the timing deadline for this article fell just prior to the final Supercars race in Newcastle on the weekend of 25-26 November. This overview for the 2017 season is, therefore, based on all races other than this upcoming final race at Newcastle. I am making the assumption the results won’t vary, or will vary little, from the current Driver Championship status.

It pains me to make this assumption when the DJR Team Penske, with which I have a close association, has its two outstanding drivers sitting at 2nd and 3rd in the Championship and either could well still take the title, given the small points difference and the uncertainties of an all-new race track.

Year on year our sport seems to constantly deliver big surprises, shocks and change – and this year is no exception. In fact we will go into next year with more changes at all layers of the sport than I can ever previously recall.

Driver results/performances

Given the disclaimer noted above with one race to go, Table No 1 shows a comparison of each driver’s 2016 actual results versus projected 2017 results. The performances can be broken into three categories:

A.    The Top 3 most spectacular driver performances this year must go to Jamie Whincup (34), Scott McLaughlin (24) and Shane Van Gisbergen (28), as these guys have been able to deliver back-to-back years of sustained consistent premium performance. The toughest thing an athlete can ever achieve is continuing to stay at the top.
B.    The Top 3 biggest improvers in 2017 over 2016 have been Fabian Coulthard (35), up nine places on his prior year to 3rd; Cam Waters (23), up 12 slots to 7th, and David Reynolds (32), up six places to 10th.
C.    The Top 3 biggest losers over 2016 are Will Davison (35), down 10 places to 15th; James Courtney (37), down 9 places to 20th, and Todd Kelly (38), down five places to 19th.

In an unscientific endeavour to determine some connection with ‘age crossover’, when performance in sport diminishes according to hand and eye coordination, it is interesting to note that, over the past 10 years, the age of the Championship-winning drivers has been, from 2007-2016: 30, 25, 26, 30, 28, 29, 30, 31, 34, 27, for an average age of 29. This would suggest that the veterans in the sport – Bright (44), Lowndes (43), Tander (40), Todd Kelly (38) and Courtney (37), have the odds stacked against them in terms of future Championships.

Table 2 sets out the combined Championship results for each driver over the past four years 2014 through 2017. Again a spectacular achievement by Jamie Whincup who, over the 100-plus races conducted over this period, has a Championship placing index of 2.25 and is clearly the No.1 performer.

Another highlight from this table is the consistency of Scott Mc Laughlin who, over these four years, holds an equal 4th, which shows that his stellar performance this year is no fluke and has been built on a solid foundation over the prior three years. This is in contrast to James Courtney, who for many years now has been mooted as the No.1 salary/fee driver in the Series but sits outside the Top 10 over four years’ average.

The rest of the usual suspects of middle-order teams and drivers appear permanently stuck on those steps on the ladder while, a little further down, the danger section of the ladder from step 15, there would be several drivers licking their wounds over this four-year cycle. These include James Moffat (33), Todd Kelly (38), Nick Percat (29), Dale Wood (34) and Tim Blanchard (30). As this column has previously noted, the sport will not grow until these middle- and lower-order teams are the subject of the Series/authorities introducing a plan like the football codes, which creates improvement opportunities, but this will never happen given the current Board composition where we are lacking independent talented businesspersons/ Commissioners.

What are the forecast driver changes in 2018? Some recent headlines for those potentially stepping down from a full season’s racing are Dale Wood, James Moffat, Will Davison, Jason Bright and Todd Kelly. Those in the younger set who look certainties for their big breakthrough as full-time drivers are Todd Hazelwood (22), Richie Stanaway(25) , Anton DePasquale (22) and James Golding (21) .

Team changes

Many areas of our sport would suggest the biggest team news of the year was the Walkinshaw Team announcement at Bathurst of taking on two additional equity partners in Zak Brown and Michael Andretti. Call me cynical, but my reaction to this announcement was ‘here we go again’. Virtually on cue, after yet another year of under-performance since young Ryan Walkinshaw took over, and yet again another Biennial ’Resurrection’.

