Tickford Racing Can Do Better Than This

Tyre changes see the 2015 champions off the pace again after a 2017 resurgence. It's absolutely not too late to avoid a Walkinshaw-style demise

Tickford Racing has been one of the top Supercars teams in recent history. Winning the 2013 and 14 Bathurst 1000s, the 2015 drivers’ championships and the 2017 Enduro Cup are highlights of a 14 year run that also includes two Super2 championships, three Sandown 500s, 61 race wins, and 59 pole positions. Lately, however, the Melbourne-based Ford team has failed to fire.

Tickford’s form slump started back in 2016, when they were known as Prodrive Racing Australia. Mark Winterbottom had won the 2015 drivers’ championship, and had Chaz Mostert not broken his leg in a season-ending crash during qualifying at Bathurst, Prodrive would have secured the teams’ championship. Prodrive had been the dominant team in 2015. Between Winterbottom, Mostert and David Reynolds, Prodrive won 16 of 36 races. Expectations were high for 2016. Things didn’t work out as they should have, though. Mostert’s time off had a detrimental effect on his form, while Winterbottom, having finally won a championship had seemingly lost motivation. Making matters worse, Mostert’s long time engineer Adam deBorre left for rival team DJR Team Penske. Mostert had his first winless season, while Winterbottom only achieved two race wins. The pair placed 6th and 7th in the drivers’ championship, respectively. Reynolds was replaced by rookie Cameron Waters, who achieved a best result of fourth at Adelaide and Bathurst, and a championship placing of 19th. For commercial reasons, Waters replaced Mostert in the main team. Mostert was moved to the Rod Nash Racing satelite team. Winterbottom and Waters placed fourth in the teams’ championship.

2017 brought new reasons to be optimistic. Mostert had fully recovered from his accident and was working with deBorre once again. Waters had a year’s full-time experience and he and Winterbottom, could mount a better challenge for the teams’ championship. The team had a promising start at the Adelaide 500. All three drivers qualified in the top 10 for race one, and Waters and Winterbottom finished fourth and ninth respectively. Sunday saw Mostert and Waters qualify fourth and seventh, with Mostert finishing on the podium in third. Prodrive left Adelaide with room for improvement, but still credible championship contenders. Solid results at round two in Tasmania were followed by a one-two finish at Phillip Island, with Mostert leading home Winterbottom. A sixth and second for Mostert in Perth saw him come to Prodrive’s home round at Winton very much in the championship hunt. At this point, no one had won more than two races, and it was still anyone’s game. However, on Saturday, Mostert was the victim of a transaxle failure. On Sunday, all he could manage was eighth. Although Winterbottom and Waters continued to winless through the mid-season, Mostert performed strongly and won again at Queensland Raceway. In most other years, his results would have been enough to lead the championship. Unfortunately for Mostert and Prodrive, their credible performances were overshadowed by the sheer number of races Scott McLaughlin was winning and Jamie Whincup’s relentless consistency.

Mostert had a good year in 2017, but not quite good enough

Mostert had a good year in 2017, but not quite good enough

When the Enduro Cup came around in September, things were looking up again. Waters had a breakthrough first win at the Sandown 500 with Richie Stanaway, while Mostert and Steve Owen came home third. At the wet Bathurst 1000, both Mostert/Owen and Waters/Stanaway seemed unstoppable until it all unravelled for both pairings in the dying stages. Mostert’s 10th place finish, along with McLaughlin’s DNF and Whincup’s 20th kept him in the championship hunt. A win and a seventh at the Gold Coast 600 was more than enough for Mostert and Owen to secure Prodrive’s first Enduro Cup win. Mostert seemed to have enough momentum to take the championship fight to McLaughlin and Whincup. He needed to have a great finish to the year, but an incident with Reynolds in the penultimate round at Pukekohe, New Zealand, resulting in a 24th place on Saturday left him a mathematical chance only. Penske’s Fabian Coulthard also dropped out of the running at this point.

Winterbottom suffered is first winless season since joining Prodrive in 2003. Mostert, Winterbottom and Waters were fifth, sixth and eighth in the drivers’ championship, respectively. Prodrive improved it’s team’s championship result to third. Rod Nash Racing was comfortably the highest placed single car team, nearly 600 points ahead of Triple 8’s third entry driven by Craig Lowndes. Had Bathurst and race one at Winton and Pukekohe turned out differently, Mostert could have won the championship. Actually, I’ve done the maths. Had Mostert’s control transaxle not failed after qualifying and running second, and he continued to maintain his position, he would have received 138 points. Additionally Whincup would have placed third and earned 129. Had there not been a change of weather and Mostert held onto the lead at Bathurst he would have come away with 300 points rather than 156. Seventh place at Pukekohe would have netted him 96 points rather than 36. Mostert scored 2,769 points last year. With these adjustments, he would have had 3,111 points, comfortably securing him the championship ahead of Whincup on 3,032 and McLaughlin on 3,021. You can exclude Pukekohe, the only one that was actually Mostert’s own fault. Better fortunes at Winton and Bathurst only would have been enough.

