Is James the better Moffat?
It's harder being a racing driver in 2018 than 1978
Recently a friend of mine asked me if I thought Allan Moffat or his son James Moffat was a better driver at their peak. Allan, surely? But I think there’s actually good reason to believe James is the better Moffat.
Allan Moffat is one of Australia's most revered touring car drivers. He won the Australian Touring Car Championship and the Bathurst 1000 four times each, the Australian Endurance Championship twice and the Sebring 12 Hour. Allan has the 8th most race wins in ATCC/Supercars history with 36. Throughout the 1970s, Allan Moffat was one of Australia’s best touring car drivers. His team was one of most well-resourced in the country, and at times received factory backing from Ford and Mazda, winning championships with both manufacturers.
James Moffat has only won a single race. That win came at Winton in 2013, where he lead a Nissan Motorsport 1-2 ahead of Michael Caruso. James started out in Supercars in 2011 and came with great expectations. He was well credentialed. He had placed second and third in the 2009 and 2010 V8 Supercars Development Series and third in the 2008 Australian Carrera Cup Championship, and was a race winner in both categories. Joining Dick Johnson Racing as a replacement for outgoing 2010 champion James Courtney, and carrying the baggage that comes with a famous surname, James was under more pressure than most new drivers. But he arrived at DJR at the wrong time. Team manager Adrian Burgess departed for Triple Eight and the team was desperately short on funds. He still showed plenty of promise at the struggling Queensland squad and finished in the top 10 on multiple occasions. He was picked up by Kelly Racing ahead of their 2013 switch to Nissan.
The Nissan Altima took a long time to develop, which hampered Moffat’s results. He was competitive with his teammates, but towards the end of his tenure there, he started falling behind Caruso. When the team needed to take on a pay driver to make up a sponsorship shortfall, Moffat was dropped. A move to Garry Rogers Motorsport, then the factory Volvo team, failed to live up to expectations. Moffat struggled to come to terms with a car developed over the last two years to suit Scott McLaughlin and no one else. Volvo then withdrew their support and GRM went back to Holden on a significantly reduced R&D budget. When Moffat failed to outperform new team mate Garth Tander, he was dropped in favour of GRM protege James Golding. Now Moffat is proving to be a capable co-driver for Tickford’s Chaz Mostert. Only the mistake of another co-driver at a wet Sandown ruined a good performance.
When Allan Moffat was racing, there was not much depth of competition. Owner-drivers made up a large portion of the field. Only the two or three factory teams were actually professional operations. Allan Moffat was the first truly full-time racing driver. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, most drivers had jobs outside of racing. James Moffat had to compete against 25 professional athletes whose entire lives revolved around racing. The modern professional racing driver’s diet and fitness regime is as micro-managed as any other elite athlete. Plenty of Allan’s competitors, meanwhile, were smokers.
Let’s put the Moffats aside for a moment and look at Craig Lowndes. In 1996, Lowndes won the ATCC in this rookie season. This will never be repeated again. Lowndes, driving for the well-funded Holden Racing Team, faced only 12 full-time competitors. Only seven of those were paid professionals, the rest were-owner drivers. Arguably, an aging Peter Brock was only there on the back of the Mobil sponsorship he brought to HRT. Mark Skaife was racing for a team with no money. Today the only owner-drivers left are Rick Kelly and Tim Blanchard. Blanchard is the only driver who has bought his way into Supercars, the only one who came in without demonstrating serious talent elsewhere, the only one who has a day job with his family’s business.
I don’t mean to discredit the achievements of Allan Moffat or others of his generation, but the 40 year long arms race between drivers and teams alike means that every new competitor has to work a bit harder than the competition. Records in any sport are continually broken and what was good enough to win a decade ago won’t even get close today. Would Allan Moffat at the peak of his abilities have been faster than Jamie Whincup at his? Absolutely not. Would Allan Moffat subjected to the same training regime as Whincup be as quick as Whincup? Potentially. Would the likes of Peter Janson? Probably not. Intense competition weeds out anyone short of brilliant.
No driver today will enjoy the same career longevity Johnson and Brock did. Nor will a driver ever win a championship in their 40s again like Johnson or Robbie Francevic did. Never mind racing halfway competitively into their 50s. Russell Ingall, who won the championship at 41, will likely remain the last. Craig Lowndes is the exception still being able to win races at 44. The physical demands on drivers today is too much to sustain for that long. Jamie Whincup relied on consistency and the much younger Scott McLaughlin’s immaturity and questionable decision making under pressure to win the 2017 title.
While Allan Moffat was certainly a more successful driver than his son James, it is difficult to say that he was necessarily better. Motor racing has changed dramatically since the 1970s. It has never been more difficult to compete as a driver, simply getting into a national championship is a herculean task.