Top 10 moments of Supercars in 2019: Part 1
Monday 30th December, 2019 - 5:53pm
After perhaps the maddest and most controversial season ever, Speedcafe.com looks back at 10 of the biggest moments of the 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
The year promised fresh intrigue with the debut of the modern incarnation of the Ford Mustang but nobody could predict just how remarkable the campaign as a whole would be.
In hindsight, a bizarre pit lane crash at the opening race event set the tone for an almost endless stream of drama through the season.
On one weekend alone, a chassis was written off, another was crashed so heavily that a shock absorber flew onto a balcony, a driver was benched just prior to qualifying, and one team boss decided to qualify a car because “it can’t get any worse” for his squad.
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All of that came on the weekend that the paddock digested the first major rule breach to be established from the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, which was won by the driver who would also claim the championship in record-breaking fashion.
In Part 1, we countdown from 10 to six, with the top five to follow tomorrow.
Russell Ingall was not in fact the first shock axing of 2019 but news that he would not feature on Fox Sports, as revealed by Speedcafe.com, certainly made headlines.
Fans took umbrage at the loss of the most forthright member of the on-air team, combined with a perception that Craig Lowndes, who was ultimately a direct replacement in Ingall’s former role, could not impartially fill a punditry position alongside his ongoing tenure as a Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver.
Ingall was surprised to be dropped but “blown away” by the support from viewers, some of whom even launched a petition calling for his reinstatement.
‘The Enforcer’ popped up in a new online series with former team-mate Paul Morris, which quickly garnered a dedicated following, and also raced in the inaugural season of TCR Australia.
The most successful nameplate in Supercars and Bathurst 1000 history is not long for the world after Holden’s decision to axe the Commodore from showrooms.
The full implications for Supercars of the decision, which comes just over two years after the end of local road car production and the shift of the iconic name to an imported car, are not yet known.
What is clear is that the Commodore will no longer race at the top level of Australian motorsport at some point as soon as the end of 2021.
So far, it has won the Great Race 26 times (more than any other make’s total) and the championship on 16 occasions.
The year was not nine (full) days old when Garry Rogers Motorsport dropped the first bombshell of the season, that it had replaced Garth Tander with Richie Stanaway.
The switch transpired at the behest of new major sponsor Boost Mobile, which moved across to the team after it lost Wilson Security backing at the end of 2018.
Enlarging the story was that the polarising Stanaway had only just had his contract with Tickford terminated a year early after a tough rookie season.
Tander was blindsided by the move but arguably landed on his feet when he was snapped up by Triple Eight Race Engineering to drive with Shane van Gisbergen in the Pirtek Enduro Cup.
It was a partnership that yielded a win on the Gold Coast and should have produced a second at Sandown in no small part due to Tander’s brilliant drive at the front end of the race, before their hopes were snuffed out by a late mechanical failure.
The Pukekohe event erupted in controversy when Jamie Whincup was incorrectly picked up as the race leader during a Safety Car deployment, prompting him to pass the Safety Car without permission.
The seven-time champion, already no stranger to Safety Car dramas, poured fuel on the fire with his now infamous ‘red wine’ television interview shortly after the race.
Race Control insisted at the time that it followed protocol and would have been able to correct the running order had Whincup not made his transgression, for which he served a drive-through penalty in-race.
Facing a potential fine and even a race suspension, with the Bathurst 1000 up next, Whincup ultimately avoided further sanction after he apologised for his explosive remarks.
Race Director Tim Schenken admitted that Race Control ‘could have done a better job’ with the deployment, or words to that effect, in the drivers briefing at Bathurst, according to David Reynolds and Michael Caruso.
In a less crazy season, Richie Stanaway might have made this list five times over, having been disqualified from a race due to dangerous driving, spent multiple events sidelined with a neck injury, and announced on social media in the hours after the season finale in Newcastle that he has quit motorsport.
However, it was the sensational move by team owner Garry Rogers to stand Stanaway down on the Sunday morning of the Gold Coast 600 that we consider to be the talented Kiwi’s biggest moment of 2019.
Stanaway explained, when intercepted by television pit reporter Greg Murphy as he was leaving the circuit, that he had been benched because he had missed an autograph session.
The driver claimed his absence was an innocent mistake while Rogers referred to considerations of ‘discipline’ and ‘respect’, with GRM Super2 driver Dylan O’Keeffe thrust into Car #33 for a most unexpected Championship debut.
Shane van Gisbergen pleaded for the industry to not give up on his friend and compatriot in that evening’s post-race press conference and while Stanaway was reinstated for the remaining two events of the season, at least his foreseeable future appears to lie outside of car racing.
The various Stanaway headlines were not the only big stories that would normally be expected to figure in the top 10 moments of the season.
The following were all considered significant in their own right, even if there was no room for them in the classification.
Garry Rogers Motorsport exits Supercars
Faced with the loss of major sponsor Boost Mobile, ostensibly due to an ultimatum that Supercars institute control uprights from next year, Garry Rogers Motorsport left the championship.
In the team’s 24 years in Supercars, GRM became renowned for giving young drivers their big break, won the Bathurst 1000 itself in 2000, and Rogers himself earned great admiration for his larrikin antics.
Vale Mike Raymond
The Supercars paddock was saddened by the news over the course of November’s Sandown 500 weekend that former commentator and ATN7 (Sydney) head of sport Mike Raymond had died following a battle with pneumonia.
Raymond was the voice of the Australian Touring Car Championship for a generation, and played a major role in the rise of Neil Crompton as a broadcaster, but was also a crucial figure in the inception of what became V8 Supercars.
Kelly Racing switches from Altimas to Mustangs
Nissan’s seven-year presence in Supercars, each with the L33 Altima, came to an end with news that Kelly Racing would downsize from four of the sedans to two Ford Mustangs in 2020.
The decision made by two graduates of the Holden Young Lions program, Todd and Rick Kelly, bolsters the blue oval’s ranks on the grid and has seen the Braeside team embark on its own engine program.
Simona De Silvestro heads home
Simona De Silvestro’s run as a Supercars driver came to an end after three full seasons, with the Swiss driver to take up new factory roles with Porsche in Europe.
But for her debut when the Supergirls wildcard entry was run by Tickford in the 2015 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, De Silvestro spent her time in Supercars with Kelly Racing, where she achieved a best race result of seventh, but came close to a move to Triple Eight after talks in 2018.
Carnage at Adelaide, Albert Park and the Gold Coast
It would be unfair to separately highlight two McLaughlin crashes given that he took a top four in all but three of the races which he actually finished this season, so we will combine them here.
However, the back-to-back champion’s Gold Coast bell-ringer which caused the above mentioned shock absorber to shoot into the air was arguably the biggest crash of the season, made all the more remarkable because he was the second big name to seriously come to grief in qualifying that weekend after Chaz Mostert wrote a car off the day before.
It also speaks volumes that McLaughlin’s four-race winning streak to start the season was only broken when he and Mostert’s then Tickford team-mate, Cameron Waters, came together on their way to the starting grid at Albert Park.
A fortnight earlier in Adelaide, Mostert was involved in a crash which blocked pit lane when he was unsafely released in front of Rick Kelly.
Just for good measure, what is believed to be a Briggs Motorsport-built V8 Supercar was seized in Dubbo, New South Wales during police drug raids in March.