2017 Supercars Team and Driver Predictions
It’s difficult making predictions, especially about the future, but I’m going to try it anyway. 2017 will be a year where some teams and drivers will look to consolidate on, or recover from, last year, Others will spend most of 2017 focusing on 2018. We already know Holden will have a new twin turbo V6 Commodore in 2018. As well as that, Walkinshaw is believed to be talking to Kia, and Garry Rogers Motorsport may be after Alfa Romeo. The possibility of a Ford Mustang at Prodrive or DJR Team Penske will also get plenty of air time, but the carryover engine means fewer resources from either team than a new manufacturer would need. Teams distracted by 2018 planning may suffer in the short term.
Triple 8 will be the team to beat again
Prodrive, BJR and Tekno will challenge them for most of the year, as well as DJR Team Penske and Nissan Motorsport at the end of the year, but the 2016 drivers and teams champions will be the top team again. It’s hard to see anyone beating them. With Prodrive putting Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert in different garages, Red Bull HRT will win the teams championship by default. Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen will once again be championship favourites, and Craig Lowndes won’t be slow either.Ludo Lacroix might be gone, but he’s a good teacher who will have a lasting impact on Triple 8. And Roland Dane has already hired an unnamed German aerodynamicist to replace him in developing the 2018 Commodore. What could hold Triple 8 back is the responsibility given to them by Holden to develop the racing version of the NG Commodore.
Prodrive will bounce back
Providing they can resolve the Friday/Saturday car speed issues that plagued their mid season, Prodrive will be back on form. Mostert is back in the groove, Winterbottom had some good performances last year,and Waters now has a year of experience under his belt. The fourth entry now has better funding and Jason Bright, if nothing else, will be a good mentor for Waters. On track performance might be held back by development of a new car. Prodrive is investigating a new Ford, either the Mondeo or Mustang. Using the same 5.0L V8 as the Falcon, and with development responsibility shared with DJR Team Penske, it won’t be as resource intensive as that faced by anyone else working on a new car.
Without Holden backing Walkinshaw won’t be able to fund development as much as they have in the past. Given their cars are already off the pace away from street circuits, this will hold them back. Walkinshaw’s focus will be on securing a new manufacturer, almost certainly Kia, for 2018. Development on their existing cars will focus on the chassis, and giving Scott Pye what he wants from it. Expect podiums and wins at the street races, Sandown and maybe Bathurst, and not much elsewhere.
BJR and Nick Percat will have a good year
Nick Percat showed a great deal of promise early in his career, winning Bathurst on debut with Garth Tander. Since then, uncompetitive Walkinshaw and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport cars have limited his successes to an upset win at a rain soaked Adelaide last year. A talented driver who has had a run of bad luck, Percat comes to BJR under similar circumstances to Fabian Coulthard and Tim Slade,both of whom won multiple races there. Together with Slade, Percat can help BJR get back the form they showed in 2013 and 14. Aiding BJR's cause is that unless they're the ones to score Alfa Romeo factory backing, they won't have to worry about a new 2018 car. They just have to buy their body panels and engines from Triple 8 and mount them to their chassis. Just like they do now.
Simona de Silvestro will be near the back, but she won’t stay there
Alex Premat and Robert Dahlgren didn’t achieve anything in their short V8 Supercar careers. Simona de Silvestro comes in with slightly more experience, having done Bathurst twice. Expectations will be low, but her record in other categories suggests that she is a capable driver. In the right team environment she will improve and get good results. At the very least, she is of a higher calibre than her predecessor, Dale Wood, and will progress to the mid pack this year or next.