With Prodrive Racing Australia’s licensing with UK-based former parent company Prodrive expiring at the conclusion of, 2017, the team needed a new name. They already owned the Tickford name, and had recently revived the Tickford road car business, so Tickford Racing was the natural choice. Tickford acquired a fourth Racing Entitlement Contract to field a car for Richie Stanaway. The Rod Nash Racing REC finally was absorbed into the main Tickford team after five years of Nash owning it independently of his major share of Tickford. This gave Tickford two two-car entries in the teams’ championship. Previously they had run the two-car Prodrive Racing, single car RNR, and a fourth car for a single car customer satellite team. Most recently this team was Jason Bright's Britek.

A fourth car for Stanaway replaced Jason Bright's Britek customer entry in 2018

A fourth car for Stanaway replaced Jason Bright's Britek customer entry in 2018

After a mostly positive 2017, Tickford had high expectations for 2018. The team and it’s fans were hoping they could carry their late-2017 momentum into 2018, get off to a good start and win the championship. It’s extremely disappointing to see them struggle in the opening four rounds. Tickford are the only multi-car team to have not yet scored a podium. Even Walkinshaw Andretti United has three, including a win for Scott Pye. Last year, WAU, in their previous incarnation as Walkinshaw Racing, had two podiums for the entire season. Mostert, Winterbottom, Waters, and Stanaway are seventh, 14th, 16th and 26th in the drivers’ championship, respectively. Tickford’s lead pairing of Mostert and Winterbottom sit fifth in the teams’ championship. Waters and Stanaway are 11th, last of the two car teams. The best finishing positions any of them have achieved so far are Mostert’s fourths at Adelaide and Albert Park. Waters has had two fifth places and Mostert and Winterbottom one each. Stanaway’s best result so far is 18th. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Anton de Pasquale is yet to place outside the top 20, and finished seventh at Phillip Island in his Erebus Motorsport Commodore.

One positive in Tickford’s results is that, Symmons Plains race two DNF aside, Mostert is the only driver yet to finish outside the top 10. But is Mostert carrying the car? His teammates aren’t exactly slow. They’re all capable of better results than they’re getting. Another positive was Winterbottom's pace at Adelaide. He was running fourth late in the Sunday race and catching the leaders before a kerb hopping infringement (blamed by he commentary team on inaccurate measurement systems), saw him served a pit lane penalty. The cars aren't fundamentally flawed, they're just not up to the front-runners.

Winterbottom was handed a PLP while running strongly in fourth at Adelaide

Winterbottom was handed a PLP while running strongly in fourth at Adelaide

“Certainly we can try to draw some direction from what Chaz was doing with his car, because that was certainly the most-competitive of our cars. ” said team principal Tim Edwards after Phillip Island last weekend.

Mostert’s driving style, which is somewhat different to the other three, is allowing him to cope better.

“They always tune their cars to their own taste, and Chaz drives a little bit different to the others as well. It’s not just a case of ‘we’ll put that on the car’, because you’re looking for tenths and the driving style obviously forms part of it as well. “They’re all trying everything. They’re all frustrated with the speed of the car at the moment”, Edwards added.

Understeer leading to tyre degradation was the main problem faced by Tickford at Phillip Island. Winterbottom considered himself lucky to finish on Sunday after his tyres degraded to the point where the front tyre chords started breaking. Mostert believes the problem is that Supercars has reverted to the 2016 tyre for 2018. Supercars and Dunlop introduced a new tyre construction for 2017, but went back to the old tyre after drivers suffered a series of blowouts, particularly early in the season during practice. As teams started running less aggressive camber angles, the blowouts became far less frequent. Tickford suffered a form slump in 2016. They then recovered and had a strong second half of 2017. Obviously last year’s tyres suited Tickford’s cars better than the old ones they’re using now. Now they need to make their cars work on the new old tyres, which they can do. The 2016/18 tyres are the same ones used in 2015 when Winterbottom won the championship, and in 2013 when Winterbottom and Steven Richards won Bathurst, and in 2014 when Mostert and Paul Morris won Bathurst from last on the grid. Tyre life was even one of their strengths in 2014. The FG-X Falcon’s aero package clearly doesn’t fundamentally disagree with the tyres, nor does Tickford’s chassis. Tickford can win races this year. Literally going back to a 2015-spec chassis won’t work because all the other teams have progressed since then, so a 2015-spec Tickford Falcon would be slower than a 2018 one.

According to Mostert, the car was better at Phillip Island than it was at Symmons Plains. But still far from perfect. “Tassie, I didn’t feel like I could put two laps together, whereas here I can put the laps together, I just can’t put the car exactly where I want it,” Mostert said following Saturday’s race at Phillip Island. “We still have a lot of work to do, but coming from Tassie to here’s night and day different. In saying that I want it to get to the next sunrise. We’ll see how we go.”

While starting head in the right direction, Tickford still has some way to go, particularly with Winterbottom, Waters, and Stanaway’s cars. It’s important that they don’t panic and do anything irrational. That kind of behavior is what led Walkinshaw on their downward spiral towards having to be rescued by Andretti Autosports. Tickford needs to take stock of the situation and act accordingly. Throwing out everything and starting again from scratch doesn’t work if you’re already finishing as high as fourth. Again, that’s what Walkinshaw did. Walkinshaw tossed out everything in frustration over running third rather than first, and ended up sliding further backwards.The fundamental ingredients are already there at Tickford. It’s more a matter of putting it all together in the right way.

The team, drivers and fans are all frustrated, but the season is only four rounds deep into a 16 round championship. Everyone at Tickford knows they need to improve. Tickford has done better before, and can do better again.

Image credits: Speedcafe, Fox Sports

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