Supercars veteran turned Fox Sports pundit Russell Ingall runs his eye over the field ahead of next weekend’s annual Adelaide 500 curtain raiser.
Next weekend will see the start of an expanded 16 round Supercars season which will once again see 26 drivers do battle for Australian motorsport’s most coveted championship crown.
In the final instalment of a two part feature, the 2005 Supercars champion sat down with Speedcafe.com editor Tom Howard to predict the fortunes of Erebus Motorsport, Nissan Motorsport, Walkinshaw Andretti United, Brad Jones Racing, Tekno Autosports, Preston Hire Racing, 23Red Racing and Matt Stone Racing.
CLICK HERE for the first part of the preview.
Erebus Motosport (Holden ZB Commodore)
#9 David Reynolds (Erebus Penrite Racing)
#99 Anton De Pasquale (TBA)
SPEEDCAFE: One of the surprise packages last year was Erebus and David Reynolds in particular.
How do you see them going, now with the addition of Anton De Pasquale, who’s a little bit of a rising star?
INGALL: Some of his (Anton’s) drives in Super2 were pretty sharp last year, considering he probably had some of the oldest equipment in the field compared to what a lot have got, so he must have some sort of talent there.
It’s going to be hard to say, it always is with the new drivers like that, it’s hard to say because it’s a different atmosphere. So we won’t know until they hit the track but it was a surprise choice, I thought.
He may prove me wrong. I’m not saying how good or bad he is, I’m just saying it’s a surprise pick.
Well, maybe that’s the environment now that Supercars teams are looking for the next Scott McLaughlin, so they’re prepared to have a swing at someone.
But as far as Davey goes, it’s such a good news story for him. He’s found an environment that is friendly towards him, because he’s a little bit quirky, and you’ve got to be comfortable because it’s your second home.
I think probably the most important thing is (that) I like the way, after the entry of Erebus came into the sport, there’s been totally 180 degree spin going the other way with Barry Ryan that’s running it.
He’s turned out to be really good in the respect that it’s completely the opposite to the way they entered it.
They’re spending money in the right places, but concentrating more on systems and logistics and making sure that pit stops go well and that sort of thing.
I like the way he operates because he’s still old school but running it as a business, not a hobby.
SPEEDCAFE: Are they dark horses, do you think; especially Reynolds?
INGALL: Absolutely. His Bathurst obviously was sensational all the way through and his qualifying, if it wasn’t for Scott McLaughlin’s ridiculous lap, he would have been the hero of Bathurst in qualifying.
He’s really strong in qualifying, strong in racing, very rarely made a mistake. Absolutely, they can be real contenders if they come out strong, and I think their base package is actually quite user-friendly; and if it’s not fast, they know how to tune it up. They could actually be a good outsider there.
Nissan Motorsport (Nissan Altima)
#7 Andre Heimgartner (TBA)
#15 Rick Kelly (Sengled Racing)
#23 Michael Caruso (drive.com.au Nissan)
#78 Simona de Silvestro (Team Harvey Norman)
SPEEDCAFE: Moving onto Nissan, obviously it’s a huge year for them considering they’ve got to get results this year not only for themselves but to help keep the manufacturer in the sport, potentially. It’s a huge year for them, you think?
INGALL: For sure; last year of the Nissan deal and they want them to re-sign. There’s a real good way to keep Nissan onboard in this category and it’s to win races, so it’s time.
We keep saying it, but it is time; and they know that too. I think Todd Kelly stepping back and having a look at the big picture as far as running the show now will be a help, I reckon that’s a really good way of doing it.
I think there are some good improvements. I don’t know the new guy (Technical Director Nick Ollila) there that they’ve got behind the scenes, I don’t know of him, but fresh people and fresh attitudes about the way to go about racing doesn’t hurt.
If they get the odd upgrade here and there to their engines or something, things like that – I don’t reckon the chassis’s that bad – if they get the engine a little bit better, and they don’t need much, they could be good.
We want to see Nissan stay in the category and it’s good having another team up there as well, so they seemed to be pretty reasonable at the test and all we can do is just hope something does happen, but I don’t know.
I reckon if they get a little bit of assistance, they’ll be half a dark horse I think.
SPEEDCAFE: They’ve got a decent driver line-up too. There’s a blend of youth and experience with Rick Kelly, Andre Heimgartner, Simona de Silvestro, and Michael Caruso. There’s enough there, isn’t there, and we’ve certainly seen some flashes from Simona last year to say that there’s some talent there?
