The first week of March sees the Season Opener for the V8 Supercar Series on the streets of Adelaide, with this article being submitted two weeks prior. Whilst Bathurst is the best race on the Australian Motor Sport Calendar, the Clipsal four-day program in Adelaide is the greatest ‘Event’ in our sport.
Adelaide delivers everything and more for a major sporting event:
- Beautiful early autumn weather.
- Outstanding visitor accommodation within walking distance of the track.
- Superb cafes, bars and restaurants.
- A buzz and special party atmosphere in downtown precinct and adjoining suburbs.
- Music and concert entertainment each evening in great venues.
- A welcoming and warm spirit and enthusiasm by all the locals.
Inside the track I am convinced that whatever Formula 1 did for South Australia between the years 1985-1995, the V8 Supercar Series (following taking it over in 1999) has surpassed the F1 show twofold in fan-friendly facilities, layout, entertainment and accessibility to teams and drivers. The attendance levels on each of the four days of the event are nothing short of staggering for an Australian sporting event.
This year there are a lot of changes in the Series, in particular with drivers and some teams. Noted below are some of the official or anticipated key changes in each of the teams and my views on the prospects for everyone on the grid this year.
Our high profile national football codes see all commentators and journalists pre-season spend endless television time and column inches in the six-week lead-up to the season, giving their predictions on potential winners and losers. They tip everything from the premiers, the eight finalists, the two grand finalists, top goal kicker, the ‘Best and Fairest’ awards and even the wooden spooners. There is a fanatical level of fan and supporter interest in these tipping predictions, and debate always lights up talk-back radio. These tipping debates are phenomenal brand builders for the sport, both pre-season and week-to-week.
Equally fanatical are the official tipping competitions that each code conducts online, which guarantee 26 continuous weeks of promoting the levels of fan interest, as anyone with an ounce of the love of sport enters their footy tips online each week. ‘It’s just not Australian’ if you have not put your footy tips in by 6pm Friday or if your local coffee shop is not conducting a tipping competition.
This massive marketing ‘free kick’ is missing in our V8 series
One of the great initiatives our V8 organisers could introduce at the season start would be an official tipping competition for the Championship and the Top 5 for each race weekend. I cannot understand why our commentators don’t get involved in pre-season race result tipping or pre each race in the season.
To display the courage of my convictions, I have been silly enough to ‘walk the plank’, stand tall, and give my unbiased views on what we may expect of each team. I have also included my predictions for the 2016 Driver Championship and the finishing order of all 26 drivers in the competition this year.
This team is renowned at each season start for under-promising and then over-delivering throughout the season. Very hard to go past them as favourites for the Championship, however the introduction of mercurial new driver, Van Gisbergen, and a third car will definitely change the dynamics of this team.
With two ‘take no prisoners’ drivers in Van Gisbergen and Whincup (and Lowndes wanting to ensure his entry isn’t just a three-year retirement plan by his boss), a lot of internal ‘things’ will change in this team. After six races we will have a good indication of whether three cars and the Van Gis factor will succeed or fail. The question must be asked that, apart from financial/sponsorship reasons in locking up three of the series’ best drivers, why would you disrupt what has been the well-proven perfect balance in this team.
HRT / Walkinshaw Racing
If T888 are renowned for under-promising and over-delivering, then ever since the original Steve Hallam appointment, HRT has done the opposite. The time has surely come to put up or shut up! There are confusing signals pre-season from this team. Late in the year they noted a full commitment to a four-car business model and then, just a little later, did a 360 and reduced to two cars, saying that would lift a weight off their shoulders and greatly assist their focus in the Championship.
Then, not long after, we are hearing HRT/WP will provide/service Erebus with two customer cars. It was my experience in this team that it was far easier to manage/control and race four cars in-house than cope with the hassles of servicing a demanding customer team in the midst of racing two cars.
Then, a few weeks later, we learn the Walkinshaw operations will enter the GT series with Porsche. A fair comment may be that chances of greater focus for the Championship with two HRT cars with all these bolt-on projects are anomalous. Dropping two race cars and loading up with two customer cars plus a Porsche GT program must surely impact HRT performance over the journey of the season.
