POLL: Does Supercars need to embrace controversy?

Shane van Gisbergen

Shane van Gisbergen

Following the drama surrounding Shane van Gisbergen and Mark Skaife during and after the Newcastle 500, controversy in Supercars is the subject of this week’s Pirtek Poll.

Van Gisbergen effectively refused to answer questions on television or in the press conference after his victory in Race 2, prompting widespread criticism including from Skaife.

The Triple Eight Race Engineering driver would later put his reluctance to speak down to “upset[ting] some of the top brass” by raising concerns about Gen3, a claim consistent with David Reynolds’, in the same press conference, that “They don’t want us to say anything negative.”

Skaife and Reynolds temporarily “fell out of love” over public Gen3 comment, to quote the former while working as a Fox Sports pundit during the weekend.

However, he is also a board member of Supercars’ parent company and is understood to have taken over leadership of the Gen3 project at the start of 2022.

While Skaife denies he critiqued SVG in anything other than his capacity as a television commentator, it was nevertheless an arguably unedifying episode.

But, was it actually bad for the championship?

Supercars struggles for mainstream media attention, and one of the reasons may have been highlighted by the fallout of the spat between van Gisbergen/Reynolds and Skaife.

This reporter was tuned in to SEN’s Sydney radio station on the Tuesday morning immediately after van Gisbergen’s Monday night social media post, and his behaviour was a popular topic among listeners of former Supercars commentator Matthew White’s show.

Near the end of the programme, former ARL/National Rugby League forward Jimmy Smith, who has rarely shown any real interest in motorsport, was brought in to preview his own drive show which followed.

Asked by White, “What’s coming up on your show, mate?” he responded, “I want to talk about this Shane van Gisbergen thing.”

Smith continued, “You and I were just talking about it; I find it fascinating…” triggering yet more discussion about Supercars on a rugby league-oriented radio station, two days after Round 2 of the 2023 NRL season.

As the chat concluded, the ex-Sydney City Roosters player noted himself, “You and I have now spent the last three minutes talking about Shane van Gisbergen and Supercars, right?

“Given the fact we’re going into Round 3 of the National Rugby League, that would never have happened if Shane van Gisbergen didn’t behave the way he did.”

The finer details of the van Gisbergen-Skaife/top brass dynamic were not explored.

Regardless, this was publicity which Supercars could not buy (notwithstanding its media rights deal with SEN), after two fairly boring races in Newcastle, at a time of particularly high interest in SEN Sydney’s core (winter) sport, initiated by a rugby league player.

It was also true when 10 News First reported on Supercars on the evening of October 20, 2019, that being the Sunday between that year’s Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600.

Mark Skaife. Picture: Ross Gibb Photography

Mark Skaife. Picture: Ross Gibb Photography

Hours earlier, stewards handed down the punishment for the infamous ‘debriss’ incident at the Great Race, with interest in the outcome high given the potential for DJR Team Penske to lose the victory.

It was a controversial incident, but one which earnt an item on a commercial, free-to-air television news bulletin on a weekend of no Supercars racing.

Almost two decades ago now, KFC commissioned a television commercial featuring Marcos Ambrose cutting off none other than Skaife on his way into a drive-thru.

The advertisement was, of course, jocular in nature, but it tapped into the intense rivalry between Stone Brothers Racing and the leading Holden teams of the day.

At one point, Greg Murphy freely dropped expletives in a press conference as he expressed his dissatisfaction with the man sat to his left, Russell Ingall, over an incident in pit lane on the Gold Coast.

Ingall’s response was to tacitly threaten on-track retribution.

Still, that was arguably one of the milder run-ins between the two camps, compared to the ‘Shriek at the Creek’ in 2003, the ‘brake testing’ drama at the Gold Coast in 2004, and the pile-up set off by contact between Murphy and Ambrose at Bathurst in 2005.

None of it is behaviour which would have earned oneself a merit certificate at primary school, but it attracted attention for Supercars.

Does the old saying, that any publicity is good publicity, hold true?

Formula 1 probably thinks so, given the success of the Drive to Survive series.

Perhaps Australian culture, and Australian sport is different.

Supercars’ most marketable personality nowadays is still Craig Lowndes, notwithstanding that he into his fifth year of semi-retirement.

He is one of the ‘good guys’ of the category, certainly not averse to rubbing panels, but famed for an ability to crack a smile in all but the most dire of situations.

The Supercars-produced telecasts are also quite upbeat in tone, and rarely are major dramas delved into.

Back to van Gisbergen and Reynolds, there is a certain irony that the so-called top brass apparently pressured them, and probably other drivers, to not say anything negative about Gen3.

In doing so, they set in train the events which would create an even greater controversy inherently implicating one of the top brass, along with the champion of the past two seasons.

But maybe they should be grateful, and maybe Supercars – as an industry, as opposed to the organisation bearing the name and running the championship – should embrace controversy.

What do you think? Cast your vote in this week’s Pirtek Poll.

Pirtek Poll

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