Plan One in 2012, Ryan introduced former F1 ‘superstar’, Steve Hallam, to fix all the problems of the once invincible HRT. That didn’t work, so two years later the HRT world was again to be transformed when Walkinshaw proudly announced Plan Two – another Biennial Salvation involving the poaching of Adrian Burgess from arch rival Team 888. Whoops, a few years on and guess what…that didn’t work either, so Burgess appears the fall guy and gets fired. More years of indifferent performance from the Clayton Team going nowhere and we are all told ‘a global search’ is now under way for Plan Three.

Come Bathurst, up pop two additional new co-owners to try and lead the Walkinshaw Team out of its seven-year performance nightmare. Give me a break please, as I, for one, will not buy this convoluted new business model that’s been so confidently sold to the fans and the media (just like the Hallam and Burgess solutions were).

There can be no denying the credentials and outstanding motorsport pedigrees of Michael Andretti and Zak Brown and on paper it looks great. But I cannot avoid recalling the words Tom Walkinshaw would always convey to me, that success in motorsport comes only with single-mindedness and there being room for only one boss.

There were a few aspects of this Bathurst announcement that got the red light on my dash flashing. The first being Andretti said this deal got done in 30 minutes or thereabouts (where is the due diligence in all that?) and Walkinshaw saying these guys are not just investors, they are there to be involved and add value to the team.

I cannot imagine how even the most gifted team manager could run the show in Australia and survive the machinations of a small $6-8 million business having four owners/shareholders in Martine, Ryan, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown and all being absentee/remote location owners. Then good luck with these very busy new partners, who have their own empires to run, finding a communications process for the leadership group that can cross four different time zones of Australia, France, England and America.

This is all before you build in the ego factor of so many in this new equation. Perhaps the next big announcement at the start of the 2018 season will be this team announcing Bernie Ecclestone has been recruited for the team manager’s job because, as I see it, this person will need Bernie’s capabilities and strengths to work through this ‘interesting’ business model.

People changes

There are also some significant changes taking place in the areas of our sport where such moves are outside the norm. The sport is about to lose its capable and authentic CEO, James Warburton, who is moving on to head up an outdoor advertising company after just over four years in the big chair. Add to that the next most senior member of the series leadership team, COO, Matt Braid, who also finishes with Supercars at year end. This is not a great look.

In TV land, Simon Fordham, the most senior of executives who, behind the scenes, plays the most important TV pivotal role for our sport, is moving his significant talents to a competitive sport in NRL. Also Greg Rust, long-time popular commentator, has decided to hang up his Supercars Motorsport microphone, but something would suggest to me that Greg is not going to fade into the sunset.

All of this amounts to a lot of change – some good, some not so good – but certainly for me the highlight will be to see in 2018 some seriously talented young drivers being given a chance to break through and be trusted with a full season drive. They have earned the right through talent, not bringing money to the team. In particular I really like what I see about Ricky Stanaway.

In this same vein, one of the highlights for this season has been the performance of Cameron Waters (23), who has achieved great podium results. As I constantly state, the lifeblood of this sport are new, young, skilled drivers who, on their own merit, in feeder ranks come through and place pressure on the veterans.

Tipsters’ results

In the February edition this year there were four tipsters who had a crack at predicting the Top 10 come year end. Again, making the assumption of no change from current standings this year (statistically no other driver can make it to the top 10), this is how each tipster rolled:

Mark Fogarty: got 1 in Top 3 (Whincup) and 7 in top 10 with three offs – Davison, R Kelly, Courtney.
Paul Gover: got 1 (Whincup) in top 3 and 8 in Top 10 with two offs – Percat, Courtney.
Carrington Ashbee: got 1 in Top 3 (Whincup) and 8 in top 10 with two offs – Davison, Courtney.
John Crennan: got the quinella with first and second (Whincup and McLaughlin) and 8 out of top 10 with two offs – R Kelly and Pye.

Article accurate as at 22/11/2017.

John Crennan
Motorsport Contributor

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