Change for good?

Monday 6th June, 2011 - 2:02pm


Toll Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander

Toll Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander

In modern day motor racing you don’t have to be too far off your game to look pretty damn ordinary – regardless of the discipline – and it’s fair to say that of late the Holden Racing Team has not been anything like the dominant force they once were. Yes, they are in the mix and certainly not included in the ranks of also rans, but next year will be 10 years since the much heralded Holden factory team won its last V8 Supercars title.

Of course, they are not alone in being a well-credentialed former champion team, with Stone Brothers Racing also looking to rediscover the vital ingredients needed to mount a serious championship challenge, but at this very moment in time SBR have nothing like the budget the boys at Clayton have at its disposal.

Interestingly, both teams enjoyed a similar period of dominance, but with SBR scoring the most recent of their three championships long after HRT scored its last one, it must seem like an eternity since the factory reds were trouncing the opposition with regular monotony.

The Toll HRT Commodores

The Toll HRT Commodores

Such was the advantage of the then Bridgestone-shod HRT machines that they regularly won at the slowest possible speed. This ensured the Holden teams were not the subject of a parity assessment which would have hurt all of the GM teams, especially those not running at the pointy end of the field.

Last week’s news that managing director, Craig Wilson, and long-time team manager Rob Crawford had departed – or been told to depart – is the clearest indication yet that times are changing at HRT. A closer look at the once-dominant operation will also show that many other key personnel have moved on since those halcyon days and Mike Henry, together with the soon to be appointed managing director, will need to move quickly and make some hard decisions if the team is going to re-visit those championship successes from almost a decade ago.

HRT has at its disposal two of the top six V8 Supercars drivers and while Garth Tander is battling away to hang onto a top three championship position, defending champ James Courtney is yet to unlock the secret to making the red cars going quick enough, or last long enough, to regularly trouble the front-runners.

Toll HRT's racing Operations Manager Mike Henry

Toll HRT's Racing Operations Manager Mike Henry

But are these two former championship winners victims of recent misgivings?

Cast your mind back to the start of the 2010 championship season and the eagerly awaited debut of the TeamVodafone Commodores. It was a widely held belief that despite the supreme capabilities of the Triple Eight Race Engineering outfit that the Roland Dane-led team would take a few races to hit their straps with their new Commodores. Wrong. They came out swinging and Jamie Whincup took four wins from the first four races of the year, sending a shockwave through all teams and none more so than HRT.

The success of the Triple Eight-built cars exposed HRT more than any other team in the field and instantly new cars were commissioned. After a detailed chassis re-design, followed by a strenuous build program – and a quick Winton shakedown – both Tander and Will Davison debuted their brand new machines at Darwin … just short of 12 months ago.

These cars though, did not show the form expected of them, and after some solid crashes for both Garth and Will later in the season the team must have been pleased and relieved to see seasons’ end. If only, so they could regroup after what must have been a heavy over-budget year of expenditure.

In the off-season, Courtney was recruited from DJR, bringing his ‘gun’ engineer Scott Sinclair with him and much was expected of the rejuvenated outfit, despite concerns that Courtney and Tander may fail to reach a harmonious working relationship. From the outside this appears not to be the case, but I’m sure it’s not lost on either of them that GT is comfortably leading the two-horse HRT race.

I would be surprised if Tander was anywhere other than HRT next year and have no doubt that he and Courtney will have held session with sympathetic ears on more than one occasion, because they must both be well and truly miffed at the current situation and lack of genuine competitiveness. Garth is a savvy individual and as sharp as a tack, while Courtney knows how to work the boardroom to his advantage … he also has some strong players in his corner and in many high places.

Henry will be a welcome returnee to the HRT ranks and won’t need to change too much to reinvigorate the energy of his troops, but does he have all that he needs from both a personnel and financial perspective to mount a serious challenge to the current form teams?

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