At the time of going to print, the V8 Supercars Racing Season had only one event remaining – at Homebush, during the first weekend of December.
On the Monday evening following the Homebush race, the Series conducts its gala evening, where officials, team executives, drivers, media and assorted VIPs gather to celebrate successes or drown sorrows of the season that has just been.
During the evening, recognition medals will be handed out honouring 10 different areas of superior performance in categories such as Most Popular Driver, Champion Team Award, the Young Gun Rookie, best presented Team and, of course, the Championship Winner.
In the days following it is a tradition of teams, crews, drivers and manufacturer mates to gather privately in a much more informal ‘Mad Monday’-style chill-out, when the most colourful and imaginative awards get discussed and debated, on everything from who gets paid what, to who should retire, all the couldabeen scenarios and who were the main oxygen thieves in the season.
Forgetting the official and non-official awards, let’s take a look at some FACTS, with a brief stocktake on V8 Supercars, as Season 2015 nears its completion.
If getting a great mix of results and performance uplift across the ENTIRE 25 drivers was a critical component of success, then the sport has some challenges.
The question needs to be asked: Does the Series need a wake-up call to realise the drivers are the stars of this business? Drivers hold the key to the success or otherwise of the entertainment package in this sport, but is the Series doing the planning, strategising and appropriately controlling the driver component as comprehensively as it should? My fear is the Series is preoccupied with event management as its priority.
With one race to go, the Top 10 performing drivers look well set. Compare this year’s Top 10 with 2014 and there is only one change, and just two from 2013. The Top 10 Club is extremely hard to break into. Of the 33 different mainstream drivers who have lined up on the grid over a full season for the past three years, there have only been 13 drivers figure in this elite performance band of the sport.
Just as limited are the teams whose superior performance has enabled them to also be consistent Top 10 season performers at the expense of so many others.
Drivers who consistently finish a season outside the Top 10 will always advance the notion that if they were given the same equipment/car as Jamie Whincup they would always be on the podium and be Championship contenders. Well you can drive a horse and cart through that argument.
Whilst every driver in this year’s field of 25 has a very special driving talent, the variation between top and bottom tier is considerable, particularly with race craft and avoidance of self-harm over an entire race. For too long we have seen a situation in our sport where money and marriages of convenience often come before raw talent. Every other elite sport operates on talent as the sole determinant for team selection.
My breakdown of Driver Competence/Talent Levels for the class of 2015 goes like this:
Class A = 4
Class B = 11
Class C = 10
In 2015, team ownership and investment in racing infrastructure centred around 10 racing entities who, between them, fielded 25 cars on the grid: three x 4-car teams, one x 3-car team, four x 2-car teams and two x 1-car teams.
If we were to take the 888 Team as the benchmark over recent years, I likewise consider the sport also has three distinct layers of Team Competence and Capability, for a combination of reasons (not the least Budget and Team Management):
Class A = two teams covering six cars
Class B = four teams covering 10 cars
Class C = four teams covering nine cars.
Our Sport has only one ‘A Class’ fan hero who totally dominates this space with Brock-esque distinction, passion and mass appeal. Craig Lowndes is the sport’s greatest asset.
For me there is only one other natural X-factor driver in the Series coming through the ranks with film star qualities, who can attract new fans, increase race attendances and electrify TV audiences. That is Scott McLaughlin, who seems a ready replacement for Lowndes when he retires.
The Series desperately needs to devise a deliberate strategy to develop, promote and grow young personalities and heroes on the grid. It’s not hard. For our sport to reach its true potential, we need, across all car brands, a minimum of five drivers with superstar recognition, displaying professional flair, A Class driving talent, leadership and X-factor charismatic communication skills.
All sports grow and thrive when administrators take the high ground with careful and fair-minded strategic planning designed to ‘even out’ the competition. The level of dollars sports like the AFL invest in a well-structured levelling process with new talent is something our Series needs to do.
I have a belief (and corresponding concern) that our sport is in status quo mode. There is little or no investment, or even robust debate, by the sport to elevate C Class teams into B and B Class into A, and have far more influence/control over driver matters – like this year, with some regressive team decisions on driver substitutions.
RELOAD FOR 2016 SEASON
The most exciting feature of 2016 is to have four young, talented, fearless drivers aged 21-25 – Chaz Mosert, Scott Pye, Cam Waters and Scott Mc Laughlin – driving in A and B Class winning potential teams. This is brilliant for the sport, but must be backed up with another four young men and, hopefully, women entering the sport as mainstream drivers again in 2017 and then again in 2018. A young talent bank ready for the main Series each year will quickly remove any need for a driver salary cap. But this won’t happen if this time next year we have another repeat of the crazy seat shuffle we are witnessing for 2016.
Our sport appears set to see 40% OF ITS DRIVERS SHUFFLE TEAM SEATS in 2016! Imagine for one moment if 40% of the players in the AFL or NRL all moved to different teams one season to the next… Some drivers are now moving to their fifth different team! This level of movement sends a poor message to driver-loyal fans.
My four suggestions to the Series to break the status quo and promote growth, add stronger fan interest and make a much-needed start for a more even competition:
- Introduce a Series Sub Division alongside the existing Championship Series Premier Division 1: All Non Factory Financially Assisted Teams for 2016 (approximately
All media reports and official reporting would always show and promote two separate tables, outlining the results throughout the year as below in the table:
(i) The Championship Series
(ii) Premier Division 1
- All teams whose aggregate average points in the year don’t meet a specific threshold should be permitted eight additional test days in the season, with the Series fully underwriting these test days for the teams and their drivers.
- V8 Supercars introduces and fully funds a biennial Driver Draft for 10 highly talented Australian and NZ 17-21 year-olds who will make up the V8SCA Series Academy. V8 Supercars conducts the Draft and allocates one Young Driver to each of the 10 Teams in V8 Supercars for a two-year period.
The Academy Drivers all participate in the eight test days and are guaranteed a generous minimum number of laps at each test, in two V8 Supercars that would be owned by the Series, and the two best rising stars participate in a minimum of two races in the later part of the season.
- Perhaps, however, the highest priority is to inject new blood/talent into the Board or, as this seems mission impossible, introduce a high-powered Marketing Subcommittee. If the Series can have a critically important Technical Commission reporting to the Board, it should likewise have a Marketing Group of equal clout.
Old saying: ‘Unless you make some changes nothing will ever change’. The Sport/Series is doing a commendable 8 out of 10 job, but it would be great to see more change to unlock the Sport’s 10 out of 10 potential.
RECOMMENDED TOP 10 RANKING
CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES OVER ALL
1 M. Winterbottom
2 C. Lowndes
3 D. Reynolds
4 G. Tander
5 S. Van Gisbergen
6 F. Coultard
7 J. Whincup
8 S. McLaughlin
9 C. Mostert
10 J. Courtney
2 D. Reynolds
3 S. Van Gisbergen
4 F. Coultard
5 C. Mostert
6 W. Davison
7 J. Bright
8 S. Pye
9 D. Wood
10 N. Percat
* No Manufacturer Financial Sponsorship