ABOUT TWENTY minutes after Scott McLaughlin had crossed the line to win the Adelaide 500 and open his title defence with a perfect score of two wins from two races, Neil Crompton spoke to Roland Dane in pit lane during FOX Sports’ Supercars Trackside program.
The Triple Eight Race Engineering team boss had just seen his cars beaten in the season opener for the first time in 2008 (T8 had won the first race of the year, every year since that point) and was in the kind of form where you know you’re going to get a provocative quote.
It’s classic sporting theatre: When the attention is diverted away from you, it’s easy to bring it back by offering the media up a tasty morsel they can grab hold of and run with… and so they did.
Suffice to say, RD didn’t disappoint. Referencing his friends at PWR – the Radiator company – rather than the process that brought Ford’s new Mustang two poles and two wins from the first two races of the season, Dane dropped the line ‘Engineering the Unfair Advantage’ into his chat with the voice of Supercars.
Those who heard it live rapidly sported raised eyebrows given the direct link of that particular phrase with the Penske organisation – it was, after all, the title of Mark Donohue’s famous autobiography, he essentially being Penske driver Numero Uno.
Not long after, Shell V-Power Racing boss Ryan Story tweeted nothing but the front cover of said book.
The good doctor has become a more engaged and utterly compelling addition to the Supercars Twitterverse of late and this was the most perfect reply anyone could have offered to counter Dane’s comments to Crompton.
Social media sucks 95 per cent of the time but this was one of those rare moments where it was superbly used and it is my intention to nominate the good doctor for a ‘best use of social media award’ when end-of-season gongs are handed out later this year.
What did all this snark achieve? Aside from entertaining those who followed it, it proved that actually not much has changed in the sport despite an off-season of upheaval.
Despite the introduction of the Mustang, the removal of multiple-springs on all four corners of the cars and a busy driver market, not much was different in Adelaide compared to how we all left it in Newcastle.
The best driver and team of 2018 beat the second-best driver and team of 2018 and it was close for most of the weekend.
Of course, Triple Eight struggled relative to their prior form in Adelaide and the new Mustang was quick out of the box which energised the other cars sporting a blue oval badge.
But the best thing is we don’t know any of the contributing factors towards that performance (Was it aero? Springs? Just Scotty being peak Scotty?) and won’t until we’re several rounds deep into the season.
Most in the game suggest that by the time we get beyond the fourth event of the year at Phillip Island we’ll have a clearer picture, but not before.
McLaughlin was, after all, one of the fastest guys at Newcastle late last year and only lost the final race of his title-winning season because he was told to let the chasing David Reynolds go.
And there’s no doubt DJR Team Penske have made a massive leap forward in their car performance on street tracks while Triple Eight look to have taken a step back thanks to the rule changes.
And yes, there’s no doubt the Mustang is going to be a better car than the positively ancient Falcon it replaced, which in the end is the whole concept of bringing in a new car – even in a tightly controlled parity formula like Supercars.
In the end though, one round does not a championship make and few in the paddock believe that the Red Bull Commodore’s won’t be a regular factor in every race this year. That team is too filled with talent and competitive spirit to ‘struggle’ (wouldn’t some teams kill for Triple Eight’s struggle!) for too long.
If we reach the point where a more serious discussion about ‘parity’ needs to be had, then we can cross that bridge when we come to it. Remember that for all the chat about how good the new Commodore was early last season, it was still the antique Falcon that won the championship.. even if it was the No. 17 car fighting a lone hand.
Until that point what we have is the two best teams in the sport of the last decade at each other like it’s the final round.. two races into a 30-race calendar.
That’s excellent. That’s what we want. That’s why we keep tuning in each week.
Let the fun continue.