I don’t think you’d be at all wrong if you were to call HRT the sleeping giants of V8 Supercars. Despite not having won a drivers championship since 2002, I feel they do still retain an element of fear in the paddock and on their day they are capable of challenging the very best. However, I think it’s also fair to say that the HRT we’ve seen in recent seasons, although relatively strong and fairly consistent, hasn’t really managed to reach the dizzy heights of the team we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Downsizing to just two cars for 2016 should see a marked improvement in Walkinshaw’s/HRT’s form, and in Tander and Courtney they have to drivers who are more than capable of seeing out a championship campaign.
2015 wasn’t all doom and gloom for HRT. Tander and Luff finished a fine third at Bathurst on their way to the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, and at the following round on the Gold Coast Courtney and Perkins took a fine race win at the Gold Coast 600 in what was a fuel saving masterclass from Courtney, returning from his horrific accident at Sydney Motorsport Park. Even with Courtney out of action for five races (including two of the most important) HRT still managed to secure 3rd place in the teams championship with 5191 points, just 363 behind Prodrive and coincidentally, a 363 point improvement on 2014. So you could say HRT made progress in 2015, but I won’t, because I don’t think you could find many people who would say they did.
Stagnated, or steady would be a more accurate word to describe HRT over the last few seasons, and bar Tander and Percat’s Bathurst victory in 2011, and this years Enduro Cup there has been little major silverware to celebrate. I do tentatively buy into the optimism however that 2016 should see a HRT make a marked improvement.
In Garth Tander HRT have a driver capable of performing at his best on the occasions which matter most, and the 2007 V8SC champion will be instrumental if HRT are to return to the front. His dogged determination behind the wheel of his Commodore, and his uncanny ability to appear from nowhere in the final stint of races make GT one of the wisest and canniest drivers on the grid. After all, you don’t finish on the podium 141 times without knowing what you’re doing. It seemed to me that qualifying was GT’s achilles heel last season, and if he can find pace over one lap and get in front of some of HRT’s rivals, my money would be on Tander to stay there. I expect HRT/GRM/BJR and the rest of “midfield” (said with a pinch of salt) to be joined full time by DJR Team Penske at some point during this season, and when Pye and Coulthard find consistent pace in the Falcon, bagging a good grid slot will become even more important than it was during 2015.
Despite having numerous doubters since he won his championship back in 2010, Courtney I feel has proved his worth at HRT, and with more consistency would feature a lot higher up in the championship table. JC got off to a blistering start in 2015, scoring four podiums in the first six races of the season before PRA really began to find their feet and an impressive mid season resurgence was tragically cut short by his horrific accident. For someone who had suffered such nasty injuries, the way he came back and drove at the GC600 and the remainder of the season goes a long way to justifying his place in the team, however in order to really challenge V8SC’s top two teams, I feel Courtney, as well as Tander need to make the most of the opportunities when the HRT Commodore perhaps isn’t one of the strongest packages at a race weekend.
We can all see that HRT seem to come good on street circuits, for reasons unknown to myself anyway, and it’s often a case of when they’re on the money they’re right there, and when their car isn’t suited to the track, they’re miles away. Being stronger at some circuits than others is by no means a championship breaker, but how many times during 2015 did we see a HRT in the top five/six at one round, and then nowhere the next? To really move forward, scoring consistent top ten finishes, even at their weaker tracks surely has to be one the targets for 2016.
I’ll finish off by pointing out that whilst I do think HRT have underachieved in recent seasons, I really do hope 2016 bears better results for the team. The way Tander and Courtney go racing, even against each other is what touring car racing should be, and as they showed at the Gold Coast, they’re more than willing to duke it out on the track and laugh it off in the garage afterwards, something which I’m sure all the fans appreciate. In Adrian Burgess they have a team principal who knows how to treat his drivers, and run a solid and efficient race team, and if they can mix all the ingredients in the same bowl, at the right time, then HRT certainly have the recipe for success in 2016. The trimming down to two cars has come at the right time, and is certainly the right decision, I’m betting on Burgess and co to trouble Triple Eight and Prodrive a lot more than they did last season.