INGALL: It’s just a shame to see what happened to Simona at Newcastle but she was good there and I think she’s found out now, especially after she got pushed around a bit, that she has to push back.
And that’s a learning process, learning how your other competitors are and the environment, and as soon as she did that it was like ‘game on’ and off she went, so it was really, really impressive.
You’re right, she’ll be a lot stronger. The learning phase is over now; she can get in, knows the track(s), get in and do what she wants.
It’s an interesting time for Michael as well because he’s been frustrated over the years at not having the machinery underneath him, and he needs to perform. He’s another one that, the time’s there, and he knows that, he needs to start getting some scores on the board.
I like Michael, and I think he can actually perform. I reckon he’s actually got it in him to get a result, but like I said, you can’t do it all on your own, you still need the machinery to do it.
With Rick, there’s no reason why he can’t get a result and again it’s a matter of concentrating on the job.
He can still drive when he concentrates, no other distractions and just drives the thing, and that’s all he needs to do. Forget about being a team owner; all he has to do is concentrate on being a driver, and he can still pedal, so it could be a strong team there.
Walkinshaw Andretti United (Holden ZB Commodore)
#2 Scott Pye (Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing)
#25 James Courtney (Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing)
SPEEDCAFE: Walkinshaw Racing had a dismal 2017 but there’s obviously new investment there, there’s new belief I feel like when talking to them.
It’s going to take time for the new owners to get their heads around it, but you must think they will have a better year this year?
INGALL: Well it can’t go any worse, it has to be better. But, does changing the nameplate on the doors do anything? My reaction is ‘no’.
You can put whatever you want on the door but the thing is, it’s development and engineering where they need assistance, and that’s not talking out of turn; you talk to anyone in the team and they’ll tell you that. Obviously, because they haven’t got car speed.
Scott Pye seems to have got the most out of the car last year and I thought he drove quite well, and he sort of realises too that he’s got to make this work, so he knuckled down and got some good speed out of it.
James just got frustrated, and he can still steer a car, but he just got frustrated, and when you get a bit down, that obviously affects your performance.
I don’t know what you can do in a couple of months between Newcastle until now, that’s all it’s been.
What can change that dramatically that it’s going to have a huge effect?
I’m tipping not much initially, I’m not predicting a massive turnaround. They might go well at Adelaide because it’s a street circuit and James always goes well there, so Adelaide might be different, they might actually get through that reasonably good.
I think if they get through Adelaide, I’m sure development stuff will be coming through. I think for that group it’ll be a steady climb through the year, rather than all of a sudden come out and set the world on fire.
I should imagine they’re going to get better, but it’s how long it takes to get to where they need to be is going to be the question mark.
Brad Jones Racing (Holden ZB Commodore)
#8 Nick Percat (Blackwoods Racing)
#14 Tim Slade (Freightliner Racing)
#21 Tim Blanchard (Team Cooldrive)
SPEEDCAFE: Brad Jones Racing, they’re always in the mix. How do you see them going? It’s a stable line-up again and they’ve shown signs in testing.
INGALL: We talk about them every year. Last year was a rollercoaster. If they were sponsored by Dreamworld, they’d be the perfect sponsor.
It’s just down to consistency; they get fast cars but not consistently fast. It’s down and then it’s up and then it’s down again and all of a sudden they’re up the pointy end, but next meeting they’ve qualified 16th or 18th or something.
There’s been the odd mechanical drama, they had a few engine issues last year, hence probably why they’ve gone and changed supplier.
I don’t know whether they’ve stretched themselves a little bit thin, because they run so much Super2 stuff, sometimes, because at the end of the day it’s all still coming out of the same workshop.
That’s obviously a business decision because you get income through Super2 obviously, which helps the main game.
Sometimes I think, ‘Just run two cars and that’s it, concentrate on that,’ because it still stretches resources when you’re running that many cars.
I don’t know the financials or how they run the show. If that helps run the main game then I suppose you’d have to, but there’s a reason there and they need to find out why.
SPEEDCAFE: Do you feel like they’ve got the ingredients there, they just need to put it in the right order?
INGALL: Everyone seems to rate their cars and says they’re really quick, so it’s a bit of a mystery. You go to Winton and they’re on fire, so maybe they just can’t quite nick that set-up at certain tracks.
They always seem to be king of the kids in practice; they go really fast and then just get to qualifying and the race and they’re gone again.
