Yesterday I examined some of the history behind the all conquering Triple Eight UK run Vauxhall Astra Coupe in the BTCC, and today I’ll continue the Triple Eight theme by hopping across to the other side of the world to delve into the history of a race team which has rapidly become the benchmark outfit in V8 Supercars, Triple Eight Racing Australia. Seven teams, and six drivers championships since their V8 Supercars debut back in 2003 represents an incredible run of success for the Brisbane based team now known as Red Bull Racing Australia. From meagre beginnings in 2003/2004 to six consecutive teams titles starting in 2010 Roland Dane has built a team which is rapidly turning into a V8SC dynasty. Read on to find out how.
The original UK run Triple Eight Racing was founded in 1996 and is perhaps most well known in the UK for running Vauxhall’s and most recently MG’s BTCC programs, with great degrees of success. It wasn’t until 2003 that Triple Eight expanded overseas, purchasing the facilities and team of Brisbane based Briggs Motorsport and Triple Eight made their full V8SC debut as Team Betta Electrical in the 2003 Sandown 500 with Paul Radisich and 1998 BTCC champion Rickard Rydell behind the wheel.
Fast forward to 2004, and Triple Eight Race Engineering made their fully fledged debut as a V8SC outfit at the Clipsal 500 with Radisich and Max Wilson behind the wheel of the two Ford BA Falcons which Triple Eight would run that season. Ultimately, despite having strong pace at many of the rounds, backed up by Radisich’s podium finish at Pukekhoe, poor reliability would cost T8 in their debut year and they finish a lowly 19th (Radisich) and 28th (Wilson) in the standings. Hardly a sign of the things to come.
If 2004 was a poor season by their standards, 2005 was quite the opposite and it was in ’05 that we saw the first signs of what would become T8’s incredible run of V8 Supercar success. Still known as Team Betta Electrical, and still running two Ford BA Falcons the arrival of two time champion Craig Lowndes and the experienced Steven Ellery saw T8 just miss out on the drivers title to Russell Ingall and Stone Brothers Racing (SBR), despite victories at Sandown (Lowndes/Muller) and a podium at Bathurst (Ellery/Macrow). The arrival of Lowndes, and the class leading SBR engines ensured the foundations for future success at T8 were well laid in 2005, and more success was on it’s way the following year.
2006 saw the arrival of Jamie Whincup, and the start of a partnership between Dane, Lowndes and Whincup that would go on to become one of the most legendary in Australian Motorsport history, and one which is still going strong to this very day. Although T8 and Lowndes were controversially thwarted in the their quest for a drivers title at Philip Island, with the help of four podiums from Whincup T8 secured third place in the teams championship for the second year in succession behind HSV and FPR, and a Bathurst win for Lowndes and Whincup went some way to sweeten the pain of missing out on the drivers title.
Triple Eight became Team Vodafone in 2007, and the continuation of Lowndes and Whincup behind the wheel saw T8 miss out on the drivers title by just two points with Tander coming in ahead of Jamie Whincup. Lowndes and Whincup won again at Bathurst as T8 ran the new Ford BF Falcon on their way to second place in the teams championship and we got our first glimpse into the future with the form of JW, but I’m sure not even the most die-hard T8 fan could have predicted the unprecedented levels of success the team were about to achieve.
After just four seasons in the sport, T8 had gone on to achieve things even some of V8SC’s cornerstone teams could only dream of achieving. Helped by a combination of Dane’s shrewd business sense, top drawer sponsorship deals and the signing of a relatively (at that time) unproven driver in Whincup 2008 was to be the year when T8 began to exert a huge influence on Australian motorsport. Helped by 15 race victories over the course of the season including at Bathurst, Jamie Whincup went on to claim the 2008 V8SC drivers title from Mark Winterbottom. Lowndes’s 4th place finish and two race victories also helped Triple Eight Australia secure the teams title for the first time in their five year history in the series.
Despite rapidly becoming the top performing Ford team and helping the manufacturer to the 2008 constructors title Triple Eight were of the the teams culled from Ford’s funding stable for 2009 with only Ford Performance Racing and Stone Brothers Racing (now Erebus) surviving the chop. Despite this, Triple Eight and the new Falcon FG again stormed to victory with JW taking 11 race wins on his way to a successive drivers title. Four wins from Lowndes were this season, not enough to ensure T8 defended their teams title which went the way of the Holden Racing Team and for the first time in four seasons, T8’s run of three successive Bathurst victories was halted by Davison and Tander from HRT. Triple Eight secured 15 out of 23 race wins in the now independently run and Hog’s Breath badged Ford Falcon in 2009 and their switch to Holden at the end of the season marked the start of one of the biggest power shifts in the history of touring car racing, and one which the management at Ford Australia must have regretted for many years to come.
