Richie Stanaway…when raw talent is not enough

This is a column all about Richie Stanaway – and my fervent hope that – with the steadying hand of fellow Supercar’s series returnee Greg Murphy sharing the tiller – the Bathurst return for both drivers, orchestrated by Boost Mobile founder Peter Adderton, might – just might – lead to a Lazarus-like return to the Supercars series either in 2022 or 2023 for the mercurial Stanaway.

You can read the low-down about the deal and how it came together here (Bathurst return: Murphy and Stanaway to race Erebus Boost wildcard) and my thoughts and analysis of it in my column on Talk Motorsport last Tuesday here (Murph’s return to Bathurst a ‘Boost’ for all concerned).

Greg Murphy (left) and Richie Stanaway

Suffice to say I came out in support both of idea and of Peter Adderton’s execution of it – though the first column was pretty much exclusively about Greg Murphy and his unique (4 wins in ‘The Great Race’ plus – of course – the 2 mins.06.859 seconds of his reputation & very much career-defining ‘Lap of the Gods’ set in the Top 10 Shootout the day before the 2003 race) record at the iconic Mt Panorama, Bathurst circuit.

What we all must remember about Richie Stanaway, of course, is just how much he had achieved before he decided to call time on Europe and pursue a driving career closer to home.

In the 10 years from 2007 (when he won the SpeedSport Scholarship to 2017 when he drove a V8 Supercar for the first time) Richie Stanaway blazed an almost vertical trail of success up through the world’s best junior single seater formulae.

In only his second full season (2008/09) he won the New Zealand Formula Ford championship and just two years after that (2010) he won the ADAC (German) Formula Masters series.

Richie Stanaway (Van Amersfoort Racing Dallara F 307 Volkswagen) leads the field at Oschersleben April 2011

The next year (2011) he won Germany’s Formula 3 championship but in 2012 suffered a serious setback when in a round of the Formula Renault 3.5 series at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium he crashed heavily, breaking his back.

That he even got back into a single seater is IMHO as good an indication as any of how mentally as well as physically tough a young driver must be just to survive let alone thrive in such a pressure cooker environment.

Yet before his ultimate return ‘home’ to try and build a sustainable career around Australia’s Supercars Championship, Stanaway had already added (yet) another string to his driver’s bow – a full works drive with specialist sportscar marque Aston-Martin which saw him contest the FIA World Endurance Championships in the LM GT3 class five times between 2013 and 2017, and in the Le Mans 24 Hour three times between 2015 and 2017.

#97 Richie Stanaway at Silverstone, UK in 2016

Not a bad CV when all is said and done yet it is one which few Aussies seemed to have taken seriously let alone respected.

Certainly, Greg Murphy has every faith in his young charge, believing that a good showing at Bathurst this year could lead to a Pirtek Enduro Cup co-drive next year and – if he has the desire and motivation to try again – a full-time gig back in the Main Game in 2023.

Richie Stanaway ‘s last race in a Supercar was at the final round of the 2019 series at Newcastle and since returning home to Tauranga and Auckland where he now bases himself, he had literally disappeared from view – until he received a phone call from long-time supporter Adderton with his Blues Brothers-like request to ‘put the band back again.’

Richie Stanaway’s last Supercars race Newcastle 2019

In a subsequent interview published on the website Greg Murphy sympathised with Stanaway (who is still just 29 years of age) and who ‘battled through his last two seasons with relatively uncompetitive equipment at Tickford Racing and then Garry Rogers Motorsport.

As Murphy himself experienced through long patches of his own time in the Supercar paddock.

“This is the sad reality of the sport, and it does need to be remembered often that to succeed you’ve still got to have all of the right tools and all of the right pieces of the puzzle at the right time.”

“Richie is a classic example of immense ability that in many cases the timing has worked against him.

“It’s tough, he’s still such a young man. To say that his career as a racing driver at this stage is over is hard to comprehend.

“It would be nice to see him maybe work through those challenges and find a way back at some stage.”

Murphy pointed to the slew of familiar faces that have used unfortunate circumstances around their primary driver careers to grab a plum endurance opportunity in recent times.

Craig Lowndes, Garth Tander and Michael Caruso all had to step back from full-time duties at the end of 2018, but each leapt up the pecking order for the three enduros.

“We have got other drivers that are sitting on the sidelines in endurance co-driver mode where the timing has served them and they have proven last year that they should still be racing full-time in the championship,” Murphy said.

“I’m sure there’s some teams out there that have definitely got him on their list.

“But a lot of that is going to be on Richie to be able to re-focus and make the commitment and re-adjust everything emotionally and mentally to put himself in that space to accept that role and get back into it.

“I don’t doubt that if he was given the chance in a good space with a good group of people around him to give him the tools that he needs to do the job, he would deliver, no question.”

The last time Stanaway was a co-driver, in fact, was in 2017, when -paired with fellow young gun Cam Waters in a Ford Falcon they won the Sandown 500, their first race together.

Four years on Richie Stanaway is – obviously – older. Wiser though? That is the great imponderable. And we are going to have to wait until the second weekend in October to find out.

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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