In a move that will change the complexion of Australia’s greatest motor race, V8 Supercars Australia will ban fulltime drivers from being paired together at the endurance race, including Bathurst, forcing the likes of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup into separate cars.
The justification for the change is to ensure all the stars of the sport will be on track at the same time, in competition against one another – assuming teams follow each other in putting their part-time drivers in the car for the minimum required laps in a middle stint.
It also means championship contenders are separated – ensuring the endurance races will have a potentially greater say in the championship outcome; also meaning there will be more contenders for the race win.
Motorsport fans have long-debated whether the endurance races should be part of the championship or whether they should be non-championship rounds at the end of the year. This change makes the endurance races more critical to the championship outcome.
Let’s say, for example, Garth Tander and Will Davison were kept apart at this season’s Bathurst, with Davison staying in his #22 HRT. Had Tander won in the lead HRT, and Davison been impacted by the mechanical dramas suffered by the #22, then Tander would have vaulted into championship contention at the expense of his teammate.
The proposed move has been met with anger, particularly from leading drivers, who will be forced apart and will need to rely on their teams hiring the best available part-timers for the job.
This season’s Bathurst champ Garth Tander labeled the decision ridiculous, robbing him of the chance to team up with Will Davison to defend their crown.
Todd Kelly, who will be unable to team with brother Rick, has been left fuming.
As Kelly argues, costs will skyrocket as the leading teams enter a price war to ensure they acquire the best available part-timers, and, with championships at stake, they could place those drivers in the Fujitsu Development series – V8 Supercars’ feeder category – to ensure drivers are better prepared for the endurance races.
It’ll certainly be placing great pressure and expectations on part-timers who must carry the championship burden of their fulltime co-drivers.
It could even force decent steerers who are left with mediocre drives in the championship to consider taking an endurance ride with a leading team instead.
While the justifications for the rule change make sense – while also ensuring the stars of the category shine brighter and aren’t forced to share the spotlight of a Bathurst win – the great race will lose the intensity of the last few renditions.
With lead drivers like Whincup-Lowndes, Kelly-Kelly and Tander-Davison teamed up, the intensity and pace of the race never relented during the 161 laps.
Having covered the HRT team during this season’s race, watching Tander and Davison set a blistering pace all day was one of the most impressive performances I’ve witnessed, particularly how Davison managed his stints in the wet with Tander defending their track position in that thrilling final stint.
There has been nothing wrong at Bathurst recently that necessitates change, and while part-timers can be competitive – as witnessed by the strong performances this season from the likes of Mark Skaife and the part-time pairing of Greg Ritter and David Besnard – there will be an inevitable lull period in the race when the part-timers take to the track.
Combined with the inevitable cost associated with signing and grooming a part-timer, the cons outweigh the pro of ensuring lead driver and championship contenders are split.
It’s a complex issue with solid arguments on both sides of the debate. The only guarantee is that the Bathurst races we have come to know of late will change drastically as a result of the change.