Has DJR Team Penske finally emerged?

Jawad Yaqub Roar Guru

By , Jawad Yaqub is a Roar Guru

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    Supercars retro round is about more than just liveries. (Photo: POLESTAR Volvo)

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    2014 saw US motorsport giant Roger Penske announce that he’d venturing into the Australian touring car scene, with our own legendary equivalent in Dick Johnson.

    Between these two titans, there had been much to be enthusiastic about.

    The newly formed DJR Team Penske in 2015 appeared that it would be what would return the Queensland-based Ford outfit to the front of the category.

    However, as we enter the third year of this union, there has been little fruit yielded to this powerhouse operation.

    A race win has eluded the squad since prior to the Penske partnership in 2013, where rookie Chaz Mostert emphatically triumphed at Ipswich, while the number of podiums gleaned can be counted on one hand.

    Coming out of the first race weekend of the 2017 Supercars season at the Clipsal 500, DJR Team Penske may finally have emerged as the force they were originally expected to be.

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    A pair of podiums in both of the gruelling 250km races were bolstered by dual Top Ten Shootout appearances for Kiwi Fabian Coulthard and his new compatriot teammate Scott McLaughlin.

    The Sunday race saw young gun McLaughlin charge into the lead from third on the grid, before succumbing to the pressure placed by reigning series champion in Shane van Gisbergen, in the dying stages of the race.

    Despite not walking away with the highest honour that day, Adelaide did go as far as vindicating the 23-year old’s shock switch from Garry Rogers Motorsport to DJR Team Penske – and highlight his seamless transition from the moribund Volvo S60 to the Falcon FG X.

    With a strong engineering combination in Phil Keed and controversial (but mightily intelligent) Triple Eight defector Ludo Lacroix, both Coulthard and McLaughlin have the nous to steer them forwards in the coming season.

    For new recruit McLaughlin, witnessing an instant chemistry between he and Frenchman Lacroix, only speaks positively about what to expect.

    The French connection is even stronger too for the pilot of car No.17, with McLaughlin’s old teammate and co-driver in Alex Prémat also departing from Triple Eight to reunite with the Kiwi.

    Coulthard’s own engineer Keed, who moved with the 5-time race winner from Brad Jones Racing for 2015, himself has a strong relationship with engineering mastermind Lacroix – hinting at more cohesion between both cars than previously.

    With all these pieces in place and early results to vindicate the off-season changes, the challenge for DJR Team Penske lies within maintaining consistency across the 26-race campaign.

    Translating the Adelaide form across the diverse roster of circuits from Winton to Hidden Valley or Phillip Island to Newcastle – will be key in attempting to dethrone van Gisbergen and destabilise the Red Bull juggernaut.

    For the first time since becoming DJR Team Penske, the squad is a genuine threat. The likes of fellow Ford operation in Prodrive Racing and the HSV Racing Team still appear to be in arrears of the leading Red Bull Holdens, leaving the 7-time Supercars champions as having emerged as their new title rival.

    And for two iconic names in Johnson and Penske, being at the sharp end of any racing category is their mantra.