DJR Team Penske will have a slow start, potentially winning races in the back half of the season
DJR Team Penske have very high expectations for themselves, and most people expect them to deliver on them sooner rather than later. However, they’ve been saying that for two years now and are yet to deliver a race win, Scott McLaughlin and Ludo Lacroix (possibly, he hasn’t been confirmed) will help, but not instantly. Penske is a very different environment to what McLaughlin is used to, and it will take time for him to settle in. If Lacroix is their new technical director, he will also need time to make an impact. Every year they make at least one massive change that make things worse before getting better. Expect them to have a good result at Clipsal, and then drop off the pace at subsequent rounds, before re-emerging near the front around enduro time like last year and the year before. They will win races, but no earlier than Sandown. If they elect to introduce a new Ford in 2018, they will co-develop it with Prodrive and lean on Team Penske’s American operation for support to limit the impact on 2017 performance.
2017 will be a transition year for GRM
As with Walkinshaw, GRM will spend 2017 focussing on 2018. Following court-ordered mediation, they were forced to quickly build two VF Commodores to replace their Volvos. The Commodores are likely to be temporary cars. The team will probably spend most of their time trying to secure backing from Alfa Romeo (or someone else) and then developing a new car for 2018. As a result, on-track performance will probably suffer towards the end of the year. Both their drivers, James Moffat and Garth Tander, will be out to impress and do as well as they can with the car they’re given. Both only have a year on their contracts, and GRM Dunlop Series driver James Golding is waiting to step up. Moffat will continue to improve, having been hampered by a car biased towards McLaughlin’s preferences for the first part of last year, but the much older Tander is still fast. Moffat could be in trouble.
Better results for Erebus
They might not have won a race last year, but it was still Erebus’s best season yet. The switch to Holden Commodores, moving to Melbourne and signing David Reynolds equated to starting over again, and brought improved consistency. They were held back by monetary problems and second driver instability. This year Dale Wood joins the team bringing GB Galvanising sponsorship and more experience than Ash Walsh, Aaron Russell and Shae Davies, who have all driven the #4 E63/Commodore over the last two years. Add a more confident and comfortable Reynolds and Erebus will make gains. Success for Erebus would mean beating LDM and the second Nissan pairing of Caruso and De Silvestro in the teams championship. Reynolds will want a top 10 championship finish and at least one race win.
Michael Caruso will be regularly competing for race wins
Over the past four years, Michael Caruso has been the standout Nissan driver. Last year he won at Hidden Valley, the track with the longest straight in the championship, suggesting that Nissan are overcoming their power deficit. More importantly, he has become more consistent. In previous seasons, the Nissans performed well at Winton and Surfers Paradise, but achieved little elsewhere. Last year was more consistent for Caruso with more top 10 finishes than in previous years. Nissan are catching the Ford and Holden establishment, while two of the teams that did better than them last year may well go backwards. Caruso should be able to improve on last year
At least one pay driver at LDM
The Triple 8 customer team have lost Percat and are yet to confirm a re-signing of Andre Heimgartner. This indicates that Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport once again find themselves in financial danger and can’t scrape the funding together to pay Heimgartner. If that’s the case then they won’t be looking for a second salaried driver. Chris Pither seems like a good candidate. He brings money from Ice Break and scored Super Black Racing’s only pole position at Queensland Raceway. With Super Black gone, Pither needs a new team. Aaron Russell, with backing from Plus Fitness (and a wealthy father) is another option. He drove for them in the Enduro Cup so might have a better chance than Pither. Unfortunately Heimgartner, who deserves the seat more, looks like missing out. There aren’t really any other driver options because the larger teams have already snapped up the top junior drivers for their development programs. Whoever they get, it will be a struggle at LDM just to survive the season.
We won’t know if any of these predictions are correct for a while, perhaps not until the end of the year. What is certain is that preparations for 2018 will alter the pecking order in 2017. Walkinshaw and GRM will be the teams to watch as they chase new manufacturers, while speculation will continue over which Ford Prordrive and DJR Team Penske will run in 2018. 2017 could be a year defined by what happens off the track rather than on it. With the other teams distracted by new car development, 2017 could be a big year for BJR and Nissan.