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Talking points ahead of Supercars' return to racing

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Roar Guru
26th October, 2021
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The wait has been arduous since the Supercars championship last turned a wheel in anger at the Townsville SuperSprint in July, with the COVID-19 pandemic having halted the series due to states and territories locking down in response to outbreaks.

Despite the lack of racing, there has been plenty to discuss around Supercars, with a shock silly season having seen a significant reshuffling of the grid for 2022 and more on the future of the category in regard to its impending sale and the introduction of Gen3.

With the nation now ready to return to a version of normality, Supercars is ready to go racing too at Sydney Motorsport Park this weekend and here are all the talking points to know heading into the first of four consecutive rounds at Eastern Creek.

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Silly season
A shock announcement by Andre Heimgartner that he’d be parting ways with Kelly Grove Racing at the end of the season triggered what has been an intense period of driver movement during the COVID shutdown.

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The 26-year-old Kiwi, who took the team’s only win this year at the Bend, cited that the departure of the Kelly family from the Braeside operation at season’s end was key in making this shock decision.

Heimgartner since has been confirmed as part of a fresh lineup at Brad Jones Racing with Bryce Fullwood. The Albury squad saw the surprising departure of Nick Percat, likely bound for Walkinshaw Andretti United, and have also parted ways with Todd Hazelwood after three seasons.

Porsche Carrera Cup ace Matthew Payne is expected to take up the vacant seat at Grove Racing alongside David Reynolds in 2022, provided he qualifies for the required Superlicense.

David Reynolds

David Reynolds (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Hazelwood confirmed a return to Matt Stone Racing, who saw incumbent Jake Kostecki picked up by Tickford as part of their return to a four-car team. Kostecki joins Thomas Randle as well as Cameron Waters and James Courtney who’ve signed fresh multi-year deals.

Tickford refugee Jack Le Brocq is in frame to join 26-year-old Hazelwood at Matt Stone’s team, while Zane Goddard confirmed that he won’t be racing for the Queensland based outfit beyond the end of this year.

The prized seat of Jamie Whincup at Triple Eight was as well confirmed to be going to Super2 championship leader Broc Feeney, though the Red Bull juggernaut have had to deal with a raft of engineering changes for 2022 with David Cauchi headed to Grove as Team Principal and 2021 acquisition Wes McDougall leaving due to health reasons.

Elsewhere the combinations have stayed the same. Scott Pye agreed to a new deal with the burgeoning Team 18, who’ll also retain the services of 2015 Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom. Shell V-Power Racing, Erebus, Blanchard Racing and Tekno Team Sydney stay the same.

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Sydney race formats
When it was confirmed that there would be four consecutive weekends of racing at the Western Sydney circuit, in order to achieve the minimum contracted rounds for the championship, there was great speculation as to how varied it would be.

The answer was that it doesn’t seem all too different. Three of the four rounds will be the SuperSprint format, which features three 125-kilometre races across the weekend and no refuelling. Night racing under the new state of the art lighting at the circuit will feature in the first two weekends also.

Garry Jacobson’s RABBLEclub Racing Nissan Altima

(Stephen Blackberry/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Different tyre allocations will also feature, with the first and third weekends only having the soft compound and then the second round introducing the hard as well as the soft. However many still feel divided over the SuperSprint formats, which have been seen more as a tyre-saving exercise.

The final weekend will see a return of refuelling and the 500 format, with two 250-kilometre races across the Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s opening race will take place at night and both races will be preceded by top ten Shootouts.

Each round as well will utilise the traditional 3.93-kilometre Gardner layout, despite other variations of the track also available.

As much as this impending smorgasbord of racing is appreciated and needed, ahead of the season ending Bathurst 1000, it would’ve been nicer to have seen Supercars a bit more adventurous with the four events.

Instead of a third SuperSprint, if it were logistically possible to have had a 500-kilometre endurance race prior to the Bathurst 1000, it would have been far more entertaining than seeing the co-drivers get a single 40-minute practice session on the Friday of the final SuperNight.

