Supercars' Generational Change
When Supercars’ introduced the Car of the Future regulations in 2013, they kicked off a generational change. The new cars put young drivers like Scott McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert on a more level playing field with the experienced hands. The change entered a new phase last year, with 27 year old Shane van Gisbergen winning his first championship.
This year, van Gisbergen continues to lead his older teammates Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes. Whincup is more than likely past his peak, and Lowndes is battling to stay on as a full time driver. Lowndes is the second oldest and longest serving driver in the championship, joining the ATCC in 1996. He is the only driver to win the championship in his rookie season, and that's unlikely to change. Over the course of his career, the average driver age dropped significantly as 50-something owner-drivers made way for paid professionals in the late 1990s.
At Prodrive, the drivers sit in the standings in reverse order of age. Cameron Waters wasn't quite as lucky as Mostert or McLaughlin, starting in the fourth year of COTF/Next Generation, yet he currently sits fifth in the championship. Mostert, however, still likely represents their best chance at winning the driver's championship. 2015 champion Mark Winterbottom hasn't had as good a start to the year as his younger teammates. He was held back by brake issues at Adelaide and the Melbourne Grand Prix, but even when the issue was resolved he still finished behind Mostert and Waters at Symmons Plains. Winterbottom currently sits 12th. Prodrive’s new fourth driver Jason Bright is the oldest full-time driver, and has so far failed to see the return to form he was hoping to get from the move from BJR and is in 22nd place.
Nick Percat and Scott Pye have at last found stable and competitive drives in BJR and Walkinshaw respectively. Both have replaced long serving drivers in Garth Tander and Jason Bright.
Alex Rullo has stepped up to the main game with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport. At age 16, he is the youngest driver ever to compete in Supercars, taking the record off his boss's brother Paul. Should he be there? Probably not. Having failed to meet the requirements for a super licence, CAMS gave him special dispensation allowing him to compete anyway. So far he's run around at the back of the pack, which is partly down to the car, LDM have a tiny budget and can't afford new cars that will be obsolete next year.
Simona de Silvestro hasn't had a spectacular start to her Supercars career, but she's doing better than the other international drivers that came before her. With a top 15 finish, she's already better than Volvo’s Robert Dahlgren. Nissan Motorsport are happy with her progress. She is ahead of Todd Kelly in the points, and only one position behind Rick. Top ten finishes by the end of the year are definitely possible.
It's inevitable that some of the older drivers, most likely Bright, Tander and Todd Kelly will make way for Garry Jacobson, James Golding and Jack LeBrocq respectively. Shae Davies and Todd Hazelwood, although not as closely aligned with any particular team, will also be looking, as will Macauley Jones, should a spot open up at his father's team. Although he owns the racing entitlement contract, Tim Blanchard may end up vacating his car for Jones. Golding, LeBrocq, Davies, Jones and Hazelwood have all been confirmed for wildcard entries at Winton, Hidden Valley and Queensland Raceway, under a new rule allowing Super2 teams to field championship series entries at those three rounds. Expect at least one of these drivers to make their full time debut next year.
With a number of talented young drivers knocking on the door, will drivers still race full time into their 40s, or will Supercars fall into line with other sports and see a further reduction in retirement ages? At 37, Todd Kelly might be pushed out before 40. James Courtney (36), Winterbottom (35), and Whincup, Lee Holdsworth, and Will Davison (all 34) are next in line. We'll probably never see another driver last as long as Russell Ingall, who retired at 50.
Things are changing at a team level too. Most notably, Holden have shifted their support and the Holden Racing Team name from Triple Eight after 26 years with Walkinshaw. Despite the dominance of Triple 8 and the lacklustre performance of Walkinshaw, the decision still surprised and angered many fans.
DJR Team Penske are emerging as a powerhouse team. They have been strong at three very different circuits and are leading the team's championship. If they keep this up, Fabian Coulthard or Scott McLaughlin could win the championship. Meanwhile, fellow Ford team Prodrive have been in a form slump since winning the 2015 championship. At the time of publishing Mostert had topped practice two at Phillip Island with a new lap record, suggesting that there may be a genuine battle to be the top Ford team
Things have changed in Supercars. The team pecking order is changing, the big names of the project blueprint era are edging closer to retirement, and few former champions appear capable of winning another one. The trend towards younger drivers is set to continue into the future.