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Holden non-committal on 2021 motorsport season

Daniel Herrero

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Monday 17th February, 2020 - 4:05pm

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Triple Eight Race Engineering currently competes in Supercars as the Red Bull Holden Racing Team

Holden is non-committal on what its axing as a brand means for its motorsport activities next year, despite holding a contract with Triple Eight Race Engineering.

The Banyo-based team has competed as the Red Bull Holden Racing Team since 2017, and last year signed a new agreement with the marque to operate as its factory team in Supercars in 2020 and 2021.

That timeline was then reaffirmed in December last year despite Holden’s decision to drop the ZB Commodore from its showroom line-up.

However, General Motors’ decision to wind down Holden operations, but for servicing and aftersales, “by 2021” has placed a cloud over its Supercars involvement in 2021.

Holden’s interim Chairman and Managing Director, Kristian Aquilina, said that its motorsport activities beyond the season which starts in Adelaide in less than three days’ time is up for discussion with Supercars and Triple Eight Race Engineering.

“On our future in racing, we’ve made a commitment and certainly we need to sit down with our partners, Supercars Australia and certainly the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, Triple Eight, which we will do hopefully in the coming days, and talk about the appropriate transition,” said Aquilina.

“But our intention is to still go racing in 2020 while we’ve still got Holden vehicles out there in dealers’ showrooms.

“To the extent, about GM and its involvement in racing beyond that, that will be part of the same conversation.

“There’s obviously a lot of new news for us and our partners to process. These decisions were only taken in the last few days.

“We’re communicating it with the Australian community as soon as we could and we’ve got some work to do over the next few weeks and months ahead to actually work through a lot of those arrangements and an effect that goes well beyond motorsport.”

When subsequently asked to clarify if his response meant that motorsport contracts applying in 2021 might be terminated early, Aquilina maintained the non-committal stance.

“This announcement and this decision is absolutely heart-breaking,” he stated.

“As you know, I personally am a big supporter and fan of motorsport, in love with the sport as well as the company we’re talking about here.

“But I think it’s only the right thing to do to give our partners here the courtesy of a discussion before I talk about it publicly.

“We have a relationship that I value very highly, so we’ll do that and then we’ll have more to comment together with our partners.”

Asked by Speedcafe.com if Supercars was notified before the release from either General Motors in Detroit or Holden locally, Aquilina replied, “No. Supercars were advised today after we had the chance to talk to our employees and our dealer partners.

“So it was important that we were talking to our Holden family first and our outreach starts from now.”

The implications of GM’s decision on its other brands, and whether they might be sold in some form or another in Australia and New Zealand is also not yet known.

A right-hand drive version of the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was to have been sold in Australia from late this year, while the Walkinshaws’ Holden Special Vehicles business converts Chevrolet Camaros for the Australian market.

Walkinshaw Andretti United Director Ryan Walkinshaw has expressed an interested in creating a race car version of the latter for Supercars, but only once the control chassis is redesigned such that the shape of the car would not have to be.

Asked if Chevrolet would become GM’s leading brand in Australia, Aquilina said, “Not going to comment on that today.

“Today’s about Holden and what we do with the specialty business opportunity is something that we’re still developing and we’ll have more to say in the future on that.”

Holden’s press release regarding its closure did state that “GM intends to focus its growth strategy in Australia and New Zealand on the specialty vehicles business and plans to immediately work with its partner on developing these plans.”

GM International Operations Senior Vice President Julian Blissett confirmed that there is a tentative plan to sell vehicles under the banner of General Motors Speciality Vehicles, which could provide the inspiration for future race cars.

“Although it’s not firmed up formally, our intent and our desire is to basically stay in the market, albeit in a different format and a different model with the GM Specialty Vehicles,” said Blissett about GM’s future in Australia.

“I can’t tell you what products that they’d be (but) that is our intent.

“We’re obviously in negotiations with our partners to make that happen and that is still work in progress. We’ve made good progress so far but we’re not final.

“But yes, we intend to have a presence in this market through that.

“The Corvette right-hand drive will still exist – and we haven’t decided how to do that yet – but Corvette is selling extremely well globally and it’s well received, and right-hand drive Corvettes still keep being developed.”

One challenge regarding any potential Corvette Supercar is its mid-engine design.

Supercars CEO Sean Seamer indicated earlier this month that the Gen3 platform which is set to take effect in the championship from 2022 would adopt something of a two-door sportscar identity, in line with automotive industry trends.

“Gen3 will be driven and in a large part by the direction that manufacturers are going because it’s about maintaining and ensuring that we’ve got market relevance,” Seamer told selected media, including Speedcafe.com.

“I think that from what we’re able to see from the manufacturer roadmaps, two-door sportscars – obviously, the Mustang is the first of which – will be a core part.”

Seamer also advised that Supercars “haven’t arrived” on a final look for the Gen3 spec as yet.

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