What the Holden Racing Team decision really means

Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen: Red Bull HRT works drivers

Holden fans, it’s not the end of the world. Just a redrawing of empire boundaries.

Ok…everyone take a pill and lie down.

Social media has gone feral with aggrieved Holden Racing Team fans crying foul since the not unexpected move by Holden to consolidate its efforts in Supercars by handing Triple Eight Race Engineering exclusive factory status (and ending direct works support of the HRT after 26 years).

C’mon, it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise, not after HRT’s mediocre performance in recent seasons.

Possibly what was a bit of a jolt was Holden’s decision to pluck the very HRT name off the Walkinshaw-owned team and instead use it to meld into the sole works squad nomenclature, to be known from next year as Red Bull Holden Racing Team. Given Craig Lowndes’ unassailable position as the most popular driver on the grid, it is strange that he will remain outside the rebranded official Holden factory squad next year and onwards, though integral to Triple Eight’s campaign.

HRT-team -clappingJamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen will be the two Red Bull HRT works drivers, while Lowndes is assigned to the non-factory TeamVortex.

The punters have a right to be confused and many of the HRT loyalist fans are mightily angry too. They feel HRT’s very identity has been stolen.

Berry Klimenko could be right; maybe it might have been smarter of Holden to retire the HRT name permanently rather than upset those who’ve supported the red mob through thick and thin.

Sentiment in motor sport is a scarce commodity, especially on the business side of the wall. Maybe the first two decades of HRT, and the success it landed for the brand, don’t mean much at Fishermans Bend.

Red -Bull -HRT-car -in -garageFormed in 1990 and initially run by Win Percy for Tom Walkinshaw Racing, the team amassed 260 race wins, nine Bathurst 1000 crowns and eight Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 supercars titles.

But major wins have been sporadic through the last few seasons as the T8 powerhouse greedily grabbed most of the championships and blue ribbon race wins. Six titles in the past eight years tell the T8 tale.

Inarguably, in a results-driven world, Triple Eight is worthy of its sole official factory status. 

Walkinshaw Racing, relegated to receiving a technical and marketing support package offered to all other Holden teams, is putting on a brave face. This despite being left with a couple of out-of-contract drivers who won’t be thrilled by the loss of factory money, and a trailer full of soon-to-be-redundant merchandise.

Red -Bull -HRT-Racing -HoldensIn the shakeup, the team formerly known as HRT might struggle to retain the highly regarded (and hardly inexpensive) drivers James Courtney and Garth Tander.

Owner Ryan Walkinshaw has made the point that his links with Holden are strong and will continue, on track and with the HSV road car operation. But with Holden to source imports from Europe and South Korea, it’s anyone’s guess how many GM products Walkinshaw might have to play with into the future.

The other big news is that as the sole factory team T8 has exclusive rights to develop and build the next-gen Holden Commodore-badged Supercar to debut in the series in 2018.

Quotes attributed to Holden’s long-time motor sports manager Simon McNamara suggesting the smaller teams could simply call (T8 boss) Roland Dane and send him a cheque did have alarm bells ringing among other outfits that prefer to do their own in-house chassis and engine work.

Red -Bull -HRT-V8-SupercarsMost have calmed down after reassurances that much of the 2018 componentry will not be as expensive. Klimenko remains adamant that the series needs to support the small, independent teams, or else they may disappear.

T8’s exclusive Holden works deal will extend to the still-to-be-confirmed engine for 2018, expected to be a turbocharged V6 engine (a marketing match with the Opel Insignia that is to replace the current VF Commodore at the end of 2017).

This raises another fascinating loomingl scenario too…how the hard-bitten V8 tribal nutters might react to a V6 turbo in the next Commodore Supercar. The uproar may match the Eureka Stockade conflict of 1854.

Red -Bull -HRT-Supercars -in -pitsNo mistake though is that the big positive to take from the decision by Holden is that Australia’s most successful motor sporting brand is committed to staying in Supercars, at least until the end of 2019.

The Lion may be the only stayer, although there is optimism that Nissan will elect to continue its involvement. As yet though it hasn’t indicated whether it’s going or sticking. Ford withdrew officially at the end of last year, and Volvo is out at the end of 2016.

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