Major changes here in all areas of the team would suggest it will be very difficult this year for the colourful Betty Klimenko team to advance up the grid from their 2015 results of 15th and 25th. In their fourth year in the sport, they go from an in-house capability to having a dependence on a supplier relationship with another team. They also move manufacturers from Mercedes to Holden, move facilities from Brisbane to Melbourne and introduce two new drivers, one of whom is inexperienced in elite ranks, while losing some personnel from their senior ranks. One plus is the attraction of Penrite as a NR sponsor.
Brad Jones Racing
It is also difficult to see how this team will be on the same standing as their 2015 results of 7th, 16th and 23rd. They lose their signature driver in Fabian Coulthard (7th), replaced by Tim Slade who is yet to win a race in his 217 starts in this series. Additionally, their other proven driver, Jason Bright, moves into genuine veteran phase and is now, at 43, the oldest driver in the field.
Their third car previously never figured in Championship standings and most likely the same will occur in 2016. The big question is can this ‘little Aussie battler’ team of the series continue to punch above its weight.
Lucas Dumbrell Racing
This team runs the risk of being a serial underperformer if, in their 7th year in the series, they don’t produce some competitive turnaround. Last year’s 21st and 22nd must change. Percat and Heimgartner are reasonable performers and should be able to take LDR further up the grid.
Pro Drive Racing
This team was the surprise packet for the series in 2015 when their three leading cars finished 1st, 3rd, 11th, and had Mostert not been injured at Bathurst they were a chance for three in the top five. Can they repeat their performance in 2016 and is Chaz fully recovered is the question on everyone’s lips.
A big loss with engineer, Adam De Borre, and the rumoured loss of Pepsi as NR sponsor on two cars will hurt. Despite Reynolds finishing 3rd it seems team boss, Tim Edwards, is not displeased with his departure, as his off-track, high maintenance antics (like at Bathurst last year) are a distraction in a top rating team. The rumoured appointment of Cam Waters to replace Reynolds is an inspired move and great investment for the future. The most interesting scenario in the team will be if Mostert starts out-performing Winterbottom. This will test the meaning of ‘teammates’, with classic old bull/young bull scenarios coming into play.
Nissan Motor Sport
On the surface this team may appear a little less competitive this year with the loss of NR sponsor, Jack Daniels; chief engineer, Craig Spencer, to F1 and the loss of James Moffat. However hopefully, this is the year the long-awaited new engine spec fully kicks in and reverses the team’s fortunes. If this does happen then Rick Kelly will lead the charge and should deliver some great results as, with his uncanny ability to race hard all day and avoid self-harm, I rate him in the top three drivers in the competition.
It will be mightily important for the Kelly boys and Nissan to perform in this, their fourth year in the series. Apart from Rick’s solid 9th last year, the other results of 12th, 17th and 18th were below expectation.
Last year was a tough initiation for the USA Penske group in the first year as majority owner in the new DJR Team Penske operation. The decision by Marcos Ambrose to step away as a main driver after two events last year created a loss of momentum that was difficult to recover from, despite Scott Pye relishing his unexpected promotion.
This year looks promising, with experienced podium performer, Fabian Coulthard, joining the team and talented Scott Pye getting some valuable experience under his belt. Additionally, the team has recruited some proven technical talent. This team should be one of the big improvers in 2016.
Charlie Schwerkolt Racing
Starting from near-scratch as a new team in 2016 will be a big call despite the energy and experience team manager, Jeff Grech, will bring to the team. Driver Lee Holdsworth’s 14th and 20th in the WP operations in the past two years will see his career at the crossroads and he needs a good season.
Taking on the mantle of Volvo factory team after debuting 20 years ago in 1996, the colourful and sometimes eccentric veteran racer, Garry Rogers, is committed as much today as when he first set up his V8 team. This will be the team’s third year running the Volvo program and by any standard the team has done a great job since with Volvo.
The signing of James Moffat should prove a positive move, as he is ready to break through as a serious podium contender. He will add a layer of intensity to this team and give young star, McLaughlin, a reason to lift to the next level.
Since its inception in 2010 this team has been a superior performer. For the past two years they have run as a single car entity and Van Gisbergen has achieved outstanding results with a 4th and 2nd in the Championship. Whilst I can’t see new driver, Will Davidson, performing to the level of his predecessor, Tekno will always be competitive.