Lowndes raises ‘interesting’ post-SVG Triple Eight scenario
Wednesday 5th July, 2023 - 7:05pm
Craig Lowndes has raised an “interesting” scenario facing Red Bull Ampol Racing if Shane van Gisbergen does indeed decide to leave Supercars.
Speculation is swirling about the three-time champion’s future after his sensational debut NASCAR win on the streets of Chicago, combined with frustrations about certain elements of Supercars.
In his regular event preview column on the championship’s official website, Lowndes, who remains on the books as one of Triple Eight Race Engineering’s enduro drivers, ventured that the squad could soon find itself fielding two relative ‘rookies’.
“Shane has basically conquered everything he can here in Australia and New Zealand,” wrote the retired three-time Supercars champion who once attempted to crack Formula 1.
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“When you look at it, he’s raced everything – Supercars, rally, speedway, drifting and NASCAR is a big-ticket item for him.
“There will be a lot of chat in Townsville this weekend for three reasons. If Shane will go, the timing of when he is going to leave and who is going to stand up and take his spot?
“That’s going to be the interesting part. You have to remember that Broc Feeney is still very young and if it happens to be that Shane moves on, Red Bull Ampol Racing could find themselves with potentially two rookies going into next year.”
Feeney debuted as a full-time Triple Eight Race Engineering driver at the ripe old age of just 19 and will not celebrate his 21st birthday until after this year’s Bathurst 1000.
By the time van Gisbergen is contractually free to leave, at the end of the 2024 season, his younger team-mate will still only be 22 years of age.
While there is a very limited sample size due to the stability in Triple Eight’s driver line-up since its Supercars programme became bedded in during the 2000s, two very youthful steerers would be a departure from its usual way of doing things.
At least one of its full-time driver roster from the first full post-Briggs Motor Sport campaign in 2004 – Paul Radisich, Max Wilson, Lowndes, Steven Ellery, Jamie Whincup, van Gisbergen, and Feeney – have started with several years of experience.
Nevertheless, it is young Feeney who is statistically the outfit’s lead driver at present, sitting third in the championship at one position and 19 points up on the Kiwi in the #97 Camaro.
Van Gisbergen recently signed a new, two-year contract with the squad covering 2024 and 2025, although it would subsequently be revealed that he has a get-out clause which means he may opt out of the latter half of the deal.
Speaking on Fox Sports News in the day after the NASCAR win, Whincup, now of course Team Principal rather than full-time driver, seemed to open up the door for him to leave even earlier than that.
“He’s only contractually bound to us for next year,” noted Whincup.
“But me sitting here right now, of course I’m trying to run the business as well as I possibly can, and I need the best drivers – but if any driver, engineer, employee came to me and said, ‘Hey, my dream is to go to the other side of the world and do something else’ then I’m not going to stand in their way, am I?”
Van Gisbergen, though, during the hours or so after taking the chequered flag in Chicago, twice stated, explicitly or implicitly, that he will stay put in 2024.
“I’m doing one more year in Oz and then I’d love to come over here,” he remarked in his post-race television interview, then said in the press conference, “I’m committed next year to Supercars … But in ‘25, who knows?”
Assuming that the two-time Bathurst 1000 winner does stay put for 2024, he would have to inform Whincup early that year about his plans for 2025.
The NTI Townsville 500 takes place this weekend, with van Gisbergen flying into the North Queensland city this evening.
Practice 1 takes place on Friday at 10:10 local time/AEST.