Mark Larkham has explained how he came close to landing the signature of Marcos Ambrose before his plans were scuttled by the sudden loss of his Mitre 10 sponsorship.
Larkham ran as a single-car owner-driver for the majority of his time as a competitor in the Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 Supercars Championship.
While Larkham Motor Sport would expand to two cars in its ninth season in touring cars, when Jason Bargwanna came across from Garry Rogers Motorsport in 2003, the Griffith-born racer had planned to do so two years earlier.
Speaking in the latest episode of the Rusty’s Garage podcast, available on PodcastOne Australia, Larkham explained that he had been in talks with Ambrose about joining him in a second AU Falcon.
Any hopes of an expansion at the time, and therefore a deal with the future star of Supercars, hinged on what had been promising talks of an increase in support from Mitre 10 and co-sponsorship from tool brand DeWalt.
Those hopes were dashed when a new management team at the hardware chain decided to pull its decade-long support of Larkham late in the preceding year.
“There was a complete change of head office staff at Mitre 10 – new board, new everything – and they ditched me on the 5th of December in 2000, when we were talking about going to (a) two-car team,” Larkham told Rusty’s Garage host, Greg Rust.
“Not saying it was happening (for sure, but) I’d had Marcos Ambrose on the phone; while I was talking to him he was in the UK at the time doing Formula 3.
“We were having chats and I was trying to do a DeWalt-Mitre 10 two thirds-one third car, and back the other way on the other car, so we were in sort of this discussion phase of trying to pull this together.
“We were certainly going to be one car the next year but we were trying to pull the two-car thing together and I was trying to find who was going to be the other (driver) so there were some chats with Marcos back then.
“Long story short, 5th of December, it was just, ‘We’re now going to sponsor a truck that…’ I think went around Australia and planted trees or something.”
Coincidentally, Ambrose would sign for Stone Brothers Racing, the same team with which Larkham Motor Sport had run in an alliance with just 12 months earlier, for the 2001 season.
While Ambrose went on to win the 2003 and 2004 championships, the loss of Mitre 10 backing would have a lasting, detrimental impact on Larkham when backing from his next major sponsor, ICS Smartcard, failed to come through.
“When we first lost Mitre 10, we did a deal with the Smartcard,” he explained.
“I could talk a month about that, but sadly, that didn’t materialise. I probably spent close to $20,000 on contracts to make sure that was tight, and as tight as we made it, it didn’t materialise from their end.
“So that was disappointing, but fortunately through the relationships we’d developed around Mitre 10, Karcher stepped up to the plate, IXL, there were a couple of others that stepped up to the plate and helped us, to get through until Green’s Mitre 10 dragged Silvio Pradella (then-CEO) from Orrcon down, and we did the deal (to become major sponsor from 2002).
“The truth though, if I’m really honest, I never recovered from what happened then with that Mitre 10 thing on the 5th of December for the subsequent six years before I sold; just never did, just absolutely depleted me.
“That 2001 year depleted everything we had. I sold, not that it was much, personal assets at home to pay wages; motorbikes I had, just bits and pieces to keep me going.
“Fortunately, I had a really loyal staff that hung in there with me, but it was tough.”
Larkham amalgamated with Craig Gore’s shortlived WPS Racing operation in 2006, but left motorsport at the end of the season, before returning to the scene as a pit reporter midway through 2008.