Four Predictions for the 2018 Supercars Championship
Lowndes' last year? Falcon's last year? Penske Nissan?
Walkinshaw Andretti United won't achieve much
DJR Team Penske didn’t win a race until their third season. Walkinshaw Andretti United are starting from a higher base than Penske did, and will probably achieve more in its first season than their fellow American-owned team. But Supercars has very strict rules to stop the likes of Penske and Andretti using overseas resources to gain an unfair advantage over local teams. Andretti and United Autosports can bring money and engineering resources, but the cars must be built in Australia and cannot leave the country without Supercars’ permission. Andretti cannot lean on their American resources, they will have to instead replicate them at Walkinshaw. That will take a long time. WAU is also in the unique position of not having any member its ownership group taking an active role in the day-to-day running of the team. Ryan Walkinshaw lives in Monaco, Michael Andretti is in the US and Zak Brown in the UK. This arrangement generally considered detrimental to a team’s performance.
2018 will be Craig Lowndes’ last full time season
Craig Lowndes first appeared in the Australian Touring Car Championship 22 years ago with the Holden Racing Team, and became the first and only driver to win the championship in his rookie reason. At 22 years old, he was also the youngest ever ATCC champion. His last of three championships came in 1999. That was a very long time ago. Now 43, Lowndes is the oldest driver in Supercars. He finished inside the top four every year from 2005 to 2016, but slipped to 10th last year. To be fair he would have been sixth had Scott McLaughlin not taken him out of race two at Newcastle.
In 2017 Lowndes went winless for the first time. He had one podium, a third in the red flagged race at Symmons Plains. Once again qualifying was his weakness, and he relied on his still-considerable racing talent to make up positions. Triple 8 is one of the top teams in Supercars and isn’t going to continue to accept results like this. In the same year, his team mates Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen were first and fourth in the championship, respectively. Although he has a contract with Triple 8 for next year, Lowndes’ driving future will be subject to a performance review at the end of the year. If he doesn’t improve, he will be relegated to co-driver status alongside Whincup or van Gisbergen. Matt Campbell would be the likely candidate to take over driving duties in the third car.
Better results for Erebus
Since signing David Reynolds and switching from AMG to Holden, Erebus has steadily improved its results and consistency, culminating in winning the Bathurst 1000 last year and Reynolds finishing seventh in the championship. This year they have two new ZB Holden Commodores and Anton de Pasquale in the #99. De Pasquale is a highly regarded rookie who finished fourth in last years Super2 series with Paul Morris Motorsport up against better-funded opposition. Reynolds and de Pasquale is the best two-driver combination Erebus has had since Will Davison and Lee Holdsworth back in 2014. Reynolds is capable of winning more races, is a good chance of finishing in the championship top five and is an outside chance of being champion. With de Pasquale replacing Dale Wood, Erebus can jump Garry Rogers Motorsport for in the teams’ championship, but will likely stay fifth because Tickford has a second two-car team for this year.
A new manufacturer will be announced, or Nissan will expand
Roger Penske has made it public that his team, DJR Team Penske, has all but given up on homologating a Ford Mustang. The Queensland-based American team has been talking to other manufacturers for some time now and are keen to sign one for 2019. In the past, DJR Team Penske has been linked to BMW and Lexus, although both manufacturers seem to have gone cold on the idea. Kia has publicly expressed an interest in entering Supercars in 2020, and Alfa Romeo held discussions with Supercars about supplying the safety car and possibility of a factory team. Both would jump at the chance to sign Penske if they’re still interested in entering. There’s also a chance that Nissan, whose current contract with Kelly Racing expires at the end of the year, might switch to Penske or expand to two teams with them.
Walkinshaw Andretti United may also bring in a new manufacturer. Walkinshaw lost the Holden factory team status to Triple 8 in 2017 and ran as a privateer team for the first time ever. They have signalled their intention to find a new manufacturer, although they have not been linked to anyone specific. Andretti Autosports runs Honda engines in IndyCar and Volkswagens in Global Rallycross, but neither of these manufacturers have ever expressed any interest in Supercars. WAU would need to draw in a new manufacturer rather than rely on existing connections, and be prepared to accept a lower offer than Penske. One advantage they do have over Penske is that they have experience in running a factory team and homologating new cars. Complicating a potential manufacturer switch for WAU is the Walkinshaw Group’s two road car businesses, Holden Special Vehicles and Walkinshaw Performance. Both deal exclusively with Holden and Chevrolet products. However Walkinshaw imports and converts RAM trucks through its American Special Vehicles joint venture, and HSV will soon be doing the same with the Chevy Silverado, so conflicts of interest clearly doesn’t hold Walkinshaw back.
Tickford, like Penske, remains uncommitted to running either Mustangs or Mondeos in 2019. At this point, sticking with Falcons remains a strong possibility for 2019. Like Walkinshaw, Tickford is in the road car business, and just as Walkinshaw’s primary business is Holdens, Tickford currently only offers upgrade packages for Mustangs and Rangers. For Tickford, continuing to run Fords, even homologating a Mustang at its own expense, could be good for their business. But if a new manufacturer came along with enough money, it would be hard to turn them down.
Image credits: Sporting Scribe, Speedcafe, Fox Sports, Border Mail, SSmedia