He was the least fancied of the four ‘locals’ in the field, but Dick Johnson Racing’s new recruit Scott Pye will be leading the charge of the Adelaide-raised drivers on Saturday at the Clipsal 500.
The 24-year-old endured a horror rookie year in the V8 Supercars Championship last season, so much so that a second chance had seemed unlikely.
A series of crashes and a strained relationship with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport had seen Pye and manager Roland Dane looking to the Carrera Cup for 2014 in order to resurrect the youngster’s career.
Coincidentally, it was a decision by fellow South Australians Nick Percat and (Racing Entitlements Contract holder) James Rosenberg to head to Walkinshaw Racing instead of DJR that opened the door for Pye.
Having watched his new driver record top 10 starting positions for both Saturday races, team owner Johnson made it clear that DJR is focussed on extracting Pye’s full potential.
“I think the most important thing for any driver in a team is to make sure that they are respected within the team and given the opportunity to perform,” Johnson told Speedcafe.com.
“Otherwise if they are in an environment that they are unhappy in you will not get the most out of them.
“He obviously did a really good job in qualifying, but you only have a look at how close the times are to realise there is not an awful lot in it.
“You go up another tenth or so and all of a sudden you are sort of right on the front row of the grid.
“It’s the little things that make the difference.”
Pye’s first proper day in his DJR office wasn’t all smooth sailing, with a spin into the Turn 6 tyre wall in Practice 3 necessitating repairs.
Chasing rear-grip, a task that has been all too familiar for Ford runners since its rear-wing was clipped at the start of 2013, was the order of practice, before a major change prior to qualifying transformed the #16’s fortunes.
“The car was mega in qualifying and I’m pretty confident we can keep the car up there for the races, but our main priority is to score points,” Pye told Speedcafe.com ahead of Saturday’s twin 125km heats.
“I think these two sprint races might change the mentality of a few people (to be more aggressive than under the old 250km race format), so we are just trying to keep the car straight.
“If we can keep it in the top 10 it would be nice. I think we’ve got the pace to be up there.”
Unusually for a rookie campaign, Pye’s season-opener in Adelaide last year was arguably his best performance of 2013.
Any suggestion that the strong showings could be linked to any sort of ‘home advantage’ however is met with a wry smile.
“I think last year we rolled out with a Triple Eight car and didn’t have time to detune it before Adelaide, so we were quick here,” he said of Clipsal 2013, where he scored 11th place results in qualifying and Sunday’s race
“Throughout the year though we lost our feet a little bit, basically detuned the car as much as possible and struggled a lot to get it back on track.
“Towards the end of the year my engineer did a good job and I think our pace showed it. I’ve just kicked off here from that.
“These guys on the other hand went from zero to hero last year. They had the toughest start to the season out of anyone and ended up really competitive.”
The resurrection of DJR over the last 12 months has been well documented, with the team emerging from a pre-season cash crisis to return to race winning form by mid-season.
Pye firmly believes that the assembled crew and machinery is the right combination with which he can shine.
“I feel really happy here,” he said.
“It is a breath of fresh air and I keep saying it, but there is a great bunch of guys here.
“When DJR called at the end of December I couldn’t believe it. Obviously I was stepping away from the series and thinking about doing Porsche at that time.
“After seeing the results last year and with Campbell (Little, sporting director) here… I think we can do a pretty good job.”