The last few rounds in the 2016 International Supercars Championship has delivered brilliant and exciting racing, but has delivered controversy that hasn’t been seen in a very long time. This has raised a number of talking points that in some way need to be addressed.
The two separate incidents involving Jamie Whincup, Scott McLaughlin and Garth Tander on the infamous Lap 150 at the 2016 Bathurst 1000 have delivered the biggest talking point of the 2016 season.
I have made my detailed views on the two incidents very clear the day after the race.
However, there have been a couple of other high-profile incidents, which like the Lap 150 incidents at Mount Panorama, received punishments, or a lack of punishments that did not fit the crime committed.
The first one of discussion is the incident in Race 22 of the championship on the Gold Coast between Garth Tander and Fabian Coulthard, where Tander received a drive-through penalty, and a 10-place grid penalty for the next race for causing the incident on the curved pit straight.
It was clear that Tander deliberately turned Coulthard around and into the wall, resulting in major damage to Coulthard’s car. It was also clear that the penalty handed out to Tander was well below acceptable practice.
Tander should have been disqualified from Race 22 of the championship, and then should have been suspended from Race 23 of the championship. He did not deserve the opportunity to score championship points on the Gold Coast.
The second incident of discussion came in the second race of the Dunlop Series round at Sandown, where Matt Chahda smashed into a number of cars intentionally at Turn One on the opening lap after taking the inside line, knowing that the road would not be there at the opening turn.
The stewards came down hard on Chahda, disqualifying him from the entire round, and then giving him a five-place grid penalty for his next race, which was the next round at Bathurst.
However, that does not go far enough.
Chahda should have been suspended from competing at the Bathurst round of the Dunlop Series. How the stewards could not instantly recognise that this should happen, is mindboggling. It was similar in seriousness to Romain Grosjean incident at the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, and could have resulted in serious injuries to fellow competitors.
Penalties and stewards
So, with the inconsistency of stewards to hand out penalties that fit the crime that was committed, what can the sport do to improve themselves and implement the correct penalty for the crime committed?
My recommendation is to implement a new set of formal penalties. The set of penalties may include time penalties (five seconds, ten seconds, 20 seconds (drive-through penalty), 30 seconds (ten second stop-and-go penalty)), grid penalties (two-place grid penalty, five-place grid penalty, 10-place grid penalty), and other penalties, such as disqualification, and race/round suspensions. Grid penalties, and other penalties will be handed out via a hearing, and not while a race is ongoing.
In addition, 20 and 30-second penalties will be assessed as drive-through and ten second stop-and-go penalties respectively, except if race control hand out a penalty in the last five laps of a race, then a time penalty will be added to the race time of the respective competitor(s). Other time penalties will give teams the option to serve penalty at next pit-stop, or at the completion of the race, whatever comes first.
However, if an incident occurs after the completion 90 per cent of the race distance (scheduled or rescheduled), and is deemed to be in need of being investigated, the investigation will occur after the race has been completed.
Another recommendation I would like to make is to have different people in the roles of the Driving Standards Observer (DSO), and the stewards at each round of the championship to ensure a different perspective, which may lead, against common belief, towards more consistent officiating, something which the sport is striving to achieve.
However, the sport has to do more to remove the mediocrity that has crept into the sport over a number of years.
Something which can help remove mediocrity is to change the Supercars Championship point-scoring system from the current system to a system similar to the point-scoring system seen in Formula 1. This would see a maximum of 50 points available per round for first place, and points-paying positions going all the way down to 10th place.
For example, the points allocation for a round like Bathurst (one race round) would be: 50-36-30-24-20-16-12-8-4-2. The example of the points allocation for each race on the Gold Coast (two race round) would be: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1. The example of the points allocation for each race in New Zealand (four-race weekend), or the opening round in Adelaide earlier this year for the two races on the Saturday would be: 12.5-9-7.5-6-5-4-3-2-1-0.5.
Assuming that prizemoney is awarded to the Top 10 in both the drivers and teams championship (which it should), this will reward and give recognition to well-performing one car teams, encouraging them to improve and expand themselves into bigger operations. It would also punish under-performing two car teams, while encouraging them to reduce the size of their operations to smaller one car teams.
This will ensure teams can pay their drivers, and not resort to hiring drivers who can bring money to the team, meaning that the best drivers will be driving in the championship.
The new driving licensing system is a brilliant step forward for drivers wanting to be in the Supercars Championship, but a new points-scoring system for the championship is required.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Supercars James Warburton has made some public comments recently, especially in relation to the infamous Lap 150 incidents at Bathurst, and the appeal by Triple Eight Race Engineering against the result of the 2016 Bathurst 1000, comments not befitting a CEO of a major sporting competition.
My advice to Warburton is that your major job is to organise and promote championship events, make sure they are run successfully, make sure teams and drivers are in the championship and are competitive, and other administration activities. You must also focus on not making outlandish public statements about a team or driver in your championship on your own accord, something which is completely different to the media asking the opinion of the CEO about a topic within the sport.
In addition to this, I would like Warburton to treat Supercars Media as a separate entity, and allow it to run to its own agenda, rather than have its commentators, pundits and content closely monitored to ensure it meets the views that the CEO holds about the sport he effectively owns.
