The V8s: distraction or destination?

Leaving aside three stand-out aberrations on the basis that they are exceptions that prove a rule, why aren’t Aussies thronging to single-seater careers? For the purpose of this article, I’ve put Will Power, Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo in a ziplock bag and placed them across the room where I can’t hear their cries of outrage.

Ah the Aussie V8s. Loud, fast, brutal. Unique – which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

As the V8s scramble to make their category more internationally relevant, they remain assured of a steady stream of fresh talent from their domestic scene. Gen 2 is creating the next set of cars, stretching coupes to entice current-model cars into the fold. And Aussie kids in motorsport are possessed of one focus only: getting a V8 drive.

Is it fair to go further and suggest the V8s are a career limiting obstacle, that they are preventing young Aussies going ‘all the way’? Big frogs in smallish ponds perhaps.

If your motivation is just to ‘get into the V8s’ then fine. But relevance on the world stage? Relatability? Has anyone gone on from V8SC to do wonderful things in F1, Indy or even NASCAR?

I know Murph’s mate Marcos Ambrose ambled off to do the NASCAR ute supports among much excitement among his team of supporters, but he was lost in the midfield and has hardly been seen since.

Craig Lowndes had a bit of single-seater spark to him, left Australia and went to Europe to further his open wheeler racing career. He competed with the RSM Marko (that’s ‘Doctor’ to you and I) in the 1997 Formula 3000 championship as teammate to Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya. Comprehensively beaten by his Montoya, he was also given the cold shoulder by Marko and the management and came home to race the V8s.

The Brabham family – dad and sons – came up the regular way, Sir Jack happy to drive tin-tops when they didn’t clash with open wheelers. The boys – Geoff, Gary and David – drove the wheels off whatever they were offered, in the USA or Aussie.

But in spite of the Brabham legacy, it seems few Aussie drivers aspire to single-seater glory.

One reason might be the career ladder across the ditch. It has always pointed aspirants toward the Great Race, and Mount Panorama rightly lives in legend for Aussie and other racers. But more recently the tidy-up of categories has seen some moves that may work directly in the favour of tin-top domestic categories.

Formula Ford has been emasculated to regional competitions, various initiatives have seen Formula 3 likewise diminished, and Kiwis who race the Aussie Formula 4 championship have returned with disturbing and lurid tales about the dearth of talent or common sense in the midfield pack of that series.

The ‘Grand Turismo’ generation seems to reign over there, putting in suicide dives to overtake where no overtaking opportunity exists or assuming they can rub wheels with no downside consequences.

Of the Formula 4 racers on the category’s alumni page, half are now racing a Porsche category (not a silly move), the others are embedded in the V8s and their V8 feeder categories. The page includes Thomas Randle, popular winner of the Toyota Racing Series in 2016 (now racing the Super 2 step-up to the main V8s), and Will Brown, who made the trip to New Zealand to race in our TR 86 series but found the local cars a much more technical proposition than he was accustomed to.

Special mention to old mate Thomas Randle though. I have a lot of time for this classic racer, who only ever wants to drive and only ever asks for a well sorted car to do it in.

Victorian Thomas Randle raced in the inaugural season of the CAMS Jayco Australian Formula 4 Championship, where he finished runner-up to the season’s champion Jordan Lloyd. Seven race wins, five fastest laps, four pole positions and three round wins characterised Randle’s Australian Formula 4 season.

A graduation to Europe followed in 2016, where Randle greatly impressed in the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship to become a recipient of the prestigious BRDC Rising Star award.

On his second run at the title, Randle also became the first Australian to win the New Zealand Toyota Racing Series, winning ahead of some of Europe’s highly-rated rising stars. The post-race celebrations were pretty wild that year.

Trevor Scheumack, racer of olden times and importer of Michelin tyres to New Zealand, is a long-time supporter of TRS. He ran the European technique team for years, working diligently to interest young Aussies in contesting the series-within-a-series internal part of the old-format TRS. He was always non-plussed at the reluctance of Aussies to even consider hopping across the ditch to race in New Zealand. After all, they’d be paying with their dollars, not the misfiring New Zealand peso. Airfares are cheap

He helped us get Scott Pye and Nathan Antunes into drives here, slotting them into seats with his own ETEC team in the 2008-2009 Championship.

Antunes came here as the best thing since sliced bread, showed form in the early rounds then just faded out after round three. He’s gone on to a very diverse range of drives including Aussie’s A1GP entry, along with GT racing for some of the world’s most evocative auto brands. He’s now well ensconced in the GTs.

Pye was fighting back after a long layoff due to injury and was grateful for the chance at redemption. He took a podium in the first race at Ruapuna, then won the feature for the Wigram Cup; won the second and feature races at Timaru, and was third overall for the championship behind Sam MacNeill and champion Mitch Cunningham. Scott Pye of course is now embedded in the V8s.

I watched both these two and dealt with them in a PR role and have to say Scott was the standout, real talent in a humble and grounded personality.

But okay, others? It’s only a couple of hundy to come and test remember.

This year we had three Aussie drivers, which may well have been the best ever representation from the Lucky Country. Thomas Smith (Giles), Jackson Walls and Calan Williams (both MTEC) all gave a good account of themselves in the five weeks.

Euroformula Open Championship racer Calan Williams came to TRS with Fortec Motorsport oversight after a Euroformula Open season in Europe. He won the Australian Formula 3 Championship in 2017. Williams came away from his TRS campaign with 183 points.

Walls was only 15 when the first round started so he missed round one, but scored 110 across the following four rounds. He came to TRS from finishing a creditable sixth overall in the 2018 CAMS PAYCE Australian Formula 4 Championship, taking three podium finishes on his first season out of karting.

Smith was here to learn – which is what TRS is all about. In 2018 Smith contested both Australian Formula Ford and the CAMS PAYCE Australian Formula 4 Championship. That campaign included a fourth, a fifth and a pair of sixth place finishes. He completed TRS with 101 points.

None of the three were by any means last, all having learned a massive amount with and none having disgraced themselves on-track.

So perhaps these three will avoid the siren song of V8 racing and manage to get some traction on a career path that leads them to Europe, the UK or the USA, not into domestic tintops.

Mark Baker

Mark Baker has been working in automotive PR and communications for more than two decades. For much longer than that he has been a motorsport journalist, photographer and competitor, witness to most of the most exciting and significant motorsport trends and events of the mid-late 20th Century. His earliest memories of motorsport were trips to races at Ohakea in the early 1960s, and later of annual summer pilgrimages to watch Shellsport racers and Mini 7s at Bay Park and winter sorties into forests around Kawerau and Rotorua to see the likes of Russell Brookes, Ari Vatanen and Mike Marshall ply their trade in group 4 Escorts. Together with Murray Taylor and TV producer/director Dave Hedge he has been responsible for helping to build New Zealand’s unique Toyota Racing Series into a globally recognized event brand under category managers Barrie and Louise Thomlinson. Now working for a variety of automotive and mainstream commercial clients, Mark has a unique perspective on recent motor racing history and the future career paths of our best and brightest young racers.

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