Scott Pye has emerged as a leading contender for a seat at Walkinshaw Racing next season as the squad prepares for its post-Holden Racing Team era.
Team owner Ryan Walkinshaw was at Sydney Motorsport Park over the weekend following the recent announcement that the team will lose its Holden factory status in 2017.
Walkinshaw’s driver line-up remains one of the biggest unknowns in the silly season with highly paid pair James Courtney and Garth Tander both out of contract.
Holden’s withdrawal leaves an approximately $2 million hole in the team’s budget for next year, where it will continue to field two Commodores.
Although Walkinshaw refuses to speak publicly about driver negotiations, Speedcafe.com understands that the team has been in talks with the self-managed Pye.
Pye is set to be replaced by Scott McLaughlin at DJR Team Penske next season and looms as a fast and relatively low-cost option for Walkinshaw.
The 26-year-old Pye has repeatedly proven a match for team-mate Fabian Coulthard at Penske, despite a string of misfortune including brake and steering failures at the most recent two events.
Walkinshaw is also thought to remain hopeful of retaining Courtney amid speculation linking the former champion to a host of other teams.
“As I’m sure you can imagine we are in constant dialogue with drivers and we aim to have the best driver pairing we can possibly have for next season,” Walkinshaw told Speedcafe.com when asked of negotiations.
Pye is meanwhile keeping a low public profile amid uncertainty over his future, repeatedly stressing that he’ll let his driving do the talking as the year progresses.
Walkinshaw meanwhile denied that his team may elect to look for a driver to bring a budget for its second car.
“Having pay drivers is certainly not something we’re looking at,” he said.
“We aim to have the best driver line-up we can possibly get for next season.
“We want to have a competitive team and to do that we would like to have two competitive drivers in our cars.”
The team’s commercial department is being headed up by former Supercars sales manager Troy Bundy following the recent departure of stalwart Bruce Stewart.
Noting the success of Prodrive since the exit of Ford factory backing, Walkinshaw says that the end of Holden’s direct involvement in the team’s commercial activities will bring with it new opportunities.
“There’s work to be done but when challenges unfold there is opportunity and new ability for us to bring additional revenue into the team going forward that wasn’t necessarily something we were able to do historically,” he said.
“That’s something we’re excited about.”
Ongoing sponsorship discussions will meanwhile have a major impact on a planned rebranding of the team for 2017.
Despite enthusiasm from fans, a return of the HSV Dealer Team banner used for Walkinshaw’s second team last decade is thought unlikely.
Although giving little away, Walkinshaw says that “we’re not going to do something just for the sake of nostalgia”.
“It’ll very much depend on how some of our discussions with future partners unfold,” he said.
“We were working on several different contingency plans depending on how things went with the Holden decision.
“What’s important is that now that’s all put to bed, we can move forward with as much energy as possible and focus on our other plans and turn them into reality.
“We will announce in the not-too-distant future what our plans are on branding, but some of that may potentially change depending on what partners come onboard.”