Supercars’ wild silly season: Seven big questions
Monday 27th September, 2021 - 11:24am
It’s been a busy month when it comes to sorting the 2022 Repco Supercars Championship grid, with a couple of shocks shaking up silly season.
The domino effect started with Andre Heimgartner’s surprise split with Kelly Grove Racing, Brad Jones Racing soon emerging as his imminent home.
It quickly became apparent that little-known Kiwi teen Matthew Payne was plan A for the team soon to be known as Grove Racing, although his rookie main game campaign is not exactly confirmed as yet.
Heimgartner’s move made more sense when Nick Percat revealed he’ll be parting ways with BJR at season’s end, that announcement coming merely months after the team had trumpeted his re-signing.
A couple of other names took themselves off the driver market too, with Scott Pye recommitting to Team 18 and the family-owned Racing Entitlements Contract underpinning Jack Smith’s entry confirmed to remain at BJR.
So, some questions have been answered – but many remain, as Speedcafe.com explores.
Will Nick Percat take Andrew Edwards with him to his 2022 team?
A driver and engineer combination signing as a package deal is not totally uncommon.
Chaz Mostert and Adam De Borre did just that in switching together from Tickford Racing to Walkinshaw Andretti United in 2020, as did David Reynolds/Alistair McVean this year in joining KGR from Erebus Motorsport.
It might seem over the top, but in the instance of Percat and his long-awaited hopes of competing for a championship, it could be crucial.
Percat and Edwards instantly clicked when thrown together by chance for the 2018 Australian Grand Prix round and have never looked back.
Simply put, they know how to get the best out of one another.
If Percat lands at WAU as expected, having a familiar face in Edwards could help him get up to speed quickly given the formidable duo of Mostert/De Borre on the other side of the garage will inevitably hit the ground running.
Having said that, WAU does already have extensive depth in its engineering ranks, also including Grant McPherson, Rob Starr, Terry Kerr and Carl Faux… and Edwards is based in Albury, the site of BJR’s headquarters.
What does Triple Eight do with its star co-drivers?
The co-driver silly season usually plays out well after the primary steerers have been sorted.
However, there is a fascinating situation brewing at Triple Eight Race Engineering.
Retiring champion Jamie Whincup has voiced his eagerness to get his fix behind the wheel with an endurance co-drive, potentially alongside the young gun replacing him: Broc Feeney.
Garth Tander and Shane van Gisbergen have finished second and first in their two Bathurst 1000 starts together to date.
So where does that leave Craig Lowndes?
Three into two doesn’t go… unless Triple Eight make a habit of running a wildcard third entry.
If a wildcard doesn’t get sorted, either Tander or Lowndes become high-profile free agents for rivals to target, or Whincup may have driven his last Supercars Championship race.
Can Todd Hazelwood scrap his way to a fifth season?
Back in 2019 when it became apparent that Hazelwood’s tenure with Matt Stone Racing would soon come to an end, there were fears the Super2 Series winner’s time in the main game could be up.
Ever determined, he found a way to stay on the grid, joining BJR.
But now the fan favourite is yet again fighting for his career, with viable options running out.
No one has worked harder to be here than Hazelwood, whose family famously ran countless sausage sizzles to help fund his earlier racing.
He did at least get to remind people of his ability with a couple of fine showings at the Townsville double-header before the season hit pause.
What is BJR looking for from its 2022 driver line-up?
On BJR… so they have got Heimgartner and Smith locked in.
Most presume Macauley Jones will return next season, having shown substantial gains in qualifying even if race results have eluded him.
If that’s the case, just one seat remains, and BJR could have the luxury of sitting back and assessing its options.
Hazelwood of course could be retained.
Brad Jones spoke in Townsville of his desire to uncover future champions; Super2 Series drivers Jordan Boys and Josh Fife have links to BJR, while a punt could be taken on someone like a Zane Goddard, James Golding, or Bryce Fullwood (if he’s not already Tickford-bound).
Otherwise, if it’s decided that experience is required to offset its youth, Lee Holdsworth and Chris Pither are motivated veterans with commercial backing to boot.
Who is Grove Racing’s plan B?
So, Payne is plan A. That in itself hinges on Motorsport Australia issuing a Superlicence dispensation. It’s hoped he’ll be able to gather some mileage in Super2 this year, and he’s in line for an evaluation day or two aboard one of KGR’s Nissan Altima Supercars.
If his elevation into the main game has to wait a year, who does Stephen Grove hunt to team up with David Reynolds next year?
Again, the likes of Hazelwood or Holdsworth could do the job, even if it’s a stop-gap type of arrangement.
With Grove desperate to move up the pit lane order, it’s of real importance that the team fields two competitive cars.
Is James Courtney a lock?
Courtney, 41, and paddock sources alike seem confident of his Tickford Racing relationship extending into a third season.
But if there’s one thing this silly season has proven, it’s to expect the unexpected.
The 2010 champion appears ultra-happy in the Tickford environment and has repeatedly stated his desire to race on into next season.
The results have improved too the longer the season has worn on, Courtney beginning to provide strong support to leadman Cameron Waters.
Thomas Randle will join the expanded line-up next year, with Fullwood believed to hold the inside running for the fourth seat.
For Courtney, a key factor may be whether Boost Mobile continues lending its support despite founder Peter Adderton having missed out on becoming the championship’s next co-owner.
Is it really going to be status quo at MSR?
All indications from MSR and its drivers Goddard and Jake Kostecki point towards carrying on together in 2022.
The Yatala outfit has made noticeable improvements this season – but could that lead to Goddard being snapped up by a more established operation?
Similarly, could that promise tempt a race winner like Holdsworth to take a gamble on MSR?
And if a driver with extra deep pockets come knocking, will that win over Stone and his team?
Can Stone win his long battle to get his hands on a third REC?
Watch this space… on all of the above.
CLICK HERE to view Speedcafe.com’s Supercars silly season guide.