The annual silly season seems to be slowly getting into swing even earlier than usual this year, even after a record 2015 where over half the grid found themselves in new cars/teams for the season opening 2016 Clipsal 500. In light of all the recent debate, I’ve thrown my hat into the ring and given my assessment of what I would like to see happen to some of the key movers who are said to be out of contract at the end of the year. Of course, I’m not starting any rumors or false speculation, but merely giving my opinion on who could/should go where!
McLaughlin certainly holds the key to any potential moves over the course of the next few months, and I guess that as his contract talks with GRM have been postponed to after Bathurst, we may have to wait a while to find out his true destination for 2016. Even in motorsport, there’s not often smoke without fire and there certainly are a fair few people out there who think McLaughlin to DJR Team Penske is already a done deal, even if it isn’t signed on paper yet. It’s such a shame that Volvo decided to withdraw their support to Garry Rodgers and his team, because with Volvo on board I think the team had a chance of persuading McLaughlin to stay. However, with Volvo now gone, and potentially the cars and engines too, I think GRM’s chances of retaining McLaughlin are slimmer, though it would be great to see him stay.
McLaughlin has said he wants to win the championship for Garry and the team and it would be fantastic for everyone if he succeeded, but DJR Team Penske is looking more and more likely as a destination for one of the sport’s hottest properties as the season progresses. There was talk of McLaughlin moving to HRT, but in light of their current performances any move to the Walkinshaw run outfit would be a step sideways, or most probably backwards from where he is now at GRM. It would appear that McLaughlin’s loyalty seems to lie with GRM, but the racer and competitor in him probably lies at a team which have the financial resources to become one of the sport’s leading teams in the near future.
Verdict: Would be great to see him stay at GRM but looks destined to leave with DJR Team Penske the favoured option.
I feel sorry for Scott Pye, because no sooner has the 2016 season started and he is already having to answer questions about his plans for 2017. From what everyone understands, Pye is on a one year contract at DJR Team Penske, and with Fabian Coulthard signed to a multi year deal Pye looks like the obvious casualty should McLaughlin arrive at the team, unless they expand to run three cars which looks unlikely. Should Pye lose his seat, I think he could count himself extremely unlucky, because so far this season he has proved himself to be more than a match for his highly esteemed teammate, in my opinion at least.
With McLaughlin’s decision now due after Bathurst, it seems Pye has until October at least to convince the team he is worthy of a 2017 drive, but motorsport is sometimes a cruel business and I fear however strongly Pye performs between now and Bathurst, it may not be enough. It would be a huge shame to see Pye leave DJR, but should he be booted in favour of McLaughlin then at least there are some potential openings at some strong teams up and down the grid. A straight swap with McLaughlin would be the obvious option, and if Garry Rodgers can keep the Volvo cars and engines in Australia then GRM will still have an incredibly strong package next season, one which Pye should be more than able to make the most of. With Courtney and Tander still unsigned for next season, there also remains the possibility of a seat at HRT (should Holden remain in the sport), and as I mentioned in my post discussing HRT’s current woes, I think Pye could be just the type of driver they need to rejuvenate the team.
Verdict: He will be incredibly unfortunate if he lost his seat, but motorsport is brutal and Roger Penske has his sights set firmly on the top of Supercars. If he did go, then GRM could be a great option for Pye, providing they keep the Volvo’s. He would also fit in well at a new look HRT.
James Courtney and Garth Tander
Of course, it’s all relative (they are to some extent living the dream) but JC and GT are another two drivers I do feel a little sorry for, because they aren’t in cars which match their ability. I think both are still top drivers, and when the car is on song they have delivered results but some woeful qualifying performances are destroying any chances of success in what could be their last season at HRT. Both drivers often get quite a lot of stick on the VASC forums, but I think that both have the talent, and ability to win more than just the one championship, but it’s looking increasingly likely that their time is passing.
Should both drivers either choose not too, or not be given extensions at HRT then I think Courtney would be a good fit over at Nissan, and Tander at BJR – I know some journalists have already started the ball rolling with that rumour! I think both of those moves are career defining changes. Brad Jones Racing are a great team, perfectly demonstrated last time out at Winton but if Tander moves there, perhaps in place of Jason Bright who is also rumoured to out of contract then his chances of winning another championship are most likely over. Saying that, as things currently stand they also are at HRT.
Courtney has perhaps one big career move left in him, and a switch to the upward moving Nissan team could be a great move for both parties. From what I understand, Todd Kelly could potentially stand aside, and as a former champion Courtney still possesses some of that star quality which can both win races and bring in sponsors. I think given Todd Kelly’s much improved form this season, although he does still lack a little compared to his brother Rick and Michael Caruso, Nissan would be better of replacing Dale Wood, but of course money does talk at the end of the day!
Verdict: Courtney looks fed up at how noncompetitive the HRT Commodore currently is and I would love to see him in a factory supported Nissan drive. Garth Tander has still got the quality and speed to win races but should HRT decide on a drastic reshuffle, or Tander decide not to stay, then he would fit in well at BJR.
Caruso looks to be another driver out of contract, but it’s hard to see him leaving a Nissan team where he is one of their top performers. A fine podium at the Clipsal 500 has been followed up with a series of solid results which see’s him sit inside the championship’s top ten. From what I’ve read and seen, I’d be surprised to see Caruso leave Nissan, but yet again this all depends on Nissan confirming their future involvement in VASC.
Verdict: Has done enough to stay if Nissan decide to continue with Kelly Racing. He’s a very strong driver, but perhaps lacks the star power to be in consideration for a drive at one of the top, top teams.
I’m going to come straight out and say that I don’t think Percat is strong enough to take on the challenge of a drive at what could be a rejuvenated HRT. Despite scoring victory at Bathurst in 2011, and at this year’s Clipsal 500 Percat’s remaining results so far this season have hardly set the world alight, and although there’s not too many options out there for the Dunlop Series graduate, I just don’t think he’s the driver HRT need. There’s been plenty of talk about how Percat is a favourite of Ryan Walkinshaw, and he would seem like an obvious option considering his past ties with the team and Walkinshaw operation, and we also have to take in account that Percat has had few chances to show his talent in what is a highly popular, but heavily financially restricted Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport outfit.
It’s difficult to know what the future holds for Percat. LDM have said they want him to stay, but it’s clear that Percat see’s the 2016 silly season as his chance to get himself into a race winning car, he must ensure that he does it in a mature and respectful manner.
Verdict: Difficult to know what 2017 has in store. He needs to be careful not to burn bridges at LDM, taking a leaf out of McLaughlin’s book on that topic may go a long way to preserving his status as a VASC driver should the HRT door close.
Holdsworth seems to be relishing the chance to have a team built around him at Preston Hire Racing and I would expect him to stay on for at least another season. I think Holdsworth is an incredibly strong driver, but he hasn’t had the best of luck in his career moves. Should Holdsworth seek pastures new after 2016 then a return to the Walkinshaw outfit with HRT could be an option if JC or GT leave, possibly partnering the likes of Scott Pye. Other than that, or a move to BJR I don’t see too many opportunities for Holdsworth, and with Preston Hire Racing showing much improved form in recent races staying for 2017 could be a wise move.
Verdict: Unfortunate with previous career moves and it’d be nice to see him remaining in a rapidly improving team. He’s in a Triple Eight built car which still remains the class of the grid.