Grove reviewing Payne’s 2022 Supercars plans

Matt Payne

Grove Racing is set to review its plans for Matt Payne this week as it decides whether or not to push for his inclusion in next year’s Repco Supercars Championship.

Payne was thrust into the spotlight from relative obscurity earlier this year when he became Grove’s preference to take over the seat which has now been vacated by Andre Heimgartner.

The 19-year-old only made his car racing debut in this year’s Castrol Toyota Racing Series, before entering Porsche Paynter Dixon Carrera Cup Australia with Earl Bamber Motorsport in the Porsche New Zealand programme.

Having caught the eye of new Supercars team owner Stephen Grove, he became the inaugural member of the Grove Junior Team, and would contest the final two rounds of this year’s Dunlop Super2 Series.

However, Payne would have to rely on dispensation to receive a Motorsport Australia Superlicence which is required in order to race in the Supercars Championship, given he cannot meet the newly revised specifications of the system.

Dispensations are not uncommon, but are also hardly a rubber stamp process, as was demonstrated when Nathan Herne, then a front-runner in the TA2 Muscle Car Series, missed out on a berth in last year’s Bathurst 1000.

Payne has been competing in series which come under Motorsport Australia sanctioning, unlike Herne was at the time, and while he would meet the 13-point criteria, he has had a rocky start to Supercars competition in its second tier.

As the Grove Group prepares to fully take over Kelly Grove Racing, there will be a discussion about its tyro’s short-term future which will include input from Craig Baird, Supercars’ driving standards advisor and a member of the Junior Team’s selection committee.

Asked if there is a plan B should Payne not receive dispensation, Stephen Grove told at the Bathurst 1000, “We haven’t really looked at that in the sense that we just wanted to sit and see where Matt was, Monday, Tuesday [this] week.

“It’s been a pretty busy week for us as a team because we finish the year, then on the 20th of December we formally take 100 percent ownership of the team [Kelly Grove Racing], so there’s a lot to do between now and the 20th and work out our direction for next year.

“But, [this] week we’ll sit down, we’ll review how Matty went, we’ll review the incidents, we’ll get some advice, [and] we’ll talk to Craig Baird, who’s got an enormous amount of experience.

“He helps us with our junior programme, so we’ll sit with him and we’ll get a view from him and we’ll make a decision on which direction we head.”

Payne was fastest in his first ever Super2 practice session, last month at Sydney Motorsport Park, and then topped the Supercars Championship’s Additional Drivers Practice session later that day, in a hit-out otherwise partaken in only by Bathurst 1000 co-drivers.

However, he stalled on the front row in the following day’s Super2 race, which was attributed to “a misstep on the starting procedure” in the team’s press release, and tangled with a Super3 competitor as he tried to drive back up through the field.

In a wet Race 2 of the weekend, Payne and the following Angelo Mouzouris caused a red flag when they careered off Brabham Straight at a restart and smashed into the tyre barriers.

A fortnight later at Bathurst, Payne copped a penalty for crashing into Tyler Everingham on the out lap at the start of a qualifying session, and received a drive-through for a nudge which helped Jaylyn Robotham hit the barriers at Griffins Bend in Race 1 of that Super2 round.

“We’ve had some issues that have been caused by him, and we’ve had some issues where he hasn’t caused them, and that’s the general concept of racing; they’re racing pretty hard,” said Grove of Payne’s spate of incidents.

“We’re just going to go through the review process at the end of this weekend [Bathurst] and just assess whether Super2’s an option or whether Carrera Cup’s an option or whether the main game’s an option.”

Grove Racing, however, had refrained from sounding out back-up options for its vacant Supercars Championship seat until the weekend’s Bathurst 1000 was run and won.

“The main reason for that is, it’s a process sometimes of false hope from other drivers, and we don’t want to do that,” explained Grove.

“Everybody here who’s racing this weekend that would be a potential [replacement] would be a co-driver now, I would think, so they need to focus on their races and their teams, and from Monday onwards, we’ll start talking to people.”

Assuming Grove Racing does indeed wish to proceed with its plan to put Payne straight into the Supercars Championship next year, it will then submit paperwork to Motorsport Australia. understands that the team has been in regular contact with the governing body on the matter, but has not yet lodged an official application for a Superlicence.

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