THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHAMPIONS AND POPULAR CHAMPIONS

Australian motorsport was given a massive boost over the weekend of 26-27 May when, in both America and Europe, two of the world’s renowned signature motor racing events were won by Australians.

Australia’s motorsport pride and passion meter recorded its strongest reading for some time, with many local journalists claiming the two wins of Daniel Ricciardo at the Monaco GP and Will Power at the Indianapolis 500 represented the greatest day ever for our sport.

For all Australian followers of motorsport it was an unforgettable feat and a source of inspiration to the true believers. It was an incredible coincidence that within five hours of Daniel’s win at Monaco at 1am AEST on Monday 28 May, Toowoomba’s Will would take the chequered flag at America’s most legendary race at the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 in front of 300,000 people.

Perhaps, however, the most enlightening aspect of these two great victories for our drivers on the world stage was the manner in which these two champions conducted themselves post-race. Their natural on-camera raw excitement was exceeded only by the charm, humility and courtesy extended to the TV interviewers and fans. Contrast their Aussie warmth of character to the histrionics we have had to put up with from the superstars of Formula 1 in the UK’s Lewis Hamilton and Germany’s Sebastian Vettel in their post-race interviews.

Both Daniel and Will not only taught a lot of big names of the sport a lesson in driving but, more importantly, taught them a bigger lesson on communicating genuine respect, both for the fans attending the event and the vast global TV audience. The irreverence, brashness and rock star egotistical conduct we have to endure after the winning performances of some F1 superstars were put to shame by the warm smiles and graciousness on camera of our two Australian stars.

Role models in sport play an enormous part in shaping the attitudes and values of young people, therefore the sport/governing bodies carry considerable responsibility to ensure its leading athletes project an image that is respectful and shows a genuine concern for those who pay to watch them. Formula 1 cannot be happy with the image of surliness Vettel and Hamilton convey. They give the impression they have got their massive net worth, accumulated through the sport, totally confused with their responsibilities to the sport of displaying gratitude to the fans.
How good is Scott McLaughlin and how good is he for Supercars?

After the first 14 races so far this year, DJR Team Penske driver Scott Mc Laughlin has a healthy 131 point lead in the championship and has chalked up five wins and seven pole positions.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it is becoming increasingly evident we may well be seeing a change of guard at the pointy end of the Supercars Series in terms of Jamie Whincup being overshadowed by Scott’s performances thus far in the season.

In the last race of the previous season at Newcastle it was down to the wire between Jamie and Scott, and from there the battle lines were drawn for the 2018 season. In Newcastle, Jamie snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the most controversial of penalty decisions, which decided the championship.

To the credit of both the drivers and management of both teams, this potentially explosive situation was handled with great class and the sport was not dragged down by providing the media with squabble fodder.

The time appears ripe in Supercars for the emergence of a new superstar.

With Scott at 25 years old, and Jamie at 35, we are ready for a new hero and a reinvigorated personality on the top step of the podium. It seems safe to say Scott is a game-changer for Supercars, with his sparkling on-camera glow, refreshing panache and a matching level of energy and enthusiasm. Scott’s new style will create a huge bonus for Supercars, as it needs to adjust and move the marketing needle and relevance more to the precision point tastes of the influential millennials who are increasingly setting the agenda in the digital age

Jamie Whincup is far from conceding his championship crown this year or in future years, but if he does succumb to the pressure DJR Team Penske and Scott and team mate, Fabian Coulthard, are applying, we will witness an entirely different dynamic and fan connection in the winner’s circle.

A new poster boy champion for the sport is timely. Jamie has won an amazing seven championships and 110 race wins from 450 races. He has totally dominated the Series for the past 10 years. Whilst he deserves the highest of praise for his fantastic racing feats, his personality and marketability has not necessarily translated to fans packing the turnstiles of Australia’s race tracks to get a glimpse of the seven-time Australian champion.

Jamie is one of those understated modest champions. He is reserved with his emotions and calmly predictable with his rather bland and vanilla interviews following victory, and appears uncomfortable in front of the camera. Whilst arrogance and self-importance appear to be the way Vettel and Hamilton come across in F1, Jamie, for the past 10 years as leader of the pack, could only be accused of being a little too humble and politically correct.

We should not get involved in making big predictions, but we will, as something very special seems to await Scott, Supercars, sponsors, media and fans. Not just Scott’s potential to win championships, but he introduces to our sport a higher level of intellectual appeal, marketability and thoughtfulness.

In the same way Peter Brock was revolutionary in the 70s, with his ability to attract men, women and children to the sport and engage unconditionally with the masses, Scott seems destined to do the same. The big question will be if this new, rare driver and marketing talent will remain in Australia, or will he be recruited to America where even bigger horizons may be available through his valued relationship with the Penske Racing enterprise.

In July 2014, over a dinner meeting with Roger Penske and Tim Cindric, in Brisbane for a ‘what if’ discussion as they were contemplating an involvement in Supercars, they asked who I considered the best driver options at that time. I indicated Scott McLaughlin was a new young talent well worth targeting. I then recall sending Tim Cindric an email two weeks later with a press clipping from Auto Action noting Scott had just signed a two-year agreement with GRM so that option was closed.

However, as the adage goes, ‘good things come to those who wait’. DJR Team Penske did ultimately attract Scott to the team at the conclusion of his two years with Garry Rogers.

The monitoring and observance of the personality, character and marketability of elite big name super sports stars is a fascinating subject. The examples recently set by Daniel Ricciardo and Will

Power should be the standard for all sports stars to emulate. Fame and fortune in the sporting arena seems to have only two outcomes for those whose talents and skills exceed the norm. Superstars of sport either manage it well, not losing their fundamental character and the values (and friends) they grew up with, or they allow themselves to get carried away with their own publicity and self-importance. It’s not hard to work out what makes some champions extremely popular and others extremely unpopular.

John Crennan
Motorsport Contributor

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