The 2016-17 Supercars Silly Season
If you're new to Supercars, please check out this introduction to the series
The Supercars (I’m still not used to not typing V8) silly season might not be as silly as previous years, but it's started very early. Scott McLaughlin going from Garry Rogers Motorsport to DJR Team Penske was the first move announced. This leaves Scott Pye looking for a drive next year. Holden and Erebus have also thrown a couple of spanners in the works, and again there are the questions about older drivers retiring. It's time to have a look at where all the key players stand and make some early predictions before it really gets going.
We're guaranteed to see at least one driver change at Walkinshaw. James Courtney will leave, either to Japan to race in Super GT, or to Nissan Motorsport. Things are less certain for Garth Tander though. He'll probably want to stay because his options are limited but he'll have to take a pay cut. What Walkinshaw does is closely tied to Erebus. Erebus team owner Betty Klimenko has stated that she wants two good drivers in her car. She has two realistic choices: Garth Tander and Scott Pye. She'd be wise to take Pye, but I'd expect her to choose Tander for his experience. That probably puts Pye at Walkinshaw potentially alongside Simona de Silvestro, who would bring much needed sponsorship from Supercars and marketability. There are many other possibilities between Walkinshaw and Erebus. Walkinshaw could have a Tander/Pye line-up, with Prodrive’s second Dunlop series driver Garry Jacobson at Erebus.
Changes at Nissan Motorsport/Kelly Racing will depend on a few things. Nissan has been waiting for Holden to announce their plans to continue in Supercars before making their own decision. They may have been after something Holden had, and wanted to get it if Holden dropped it. One of those would have been Triple Eight. We now know that Triple Eight will be the Holden Racing Team from next year, so that’s out. They may now try to poach James Courtney from Walkinshaw to replace Todd Kelly or Dale Wood. For this to work. Nissan would have to increase their sponsorship of Kelly Racing. Could James Courtney be driving an Altima with Nismo branding alongside Michael Caruso? If Nissan Australia CEO Richard Emery is to be believed, we should know at the end of the month.
Based on his age and is poor results this season, Jason Bright would be seriously considering his future as full time driver. This opens up a seat at Brad Jones Racing, where Nick Percat would fit in well. BJR have a history of taking in talented drivers who have had a run of bad luck and finding success with them. Fabian Coulthard and Tim Slade are good examples of this. Percat could be next. If Percat leaves, then LD Motorsport, the Manor Racing of Supercars, will need a new driver. If he can't find something better, expect Jacobson to end up here.
Despite their three drivers being contracted for next year, we have to talk about Prodrive Racing Australia. That's because Prodrive are running first and second in the Dunlop series, and first placed Jack LeBrocq has the talent, money and character deserving of a full time drive in a top team. Prodrive only run three cars and they can handle a fourth if they evict customer satellite team Super Black Racing. Supercars have two RECs available and if a team like Prodrive wants one, they'll sell them one. This does rely on them finding the money to buy a REC, but they have a new investor, they're buying a bigger factory and LeBrocq has sponsorship money. Plus he's young, talented and clean cut. That's a very marketable combination. If Prodrive expands, Super Black will need a new home. If they can't, then driver Chris Pither makes another candidate for LD Motorsport alongside fellow ex-SBR driver Andre Heimgartner.
Things should stay the same at Charlie Schwerkolt’s Team 18. Lee Holdsworth is off contract but Charlie knows he can't do any better and Lee has nowhere else to go. A move to Team 18 to get out of the uncompetitive Erebus Mercedes has seen him fade into irrelevance somewhat. But I still wouldn't rule him out of the running for that BJR seat. He could be an outside chance.
That empty seat at GRM? Garth Tander and Scott Pye have both been linked to it, but Garry Rogers has said he wants a rookie driver. That means GRM's own James Golding, who sits third in the Dunlop series is a sure bet to get the call-up.
The next series of moves will be triggered by either an announcement that James Courtney is leaving Walkinshaw, or Jason Bright is retiring. I’ll write another post later in the year when we hopefully have a better understanding of what’s going on.