The winter months here in Europe, and the summer months over in Australia represent something of a no mans land for motor racing fans. Devoid of any on track action for three long months, by the time the Clipsal 500 comes around on March 3rd 2016, motorsport fans, and myself included will be eagerly anticipating the red lights going out on Saturday as 2016 looks set to be one of the most unpredictable Clipsal 500’s in recent V8 Supercar history. With almost 2/3 of the grid moving teams, cars or sponsors the starting grid on for the first 125km of the V8SC season will look extremely different to the last 250km we saw at Sydney Olympic Park and with a new champion lining up with the number one on the Bottle O Racing Falcon, we’re almost certainly in for a treat.
2016 could well go down as one of the most competitive championships in V8SC history, and as we desperately look for news ways to fill our weekends over the winter/summer breaks, here are a few of the reasons to already begin looking forward to next season.
Who’s going to be top dog at Triple Eight? There can be no doubt that SVG is one of the fastest drivers on the V8SC grid, and 888 boss Roland Dane could well be made to work even harder for his wages if fireworks erupt at the reigning teams champions. Whincup and Lowndes have a good working relationship and 2016 will mark a decade of the two being teammates. The introduction of SVG will bring a new dynamic to the squad, especially as Lowndes moves to the newly created Caltex backed Team Vortex, and the Kiwi’s committed and eye catching “full contact” approach to Touring Car racing will need to be carefully managed by the team if the three find themselves duking it out at the front of field.
Now, it has to be said that you don’t win six consecutive teams championships without knowing what you’re doing, so the arrival of SVG has obvisouly been a well thought out and planned procedure. Coming from the 888 backed Tekno Autosports, Van Gisbergen has proved more than enough times in his V8SC career that he is up there with the very best, and his arrival in a Red Bull backed Commodore next season alongside Whincup and Lowndes may be the closest thing V8SC has ever had to a super-team. Triple Eight will without doubt be strong next year, the question is, can anyone else match them?
Finally we should have two competitive Volvo’s. With the greatest of respect to Wall and Dalghren, Gary Rodgers Motorsport has effectively been a one car operation for the last two seasons, but the arrival of James Moffat should finally see both Volvo S60’s fulfilling their obvious potential. 2015 represented something of a dud year for GRM after the promise their debut season showed in 2014, that being said, given their disastrous start to the year, dogged by numerous in race incidents and reliability woes McLaughlin still managed to bring the lead Volvo home in a very respectable eighth in the championship table – another example of both the Kiwi’s immense talent and the Volvo S60’s potential. Moffat is a seasoned pro who after three difficult seasons with Nissan could finally get the chance he deserves to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Despite Frosty’s championship victory, there are some pressing questions to be answered at PRA next year. Frosty’s title win in Sydney was a well deserved and long awaited title for Prodrive, however rarely have they headed into a season with as many unknowns as they will face when Tim Edward’s squad roll up in Adelaide on March 3rd. Much of PRA’s work was done in the early and middle part of the season where Winterbottom, Mostert, Reynolds and the Ford Falcon we’re virtually untouchable, however a return to form for RBRA and most notably Whincup coincided with a remarkable drop off in results over at Prodrive. Mostert’s absence must be taken into account when addressing this issue and the teams Championship would have most likely been coloured blue if not for Chaz’s accident at Bathurst, however if Triple Eight hit the ground running in Melbourne, it’s hard to see any team, even PRA keeping up the chase.
Negatives aside, there is however plenty for Prodrive fans to look forward to in 2016. If as expected, Cam Waters fills the seat of the departing Reynolds then PRA have a driver line up to match the best of them, including arch rivals Triple Eight. The blend of Frosty’s composure, consistency and experience alongside the raw pace and talent of Waters with Mostert fitting perfectly in between is the payroll of dreams for many V8SC team principals, and it’s up to Prodrive to provide them with a Ford Falcon capable of matching the ever present Commodores at the front of the field.
Maybe, just maybe HRT will start to fulfill their potential. Walkinshaw Racing’s decision to enter just two cars in next years championship under the Holden Racing Team banner reflects the growing urgency that Holden’s flagship, and Australia’s most successful motorsport team start bagging results sooner rather than later. Often reduced to second best of the Holden’s after Triple Eight in recent years, 2016 will mark the dawn of a new era for Burgess and Co. at HRT, an era which must deliver success. In Tander and Courtney they have two experienced and capable drivers who when provided with a competitive package have delivered consistent results but the last few seasons have seen the former champions reduced to vultures, scrapping and picking up of the odd win here and there, hardly the kind of results the bosses over at Holden will want to see. Yes, a splattering of podiums and the occasional race victory would be perfectly acceptable for the likes of Erebus and DJR Team Penske, for a manufacturer backed effort and as one the most famous teams in motorsport, results of that kind are hardly enough.
The two car team will no doubt allow a greater amount of resources and time to pumped into the HRT Commodores in the run up to the Clipsal 500 in March, and it will be essential for the team to hit the ground running and ahead of the expected competition from RBRA and PRA. Courtney’s strategic masterclass of a victory on his return at the Castrol Gold Coast 600 showed the paddock that the HRT beast remains very much alive, however the biggest task for Burgess in 2016 will be trying wake V8SC’s sleeping giant.
The 2016 International V8 Supercars Championship begins with the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide on March 3rd 2016.