IN­SIDE SU­PER­CARS

Inside Sport - - CONTENTS - BY FOX SPORTS’ MARK SKAIFE

The thing that has most sur­prised me about the 2017 Su­per­cars sea­son has been the gen­uine im­prove­ment at DJR Team Penske. As a re­sult, we have the mak­ings of a return to the great Ford vs Holden ri­val­ries from tour­ing cars’ great­est eras.

The sport in Aus­tralia has grown up on Peter Brock vs Al­lan Mof­fat and Brock vs Dick John­son through­out the ages, or maybe even yours truly vs Glenn Se­ton. In more mod­ern times it’s been Jamie Whin­cup vs Mark Win­terbo‡om. Whether you’re talk­ing La­bor vs Lib­eral, Colling­wood vs Carl­ton or Ford vs Holden, all are ri­val­ries rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the so­cial fabric of Aus­tralia.

Per­son­ally, this year’s Su­per­cars sea­son has brought back mem­o­ries of when Brock was win­ning ev­ery­thing and then all of a sud­den a Mof­fat would emerge. This time around though, it just so hap­pens there’s a cou­ple of Ki­wis who are dom­i­nat­ing pro­ceed­ings.

Nis­san mo­tor­sport’s in­ter­ven­tion at cer­tain pe­ri­ods has been con­tro­ver­sial, and they’ve main­tained their com­mit­ment to the sport, which is fan­tas­tic. But at the end of the day we have this red vs blue ba‡le which is still burn­ing brightly across the Su­per­cars land­scape.

AŽer ShaneVan Gis­ber­gen came out at the Clip­sal 500 in Ade­laide at the start of the sea­son and bagged a max­i­mum-300-point haul, you would’ve been for­given for think­ing the Red Bull Holden Rac­ing team, with SVG and Whin­cup on board, was going to dom­i­nate.

But fast for­ward to Au­gust, and pre- the en­durance races, and ar­guably pre- the big­gest race in the coun­try – Bathurst – noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. At time of print we are smack-bang in the mid­dle of ar­guably the clos­est cham­pi­onship ba‡le in his­tory, with just 12 leader­board points sep­a­rat­ing first and sec­ond out of 2058 awarded so far, or a minis­cule 0.05 per­cent.

The Red Bull Holden Rac­ingTeam has prob­a­bly played sec­ond fid­dle to DJRTeam Penske in 2017. The resur­gence of Ford has been un­be­liev­able. Sco‡ McLaugh­lin, who is only 24 years of age, has had a sea­son like no other. Think about this: he has equalled the Brock and Mof­fat records for pole po­si­tions. If you can be­lieve it, at time of writ­ing he’d spent roughly 70 per­cent of the sea­son on pole. That’s ex­tra­or­di­nary.

McLaugh­lin has just shown in­cred­i­ble out­right speed. But you can’t do it with­out great prepa­ra­tion, se­ri­ous de­vel­op­ment by your team, or with­out a proper rap­port with your en­gi­neer. Re­mem­ber – McLaugh­lin’s en­gi­neer came from Red Bull Rac­ing Aus­tralia last year and now he’s at DJRTeam Penske. When the French­man Ludo Lacroix made the jump to join DJR, it set the pit lane on fire. Roger Penske said it was going to take three years for them to be gen­uine con­tenders ... well, this is their third year. Ev­ery­thing is com­ing to fruition for those guys.

Peo­ple don’t re­ally recog­nise it, and I don’t think Shane would’ve known ei­ther, but when you’re the cham­pion, there’s a lot of pres­sure that comes with it. Ev­ery time there’s a com­ment about the sport, the me­dia goes to the cham­pion for a re­ac­tion. Ev­ery time there’s a good re­sult, there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion you’re going to come up with an­other good one at your next out­ing. When there’s a bad re­sult, peo­ple want ex­pla­na­tions: if you’re not lead­ing the se­ries or a re­spec­tive race meet­ing ... why? Es­pe­cially when you’re the fac­tory team driver for Holden. I’ve lived that example: you’re ex­pected to win the races. It’s a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity on the young Kiwi. It just so hap­pens there’s an­other young Kiwi who has been the dom­i­nant fac­tor, and who leads the cham­pi­onship going into the en­duros.

From a Holden per­spec­tive at Bathurst this year, your red-hot op­por­tu­ni­ties are clearly Whin­cup and Paul Dum­brell, plus Van Gis­ber­gen and new part­ner Ma‡ Camp­bell. Craig Lown­des and Steve Richards have won ten Bathursts be­tween them, too – you don’t for­get how to do that. On the Ford side, the red-hot team is McLaugh­lin, who has gained two ex­pert French­men in Lacroix as en­gi­neer and new driv­ing team-mate Alex Pre­mat, cre­at­ing a for­mi­da­ble com­bi­na­tion. Then there’s the combo of Fabian Coulthard andTony D’Al­berto, with Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen also fly­ing the flag for Pro­drive in a Ford.

There is also a myr­iad of other well-trav­elled vet­er­ans who are heavy­weight con­tenders like Mark Win­terbo‡om, GarthTan­der, James Court­ney and Rick Kelly, all whom will be hard to beat across the moun­tain this year. And again, don’t dis­count Nis­san in all of this – they’ve shown their cars are ge‡ing be‡er and be‡er and will be looking to snatch vic­tory from Ford and Holden.

Coin­ci­dently, a quar­ter of a cen­tury has passed since my­self and Jim Richards snatched vic­tory at Bathurst in con­tro­ver­sial cir­cum­stances in the rain in 1992 – a mo­ment etched in Aussie sport­ing his­tory. It’s in this tra­di­tion that 2017 is looking like an­other epic show­down at Mt Panorama.

“At the end of the day we have this red vs blue bat­tle which is still burn­ing brightly across the Su­per­cars land­scape.”

Holden’s Jamie Whin­cup and Ford’s Scott McLaugh­lin are break­ing clos­est-ever Su­per­cars se­ries records.

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