Time for the Series Bosses to be brave and think outside the square

For too long at the elite end of Australian motor sport there has been too much predictability with race results and, correspondingly, for too long the structure of the Supercars Board has accepted an agenda where the minority strong have dominated and the majority weaker teams just continue to make up the numbers and seldom advance up the performance scale.

In the past decade the Supercars Premiership Cup has gone to one team, Triple Eight Racing, on 8 of these 10 occasions. In turn, this means that over this time cycle this team has dominated most of the 250-plus races, thereby capturing massive television exposure and the flow-on benefits of significant attraction of major sponsorship dollars.

There can be no better way to kill interest in a sport than if race after race, the fans and TV audiences constantly see the same faces/same results.

By stark contrast, over the identical decade, in Australia’s premium sporting code, the AFL, we have seen six different AFL Premiership teams on the top step versus three in our Series.

There is a reason why our sport has such significant constant top-heavy success outcomes, and the best way to illustrate this is a reality check against the best in the country, the AFL model. The AFL, whilst having excellent working relationships with their 18 teams, never leave anyone in doubt as to who is running the League with their decisive and non-negotiable management style when it comes to administering what is best for the sport, its fans and an even competition.

This, coupled with independent Board members (not team representatives), a salary cap process and a brilliant player talent ‘draft’ system, ensures a much improved even spread of team success both during the season and with Finals and Premiership opportunities.

With the tail wagging the dog in the Supercars Board structure and with the sport not large enough to generate enough income from media rights and broader series sponsorships to enable a major distribution of dividends to all teams, our huge variations in the teams’ track performances surely demand intervention from the Series.
As an illustration of ‘too few winning too much’ we see a situation at the time of writing: with 10 races out of 16 complete, there are only two drivers/cars/teams (or 7.5 per cent of the field) with any real chance of winning the Championship.

By contrast, with only three games remaining in the AFL competition, the fans of 12 clubs, or 65 per cent of the participating teams, still have a competitive chance to play off in the finals.

So how does Supercars change this situation of a very uneven field where, so far out from season’s end, we basically have a two-horse race? At this time of the season there should be at least six drivers in the mix for the championship.

Getting an independent Board structure seems impossible. Getting more Roger Penskes involved in our sport to turn around struggling teams also seems impossible, as does introducing a salary cap in our sport.

All my experience over 25 years in this industry heightens my strongly-held belief as to why there are such huge differences in team’ performances. It gets down to the team owner/franchise holder. Show me a top class, high calibre experienced motor sport team owner and I will show you someone with the rare talent in our industry to lead a sports team with a canny ability to identify, attract and grow outstanding technical, engineering and commercial staff. In addition, they have the smarts to single-handedly attract outstanding sponsors and drivers.

The enormous disparity we have with results, I would suggest, starts with how sagacious or otherwise is the team owner in Pit Lane.

After the importance of the team owner/franchise holder, the next most crucial success component in this sport is the driver. The best-operated teams not only attract the cream as primary drivers but also recruit and pay accordingly for the best available Enduro drivers.

The Pirtek Endurance Cup with the three consecutive big races at Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast in September and October, in Supercars is akin to the AFL Finals Series. Here is an idea for the Supercars bosses to step up and show the teams they are running the sport and are serious about a change that will even out the competition as well as add more intrigue, more entertainment, more fan interest and heaps more television content:

The Pirtek Enduro Driver Draft

  1. Remove authority from the teams for the selection of the co drivers for the Pirtek Endurance Cup and overnight inject uncertainty about the chequered flag in these highest profile races of the season.
  2. Transfer responsibility to the Series for both the selection of the 26 Pirtek Enduro drivers (plus any wild card entries) and have a reverse driver rating ballot of these drivers matched to the primary drivers and their teams and cars.
  3. Any local or overseas driver can apply to Supercars to be ‘drafted’ into the final 26 co drivers, with entries closing a week prior to the first race in Adelaide. The full list of applicants would be announced live in a special television segment during the Adelaide telecast. There would be a published set of demanding criteria for all applicant drivers to ensure only the highest standard of Enduro drivers would apply.
  4. Supercars would appoint an expert Driver Draft Selection panel. This could be a three-person panel of excellent judges who know what it takes to compete in these three races. Mark Skaife, Tim Schenken and Jim Richards spring to mind as ideal appointments. The Selection Panel would determine the final 26 draftees plus four emergencies over the six-week period March 1 – April 15.
  5. Each of the final drafted 26 drivers and emergencies will be required to participate in a practice day during May, driving a Supercars nominated race car under the direction of the selection panel. This test would represent the final element in the selectors’ process in deciding on their final seeding of all co drivers from 1st to 26th, plus the emergencies.
  6. The final seedings would be announced at a special mid-June Foxtel in-studio program. The championship order at the midway point in the season would see the main drivers placed 1-8 in the championship being assigned by a ballot with those Enduro drivers ranked 26-19.
    Those main drivers positioned 9-18 would be balloted with Enduro drivers seeded 18-9, while main drivers 19-26 would be assigned the top end ranked 8-1 Enduro drivers. The ballot process, live on TV, would take on the Melbourne Cup barrier draw theme and show the moment live as the drafted driver is introduced to his main game driver.
  7. Each team in the Series would be required to make a set financial contribution (as they currently do) to ensure a healthy Endurance driver fee pool is in place. The total pool would be split to ensure those drafted drivers seeded 1-8 would be the most attractively remunerated down to the last eight drivers, who would divide up, say, 10% share of the pool.

It’s easy to think of 10 reasons why it would be difficult to make this work but equally there are another 20 reasons why it can be done and transform our Cup Series. The attached table is an example of just how this Enduro Draft would revolutionise the Pirtek Cup and also potentially add a new dimension to the overall Championship results.

The respective columns in the chart are as follows:

Column 1 lists the current primary drivers and their position on the Championship Table after 10 rounds this year.
Column 2 is my rating of the performance/talent factor of the primary drivers over past two years.
Column 3 is the driver each team has selected this year to co-drive with their main driver.
Column 4 is my rating of the suitability/talent factor of each Enduro driver this year.
Column 5 is the concept example of the Series taking this year’s Enduro drivers and ballot them per the process noted in No 6 above.
Column 6 is the combination of the rating of both the primary and co-driver, and the total success potential.
Column 7 is the combination of the ratings and success potential if the authority was given to the Selection Panel to ballot the Enduro drivers with the lowest rating going to the highest primary rating.

The difference in the Win potential between these two statistical models is profound. Clearly in column 6 only seven driver combinations this year have a chance of winning the Cup (those with a combined performance rating of 15-18). If the draft ballot idea were to apply and using this year’s drivers to make the point, it opens it up to every car in the field, where every driver combination is tightly clustered around a performance potential between 11 and13.

Let’s hope the Series can start thinking outside the square and inject some much-needed tighter competition across the 26 cars in the field.

John Crennan
Motorsport Contributor

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