Sunny skies and a picturesque setting underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the perfect scene for the launch of the 2020 Supercars Championship season.
Standing proud with a spring in his step, CEO Sean Seamer boasted about the sport with many highlights and exciting changes to come for the 60th running of the championship.
The biggest talking point from the season launch, however, was the first public reveal of the newly formed Team Sydney, which is entering the championship this year with two Holden ZB Commodores.
Transitioning from the old Tekno Autosports, team owner Jonathon Webb took an opportunity presented to him by Supercars to relocate his single-car team from the Gold Coast to the western Sydney area with support from the New South Wales government.
This groundbreaking arrangement sees the harbour city become the home of the first Sydney-based team since Wayne Gardner Racing closed down their operations in 1999.
The initial announcement of the project on the weekend of the Bathurst 1000 in October saw Webb and Seamer come out with all smiles while also showing off star driver signing James Courtney.
For Webb and Courtney, it makes sense for them to be part of the project given they both grew up in Australia’s biggest city. So, more or less, this is a ‘coming home’ moment for them.
As many people who follow motor racing in Australia are aware, this highly publicised race team came close to not happening at all.
An ownership dispute between initial partners Webb and Sydney businessman Rod Salmon saw a parting of ways between the two as they fought over who had the rights to the concept.
Doubts over the running of the team saw the Supercars management step in to assist in the resurrection of the project, eventually coming to the resolution that the team would purchase another racing entitlement contract (REC) from Supercars and go it alone.
Finally, after months of ‘no comment’ from the key internal stakeholders, it was a relief for many when the first Team Sydney entry of Courtney’s race car decked out in Coca-Cola sponsorship broke cover at the season launch on Tuesday.
While there are no finer details of the teams second entry, Chris Pither is expected be named as the driver of the second entry in the Team Sydney line-up.
The collapse of Team Sydney would have been a complete embarrassment for Supercars, who had been planning for a team in the country’s largest city for quite some time, particularly since it had been formally announced as going ahead back in October.
The array of opportunities that can be unlocked from a commercial, marketing and viewership perspective in Sydney are enormous.
Providing the people of Sydney with their own race team to cheer on fills in a gap within the marketing capabilities of Supercars, in turn helping the sport to further gain more popularity in Australia.
Therefore a sudden turn in direction of the project would have been disastrous for the sport given the NSW government are investing money into building a state-of-the-art facility at Eastern Creek’s Sydney Motorsport Park to house the team.
Clearly, given the situation, there was a strong motive for all parties involved to get this team up and running so they didn’t come out of it with egg on their face.
Although it is fantastic to see a new team being formed and a new direction for Supercars to go in, the setbacks and new deadlines provided to Team Sydney as they sorted through their issues couldn’t be provided to a stalwart of Supercars, bringing to light a contradicting circumstance.
The deadline for RECs to be lodged to Supercars was on Friday, 18 October, with long-time motor racing icon Garry Rogers making the hard decision to take his two-car team out of the sport by selling one of his licences and handing the other one back to Supercars.
Amid his own issues with regard to a major sponsor pulling out from the team, Rogers’s request for an extension to his REC lodgement date to secure his teams future was knocked back by Supercars, leaving him with no choice but to pull out from a sport he has been a much-loved member of since 1996.
The fact that Supercars could not provide extra time for the Garry Rogers Motorsport operation to secure their future to give them every opportunity to be on the grid for a 25th season is appalling considering what they have given back to the motorsport community over a long period of time.
GRM were influential in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the sport was gaining in significant popularity both on TV and with an ever-growing number of fans.
Garry’s history of recruitment and early development of some the best drivers we have seen, such as Garth Tander, Jason Bargwanna, Jamie Whincup, Lee Holdsworth and Michael Caruso, to name a few, have earnt him a reputation of respect among the Supercars community.
This coupled with his tough-as-nails but fair attitude in all areas of his race team as well as his humorous, easygoing attitude towards race fans has made him a much-loved member of the sport.
The loss of GRM to the sport is confusing and contradicts the policies of Supercars.
They have unwillingly let the uncertainty of Team Sydney go on for so long throughout their internal ownership dispute that with that time GRM could have shored up their own future to take their place on the grid for the 2020 season.
Supercars have made the wrong move here by allowing this to happen and in the process have still left many fans disgruntled at the whole situation.
While Supercars have created a superb initiative with the new Team Sydney venture, this coupled with the loss of GRM casts a cloud over the situation.
While you can’t predict the future, there is no doubt that for as long as Seamer is in the top job, he would be struggling with this in the back of his mind knowing he couldn’t provide a solution to a much-loved character of the sport and therefore continue the championship as it was: a fun place to be with his presence floating around in pitlane.