Gold Coast pit-lane exit
The pit-lane exit on the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit has come under scrutiny due to the number of accidents at the first chicane, which is just after the pit-lane exit. The championship must address this issue to ensure great racing, instead of huge carnage.
I am not sure what they should change, whether that be where the pit-lane exits onto the race track, or a change in the circuit layout, but a solution must be found to make that part of the circuit much safer than it currently is.
The future of Garth Tander
I actually feel sorry for Garth Tander, and what he is going through right now.
Tander is currently without a drive for 2017 after being dropped by the team that will be known as Walkinshaw Racing next year, being replaced by Scott Pye. There had been possible rumours of Tander creating his own team, but that looks uncertain, and the only other team that appears to have a seat available, Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM), are going through a lot of off-track turmoil following Volvo’s decision to leave the sport at the end of the year.
This, I think, has resulted in the uncharacteristic performances by Tander at Bathurst, where I believe he made a mistake in spatial awareness in the second incident on the infamous Lap 150, and the major error he made in Race 22 of the championship on the Gold Coast.
Viewing from afar, Tander looks like a man who is disinterested, or has lost his motivation to compete to his absolute best, disenchanted with the team, his current situation and the sport that he loves.
He is currently a shadow of the driver who won the championship back in 2007 for the HSV Dealer Team, and must quickly find what is missing at the moment before it is too late for him.
I hope Tander finds a seat, whether it is GRM, creating his own team, or another option, because he deserves to leave the sport on his own terms.
From a championship-winning year in 2015 to just one win in 2016, Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) have lost the speed advantage that they had in 2015, and have gone backwards.
The reason I pinpoint is a lack of significant sponsorship money to be able to develop the cars over the course of the season, something which they didn’t have a problem with in 2015, and if the situation is not reviewed during the off-season, Prodrive could spend 2017 marooned down in the midfield area of the grid.
The car in 2016, while generally having great one lap speed has struggled to keep up with their competitors during the races, and you could argue that their only win this year, at Barbagallo Raceway for Mark Winterbottom, was due to brilliant strategy rather than blistering speed, and the car has a number of underlying issues that have yet to be rectified.
Out of all of the four drivers within the Prodrive structure, Winterbottom has generally done the best that he could have done with the car that he has underneath him, a car which gave him no realistic chance of defending his championship crown.
Chaz Mostert has performed well on his return from a severe leg injury suffered at Bathurst in 2015, but has struggled to match his qualifying speed in the races with a best finish of only third (four times), and has got into a few race-destroying tangles.
Cameron Waters has done well in his first full-time season in a car that has offered no confidence for a rookie driver like him, and the same comments would also describe the year for Chris Pither.
Overall, 2016 has been a disappointing season for PRA.
Triple Eight dominance
There is no shortage of praise that you can give a great team like this one. Expanding to three cars, and coming back from a disappointing season (by their standards) in 2015, Triple Eight Race Engineering have dominated the 2016 International Supercars Championship season, winning 12 out of the 23 races so far, including winning nine out of the last 11 races.
Shane Van Gisbergen has grown as both a driver and a person since joining the team, winning six races, and has the upper-hand on his teammate Jamie Whincup as he aims to claim his first championship, and the first championship by a New Zealander since Jim Richards won his fourth and final championship in 1991 in the famed Nissan Skyline for Gibson Motorsport.
Whincup has performed consistently well throughout 2016 without having a big run of winning success. However, a mistake by his co-driver Paul Dumbrell with the seatbelts at the Sandown 500, and the controversial penalty that Whincup received for the first incident on the infamous Lap 150 at the Bathurst 1000 has put him well on the back foot in his championship battle with Van Gisbergen.
Craig Lowndes performance in the team’s third car has been very good, but he has just missed that extra performance to challenge his teammates for the championship, but has certainly lost none of his ability yet.
Overall, 2016 has been wonderful for Triple Eight, and they are only going to get stronger in 2017 and beyond with the announcement of exclusive factory support from Holden, and the two main cars of Van Gisbergen and Whincup being a part of the new era of the Holden Racing Team with Triple Eight.
So, who will challenge them in 2017?
2017 challengers for Holden Racing Team (HRT)/Triple Eight
In reality, no one.
However, the two teams that should have the best chance, based on stability, finances, factory support, drivers, and potential are Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske (DJR Team Penske) and Nissan Motorsport.
DJR Team Penske are building a strong outfit, not too dissimilar to what Triple Eight did when they took over Briggs Motor Sport during the 2003 season, and have signed the two best drivers that were on the open market at the time in Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin. So, in 2017, they should be winning races and should be an outside chance of winning the championship in 2017.
Nissan Motorsport have made progress over the last four years, but the speed of development appears too slow for a team that is backed by a manufacturer, and by this status, should be challenging for wins consistently. They have got three good drivers in Rick Kelly, the 2006 championship winner, his brother Todd Kelly, and the currently impressive Michael Caruso (should they all race in 2017), so there is no real problem with the drivers, but must improve their car at a much faster rate to achieve their potential as a team.
The other established teams that could possibly challenge HRT/Triple Eight have various factors against them to deny them the opportunity of challenging the sport’s premier team, and the teams with Triple Eight equipment and support would have to be near-perfect throughout the entire season to be a chance of causing a massive upset over their supplier.
So, there is no doubt the new HRT, plus Craig Lowndes will continue to be the team to beat in 2017.