The most elaborate game of musical chairs in memory has left a lot of V8 Supercars merchandise redundant.
YEP, we’re seeing lots of redundant V8 Supercars driver-merchandise following the longest, most elaborate game of musical chairs in memory.
For the 2016 season, only 12 drivers are staying put in the 26-car field. Loyalty is clearly a vastly overrated ideal.
The prolonged silly season means that while it’s the same old cars, the bewildering number of driver movements add unpredictability to the mix. A little.
After all, the V8 Supercars (at least until 2017 when engine rules change) tend to behave much like one another, such is this parity formula of same base chassis and minimum weight, similar engine output (from either quad cam or pushrod 5.0-litre V8s), and control Dunlop tyres.
That said, the human dynamic within teams does alter when there is a fresh bod in the driver’s seat.
So, after the crazy zigging and zagging of driver movements, where is everyone heading in 2016?
The arrival of the delightfully flamboyant, uncomplicated Shane van Gisbergen turns Triple Eight into a three-car triple threat in 2016. Craig Lowndes will drive a Caltex-backed Commodore while Whincup and SVG will race under the Red Bull banner. The Giz, often loose as a goose, has the potential to make the fastidious Whincup’s life quite uncomfortable, on and off the track. That will be fun to watch, as will be the way team owner Roland Dane manages his different charges. Lowndes gave himself a medical handicap in January by inelegantly falling off a motorcycle and busting a collarbone. But he says he’ll be fit for the opener.
While one factory Holden team has grown in size, the other contracted over the hiatus. The Holden Racing Team has retained Garth Tander and James Courtney but the two associated entries under the Walkinshaw Racing banner have departed. The loss of Supercheap backing (to Prodrive) pushed Tim Slade on to the job market at the end of last season, but his phone immediately started ringing.
Charlie Schwerkolt Racing has evolved into a one-car stand-alone operation with Triple Eight hardware for Lee Holdsworth. They’re also pulling ex-HRT crew chief Jeff Grech out of mothballs to run the outfit.
The changes within the Walkinshaw camp mean the new season will be the first since the 1990s that the two HRT entries are the sole focus at Clayton, a move that the drivers sense will be a huge positive. Certainly in recent years, with resources and attention split among four cars, HRT has not been able to consistently match the other factory Holden team, Triple Eight Race Engineering.
Driver-hopping between teams really went feral late last season when Fabian Coulthard was confirmed alongside Scott Pye at DJR Team Penske, a call that immediately triggered a lot of darting and weaving before the music stopped.
Slade re-emerged as the new driver in BJR’s #14 entry, replacing Coulthard. Tim Blanchard also switched to BJR from Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport for 2016, completing the Albury-based team’s something old/something new driver line-up. Jason Bright continues with the team for a seventh season while Blanchard takes over the #21 Holden previously campaigned by Dale Wood, who in turn has joined Nissan Motorsport.
The Dumbrell squad is yet to confirm who’ll line-up alongside Nick Percat for 2016.
Prodrive has the not inconsiderable benefits of continuity and class for 2016, with the new champ Mark Winterbottom (now backed by Bottle-o) and the lightning quick (and mended) Chaz Mostert sticking with Ford, his car set to carry Supercheap support.
But the Prodrive owners seemed out of love with David Reynolds. For reasons best known to Prodrive, the idiosyncratic Reynolds found himself very much on the outer as the 2015 season unfolded, and despite the 30-year-old challenging for the championship until van Gisbergen flicked him off the track at Phillip Island.
Everyone bar Reynolds seems to understand that he was not getting his contract renewed. Reynolds even resisted an offer from BJR to take over Coulthard’s ride but he hung out for the new Prodrive deal that never eventuated (for him).
Prodrive still hasn’t confirmed who will drive the third Falcon but no-one is betting against young gun Cameron Waters, who is certainly deserving of a main-game seat alongside Winterbottom and Mostert.
Reynolds belatedly signed on with Betty Klimenko’s Erebus squad, which needed a quality driver to replace Will Davison, who has moved to The Giz’s old pew in the Tekno Commodore.
Back before Christmas, and after a cyclone of speculation, Klimenko felt inclined to issue a statement indicating she’ll run two cars in 2016, the second driver later named as Novocastrian Aaren Russell.
She also confirmed a team move out of the Queensland base to Melbourne. Reynolds can stay a Melbourne resident.
Erebus’s other major shock was the move to abandon AMG Mercedes power and go to Holden hardware, ending an uneasy relationship with the German luxury brand.
The two Commodores, purchased from Walkinshaw Racing as the Holden factory squad chose to tighten from four to two cars for 2016, are to be run independently by the Erebus crew, with no ongoing relationship with WR.
Klimenko will notice a massive difference in the cost of the GM V8 engines versus the pricy AMG Mercs.
Last season, speculation cranked up that Todd and Rick Kelly’s Nissan Motorsport would shrink from four Altimas to three when James Moffat was announced as taking David Wall’s place at GRM Volvo. But the Kelly gang then locked in Wood.
The only New Zealand team in V8 Supercars has also made a driver change, the Tony Lentino-owned Super Black team signing V8 Utes and Dunlop Series goer Chris Pither to replace Andre Heimgartner (who, let it be said, many observers thought did a strong job in his rookie year).
These are times of commercial struggle, though, with sponsors baulking at the combination of multimillion-dollar budgets and smaller free-to-air television numbers. The 2016 grid has lost major sponsors Jack Daniels (Nissan) and Pepsi (Prodrive Ford) while Tony Quinn’s Darrell Lea reviewed the worth and extent of its involvement with Tekno.
“The guys from Darrell Lea discovered that having a name on the race car is of some value,” Quinn explained to <Auto Action>. “But when you put an advert on television and run it for a third of the money, you get two times the bang for your buck.”
Good to see, though, Plus Fitness jumping on board newbie Russell’s Erebus Commodore.
The 2016 calendar has expanded to 15 rounds (plus the non-championship grand prix weekend) with a round of the championship to be held on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. It’s hard to know why V8 Supercars Australia believes this jaunt to Malaysia will succeed where every other foray away from Australasia has failed dismally. At least the time zone does suit local telecasting. V8SA has four years to make it work.
On the weekend of the Sydney 500, the tabloids went into a frenzy about the vague possibility that Homebush could be dead meat as a venue after the (contracted) 2016 race, with the Central Coast mooted as a replacement. Crowds at the racing at claustrophobic Homebush have never been huge, and now someone has a better idea… Don’t ink it in just yet.
Now some predictions…
Whincup and van Gisbergen, who between them won the final three races at Homebush 2015, will give us some memorable intra-team duels and that ain’t (Red) Bullshit.
It will be “on”, too, between Winterbottom and Mostert.
Every V8 TV commentator except the very measured Neil Crompton will liberally throw around the word “awesome”. Count them. And may we politely ask why some are inclined to use “absolutely” when “yes” is perfectly acceptable?
SVG and Scott McLaughlan will be equally guilty of the chronic overuse of the term “cool”. Even when it’ is hot as blazes, like at the Clipsal and Homebush.
It’s early days yet but the championship is shaping as a desperate fight between the factory Fords and Triple Eight. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
On our wish list, too, is the hope that Davy Reynolds bounces back with cheek and pace, and gives Betty a win or three. The King and Queen of Kingdom Quirky could make a dynamite pair.