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Nevertheless, it is with great anticipation that we await the return of Supercars as was the case in 2020 at Sydney Motorsport Park.

Further delay of Gen3
In early October it was announced that Supercars would be ditching the previously confusing idea of introducing the all new Gen3 technical regulations midway through 2022 and instead pushing it to the start of 2023.

It is confusing because why would any motorsport category introduce an all-new car and set of technical regulations in the middle of what could be a close battle for the championship, regardless of unprecedented circumstances related to the ongoing affects of the pandemic?

Jamie Whincup drives at Bathurst

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

“Factors outside the control of Supercars, including the ongoing challenges with international supply chains and domestic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are among the major contributing factors,” read the statement from Supercars.

Gen3 has been the subject of much speculation and debate since its initial delay announced back in 2019. Items such as what configuration of gear-change device the cars will be equipped will continue to cause a stir, with many split between ditching the sequential stick shift for the paddle shifters.

However, what is promising is that prototypes of the updated Ford Mustang and all-new Chevrolet Camaro will be unveiled during the Bathurst 1000 weekend in December. The category has also committed to significant on-track exhibitions and testing of Gen3 cars at several events in 2022.

Coupled with the impending sale of Supercars, Gen3 really poises to be a defining moment in the way the long-standing premier touring car championship moves ahead, among an automotive climate dictated by the pursuit of sustainability.

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The sale of Supercars
It has been an ongoing narrative in the background of the 2021 season, but at last the sale of Supercars by current majority shareholder Archer Capital looks set to be finalised and announced.

Several contenders vied for the 65 per cent majority stake including a bid from a consortium involving the likes of Boost mobile boss Peter Adderton, MotoGP legend Mick Doohan and former Supercars racer Paul Morris – however it appears to be a group called RACE that is set to take the reins.

Racing Australia Consolidated Enterprises sees international marketing agency TLA and the Australian Racing Group, which promotes series such as TCR, S5000 and the GT World Challenge Australia, combine to assume control of the Supercars championship.

The chequered flag.

(Photo by Darren Heath/Getty Images)

Not only is it expected that they’ll control the 65 per cent majority share, but also buyout the 35 per cent remaining stake that is owned by all the current teams. This will hopefully see all high-profile categories in the country under RACE’s umbrella.

As stated above, the biggest challenge for Supercars heading into the future will be to see a successful rollout of Gen3, continue to provide entertaining racing and ensure that the category can generate profit for the teams by controlling costs.

It is a measure that Formula One has taken this year by introducing a performance cost cap to strive towards a more equalised and sustainable championship.

Otherwise, Supercars faces the risk of being unattractive to new manufacturers, competitors and investors should it fail to adapt so it can thrive in the future.

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2022 calendar
No one can be blamed to be already looking ahead to 2022, given how much of this year was impacted by lockdowns and restrictions. It is the same for Supercars, who’ll be hoping to return to a full-strength schedule and see the return of some sorely missed events.

A full calendar is yet to be released. However Supercars did confirm that the season will open at the Newcastle 500 with the regional street circuit returning to the fold for the first time since it closed out the 2019 season.

It will effectively replace the long-time favourite Adelaide 500 as the first round, despite Mount Panorama having hosted it in 2021. The Newcastle 500 will be held on March 5-6.

Other venues that are currently contracted to host Supercars events are Darwin, Townsville, Tasmania, Sydney and Sandown. The Gold Coast 600 will be a welcome return to the calendar having also been last run in 2019.

Supercars should feature on the support bill for the Australian Grand Prix, which for 2022 has lost its traditional season-opening status and instead will be the third round for Formula One hosted on April 18-20.

The Bend, Winton, Perth and a round in New Zealand would be welcomed too, with the latter three locations also having missed out on Supercars since before the pandemic in 2019.

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