Tekno Autosports (Holden ZB Commodore)
#19 Jack Le Brocq (TBA)
SPEEDCAFE: Tekno Autosports have now got Adrian Burgess at the helm, which is quite a bit of a revamp for them, and signed Jack Le Brocq.
How do you rate their chances?
INGALL: Tekno’s got a shiny new Triple Eight Commodore, so that’s a big investment for them.
Again, Le Brocq shone at the enduros, seems to be a pretty reasonable pedaller and focused, and again he’ll be one of those though that have to learn the wheel-to-wheel racing side of it and the ferocity of it, and to keep out of it too until he gets his eye in.
He’s actually going to have quite a handy package there.
Adrian Burgess knows his way around a car and he is actually very good with racecraft too as far as team strategy and that sort of thing too.
They’ve got everything there around him, the biggest thing for Jack is actually going to be getting his head around it all in a very short period of time.
It’s going to be a big learning curve and their results will be hinged on how quickly he learns the racing side of it because I think he’ll have the equipment to do it, probably more so than any of the other single-car teams.
He’s got the newest and shiniest so it’s how fast he gets his head around it.
Team 18 (Holden ZB Commodore)
#18 Lee Holdsworth (Preston Hire Racing)
SPEEDCAFE: There is a stable line up at Preston Hire Racing, what can we expect from them?
INGALL: Charlie’s (Schwerkolt team owner) pretty meticulous with presentation and that sort of thing, they’ve come up with some great initiatives, but the cars haven’t been quite there, speed-wise, for whatever reason.
Lee Holdsworth’s a fast driver but he has to get results this year, and Charlie will want results too, because like any other team and the sponsors associated, they want to start seeing some champagne sprayed.
Lee’s capable of doing that but the biggest criticism of him that I’ve ever had with Lee, and I tell him this all the time, he’s got to get more aggressive, he’s too nice – and he’s a nice guy – but he’s got to get nasty.
They’ve got the equipment to do the job, Jeff Grech’s (team manager) no mug, he knows what he’s doing, and they’ve got the resources to get results so there’s no reason they shouldn’t, and they’ll be thinking the same thing.
If this new Commodore is a bit more user-friendly as well, because I know the window was pretty small in the other Commodore, if it’s a bit wider, it’ll help people like that.
The problem is when you’ve got a very small set-up window it helps bigger teams.
They’ve got more resources to get the tune back again, whereas when you’re a solo runner, you’re sort of running on your own a bit, so you’ve got nothing to compare it against, that’s what makes it hard.
23Red Racing (Ford Falcon FGX)
#230 Will Davison (Milwaukee Racing)
SPEEDCAFE: 23Red Racing has undergone a fair bit of a transformation in the off-season, what will they achieve this year?
INGALL: I’ve known Phil Munday (team owner) for years and he’s a good operator and he’s run a very successful panel repair company in Australia and New Zealand, and it’s now the biggest.
He knows the business and I think that’s very important with any race team, you’ve got to have a business mind.
I think the way he’s gone about it – he hasn’t tried to make his own car or build his own chassis – he’s formed an alliance, which seems to be more the norm now.
Form an alliance with one of the bigger teams, get their equipment, shortcut the process, stick a reasonably experienced driver in there and don’t go for a newbie.
I think Will Davison was the right choice because you don’t want to be a revamped team and you stick someone in it that’s going to shunt the thing every five minutes.
Will’s still capable of getting results, he’ll know when to go (and) when not to go, so I think that combination is very sensible, and on the right day, at the right time, they’ll get a result, simple as that.
Matt Stone Racing (Ford Falcon FGX)
#35 Todd Hazelwood (Bigmate Racing)
SPEEDCAFE: Matt Stone Racing is the newest team on the grid with a proven quantity in reigning Dunlop Super2 Series winner Todd Hazelwood, can they cause a surprise this year?
INGALL: Todd seems to be good and everyone says he is the real deal and does everything right and focusses on his driving style, which is what you want a driver to do.
More importantly he seems to be able to do the one lap screamers in qualifying, which again is going to be crucial. He is going to be in with that group that are going to get beaten around the ears in the race.
If he can put himself up the pointy end of the grid enough and learn from the good guys, he could be pretty good.
He has got good equipment and that was a smart move from Matt Stone Racing to get an ex-Penske Ford. I don’t know what the information stream is going to be like from Penske, but at the very least you know you have got a pretty good starting point.
It is going to be interesting to see how he goes.