SO, to the shock of almost no one, Broc Feeney is the anointed one and has been granted the best open seat in Australian Motorsport for 2022.
The 18-year-old will drive alongside Shane van Gisbergen at Red Bull Ampol Racing next year – Triple Eight to you and I – replacing arguably the greatest touring car driver of a generation in Jamie Whincup.
Feeney’s anointment was no shock to most people, despite a clever and well-executed campaign by the team’s social media gurus to tease people in the leadup.
The youngster, the son of former two-wheel racer Paul, only signed with Triple Eight this year but his performance in the Super2 series has been strong and, frankly, the other options were not anywhere near as obvious.
Of the current Triple Eight squad, Craig Lowndes was unlikely to return to full time competition and while Garth Tander probably would, you’d be replacing one aging but still competitive driver with another one and that’s not great for building a long-term future for the team.
And of the other young driver brigade, no one is the obvious standout to jump into the most competitive seat in the sport.
Still, obvious or not, Feeney’s ascension to the very top tier of Supercars responsibility represents a mighty gamble that few major teams in the sport have been willing to take in recent times.
Sure, young drivers have been given chances to show their stuff in the main game but none have delved straight into a seat that could, in theory, win the title in the first year.
Scott McLaughlin’s debut came with Garry Rogers Motorsport – a team that while competitive, was unlikely to dominate the series at the time.
Shane van Gisbergen made his first impact with Team Kiwi, which gave Stone Brothers all they needed to know before actually putting him into one of their cars – at that point, still regular contenders for victories.
In fact, you probably have to go back to 1994 to find the last time a major team took such a gamble with young talent; The Holden Racing Team’s decision to grab a young Formula Ford driver named Craig Lowndes raising eyebrows throughout the sport.
Even then, though they were building HRT was then far from the powerhouse that Triple Eight is today, even if by the time Craig joined them full-time in 1996 they had certainly got their you-know-what together.
And yet, here we are with a driver with less than 40 Supercars race starts in his entire career (Super3 and Super2) to his credit will replace the seven-time champion.
The decision represents something of a pragmatic, forward-thinking shift for Triple Eight who, aside from seeing something in Jamie Whincup that others didn’t back in 2006, have generally gone for age and experience over youth in their main-game team.
Feeney is fast and he is smart and there’s no doubt he will be competitive next year, but in that field it’s also going to be absolutely brutal at times.
Where McLaughlin and van Gisbergen got a year of rough-and-tumble under their belt before realty needing to prove themselves, Feeney is in at the deep end in a car that Shane van Gisbergen is currently smashing the field in – with Whincup not far behind.
Still, the early indicators are that young Broc has the talent to do the job. Certainly, he has the temperament.
His 2019 Super3 series title win came despite probably not quite having the fastest overall package. He won one race early, but after that played the accumulator role and finished 12 of the 15 races on the podium. Sure he didn’t win another race, but he got the big cup at the end and his maturity and level-headedness throughout was highly impressive for someone aged 16.
His first year in Super2 with Tickford was challenging; interrupted by Covid-19 and a certain result at Bathurst chucked away, but promising enough for the Holden team to come knocking.
This year he’s delivered and has comfortably led the series from the outset.
He’s also immensely likable. Good in a chat and expressive – in a ‘how cool is this’ kind of way – and that’s a great thing because he’s almost certainly going to win over a large section of the fanbase in quick time, not to mention the valuable sponsors and corporates who back the team.
It’s a big move, but it’s clearly one good for the team and at the same time, good for the sport.
After all, without there being teams willing to take a risk on a young star, we’d never have found the likes of Craig Lowndes.. and that turned out pretty well.