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Team 18 look to fast-track success despite COVID-19 chaos

Simon Chapman

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Friday 31st July, 2020 - 6:00am

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Steve Henderson (middle) is optimistic Team 18 can fast-track success

Team Manager Steve Henderson believes customer outfit Team 18 can fast-track success in Supercars despite challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result of COVID-19, Melbourne- and Sydney-based teams will be on the road until at least the end of August. Supercars anticipates teams will return home after the Townsville round.

In the meantime, teams have relocated to temporary bases across south-east Queensland and will head to the Northern Territory for a double-header in Darwin next week.

Usually based out of Mount Waverley in Melbourne, Team 18 has relocated to the Ross Stone Racing workshop in Yatala near the Gold Coast.

Every team has had to deal with the consequences of COVID-19; however, Charlie Schwerkolt’s squad has had the added challenge of getting the recently expanded two-car team up to speed.

To date, the team has had very little opportunity to bond. The first proper outing for the two-car squad was at the pre-season test at The Bend Motorsport Park before the season-opening Adelaide 500 in February.

After the Melbourne 400 in Mid-March was cancelled, the Team 18 workshop fell silent for three months before returning to racing at Sydney Motorsport Park in late June.

Speaking with Speedcafe.com, Henderson said the time away from home could end up being beneficial for the team.

“It’s not what you’d normally choose to be all sharing a house, or whatever, but it can actually bring you a bit closer,” said Henderson.

“For a new group, and new meaning also new last year – as well as the extras that we’ve bolted on – it’s a bit of a way to fast track even our ability to get to know each other.

“The successful teams, look at the ones over the years that have been successful, they’ve been together a long time typically. Maybe this fast tracks that.

“I get that everyone else is in the same situation, but for us, we were a brand new unit, this probably won’t do us any harm.”

The qualified mechanical engineer has been a staple of the Supercars scene since the early 2000s, working with the likes of Steven Richards and Greg Murphy.

After a hiatus from the championship working in the automotive sector, Henderson returned to racing in the Australian GT Championship in 2016, moving to the Dunlop Super2 Series in 2018, before joining Team 18 last year as the Team Manager.

Henderson firmly believes the team has the making of a successful outfit in Supercars with a mix of experienced heads as well as up-and-coming talents.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in some crew being unable to attend races due to personnel limits, including Team Owner Schwerkolt and Race Engineer Matt Saunders.

“We’ve got a good mix of young and enthusiastic, and older, mature, and experienced guys,” said Henderson.

“I think we’re reasonably balanced there. I truly believe that. We’ve got guys like Phil Kead (Technical Director), that have been for like 20 years.

“We’ve got guys with some really good experience, obviously, two experienced drivers, but we’ve got a young fellow, Reece Turley, who’s number one on Scott’s car. He’s just turned 21 last weekend, at Sydney.

“So, young, but enthusiastic, really quite mature, very, very capable. The guys are just a good group.

“There’s definitely the makings of a team that can go out there and win. We just need more time, and get out more rounds, more track days really.”

The team has had glimpses of success. Last year Mark Winterbottom claimed the team’s first pole position at Symmons Plains Raceway in what was only the seventh race of the season.

A race win hasn’t been forthcoming, but top five and top 10 finishes have been frequent.

Ultimately, for the team to succeed, Henderson said they need more time together and more time racing.

Wins, he said, don’t seem impossible.

“We’re becoming closer, personally, but we need to actually get to the track,” he said.

“You’ve got to work with each other, you’ve got to find where you all fit, and at the minute, unfortunately, we’re having to shuffle a couple of people around.

“With restricted numbers, we’re carrying some people that are a bit more multitask, so they can actually fill some gaps.

“So it’s a different version again of what we started out with, but I still think with the people we’ve got, for sure, we can win races.”

The Irwin Racing and DeWalt Racing crews will return to racing at Hidden Valley Raceway with back-to-back events over August 8-9 and 15-16.

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