Now in the same machinery as rivals HRT, the Holden VE Commodore was Triple Eight’s weapon of choice for the 2010 season as once again Whincup and Lowndes were behind the wheel, this time joined by Mark Skaife, Andy Priaulx and Steve Owen for the Enduros. Despite winning the first four races of the season in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, Whincup was unable to defend his title in the #1 Vodafone Commodore, and it eventually went the way of DJR’s James Courtney at the Sydney Telstra 500. Despite losing out on the drivers title, Lowndes and Skaife ensured the Peter Brock Trophy went back to Brisbane for the fourth time in five years as they took victory on the mountain and Triple Eight regained the teams championship, this time heading up DJR. Triple Eight’s first year as a Holden outfit also ensured that Holden secured the manufacturers award from Ford.
It was business as usual in 2011 as Triple Eight secured a one-two finish in the drivers championship with Whincup heading up Lowndes to win his third title and although Lowndes and Skaife missed out on retaining their Bathurst crown they were still part of an epic end to the great race as the #888 hunted down the HRT Commodore of Tander and Percat in the closing laps. Whincup and Lowndes’s performances in 2011 ensured that Triple Eight comfortably swept up the teams championship for the second year in a row, this time heading up FPR and SBR and although no-one would have thought it possible, more domination was to come. T8 also began their relationship with Tekno Autosports in the 2011 season, one which would prove to be a very fruitful one indeed for the Tekno team.
2012 was the final year T8 were known as Team Vodafone, as their long time title sponsor departed at the end of the year. However they dominated the season, winning 19 out of 30 races as Whincup cantered to his fourth drivers title securing it with one event still to go. It was a similar story in the teams championship as victories for Lowndes/Luff at the Sandown 500 and Whincup/Dumbrell at Bathurst helped the #888 finish second behind JW in the drivers standings and Triple Eight yet again head up FPR in the teams table. The top end of the pitlane was fast becoming Triple Eight’s new home.
Triple Eight now known as Red Bull Racing entered the Next Gen era (2013) with the new Holden VF Commodore, and exactly where they left off at the end of 2012. Four podiums at the Clipsal 500 ensured that T8 were once again right at the head of the field before an incredible run of six wins in seven races saw Whincup grab a sizeable championship lead by the time the series had the reached the Skycity Triple Crown at Darwin. Despite a mid season wobble Lowndes and Whincup recovered to finish on the podium five out of a possible eight times during the Enduros although T8 weren’t able to beat Ford to the Bathurst crown. Nevertheless, 2013 saw Whincup win his third straight drivers title, Lowndes and Luff win the PIRTEK Enduro Cup and Triple Eight once again beat long time rivals FPR to the teams title.
The addition of Volvo, Nissan and Mercedes/Erebus to the grid over the course of 2013/2014 did little to prevent Whincup winning a record sixth drivers title in 2014 and Triple Eight cleaning up the rest of the titles with another victory over FPR in the teams title and Whincup/Dumbrell securing the Enduro Cup after wins at Sandown and on the Gold Coast. Although Whincup/Dumbrell would famously be denied the 2014 Bathurst 1000 victory by Mosert and Morris after running out of fuel on the last lap JW won another 14 out of 38 races to win the title by over 500 points from soon to be teammate Shane Van Gisbergen. Four consecutive drivers championships and five teams titles on the trot helped cement Roland Dane and his all conquering Triple Eight outfit as the firm top dog of V8 Supercar racing however for the first time in a long time, and as we all know, all the titles didn’t go Triple Eight’s way in 2015.
With Winterbottom and PRA taking the drivers title, and Tander/Luff and HRT taking the Enduro Cup an uncharacteristic mid season slump for both Lowndes and Whincup saw just the teams title and Peter Brock Trophy (Lowndes/Richards) head back in Brisbane in 2015. Nevertheless, such was Triple Eight’s form towards the end of last season it was clear that by the final few rounds at least, they were once again the team to beat but Mark Winterbottom and the now independently run long time rivals of Triple Eight, Prodrive Racing Australia put together a blistering opening two thirds of the season to take Frosty’s long awaited maiden crown.
2016 has proved itself to be more unpredictable than ever before, yet after plenty of chaos filled races we find Jamie Whincup and Triple Eight leading the championship once again. The arrival of Shane Van Gisbergen and the expansion to three cars is a clear signal of intent from Roland Dane that he has no signs of relenting in his quest to continue to operate at the very highest level of V8 Supercar racing, and I find it very hard to comprehend a team eclipsing Triple Eight at the top of Australian motorsport for the next few seasons at least. It’s been a short history, and one with plenty of highs and not too many lows, but if one thing’s for certain, it’s that Triple Eight, Roland Dane, Mark Dutton, Adrian Burgess, Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes have written themselves into the history books with a long term display of dominance, pace and professionalism that will be very hard to match in the future.