THE OTHER day an acquaintance of mine, one with whom I often talk motorsport, had a bit of a rant at me about the recent Sydney Supercars round.
Now, this fan in the past has spent most of his timing complaining about the domination of the sport by Triple Eight and DJR Team Penske, and how he’d like other teams to step up.
So you can imagine my surprise when he said he felt the weekend’s racing was ‘too unpredictable’. Really?
His comments grated because in my eyes the last two rounds have delivered exactly what a whole chunk of the sport, both those within it and those watching from the outside, have clamoured after for years and years.
Unpredictable racing. Varied results. Different teams and drivers doing the job.
They’ve now been delivered that and in typical motorsport form, go straight to the negative.
Everyone goes misty-eyed over the periods of domination in the sport’s history, but the reality is that when you’re living through an era of one team routing everyone else (hello, F1) it’s all rather tedious.
As the world changes and people consume sport and media in different ways, our sport has to be conscious of evolving to suit – and that means it has to be a good product, as often as possible.
I’ll go on the record immediately by saying that I agree some areas of the current Supercars regulations need some revision: for instance, drivers who make the shootout should be given an additional set of tyres they hand back immediately afterwards because otherwise qualifying is rubbish.
I also think there needs to be a better way to communicate who has what on their car at any given time – a lot of the confusion, at no fault of the broadcaster who only has limited resources and information to tell the story, was around who had good soft tyres and who didn’t. But there are ways and means around that.
Aside from those points, I think the format does exactly what it is designed to do without completely ruining the more ‘pure sporting’ philosophy that has the best team and driver winning on the day which, of course, still happened: Scott McLaughlin scored the most points of any over the weekend and greatly extended his championship lead and there’s very few in pit lane who won’t say he and the #17 crew aren’t the best in the game at the moment.
Meanwhile, the rules also punished those who made strategic miscues like Red Bull, whose baffling decision to keep Shane van Gisbergen out on his rubber for so long in races 10 and 11 arguably saw them engineer themselves out of a pair of podium finishes.
But what of the claims it is ‘too unpredictable’? Well, Brad Jones Racing was impressive – but then they were impressive at the last Sydney Motorsport Park round as well. Nick Percat won a race at both events, Todd Hazelwood starred in both events and generally the team looked very good at both.. which seems reasonably on-form to me.
Jack Le Brocq’s maiden win was a case of being in the right place at the right time – but then again, Tickford have been close to the top step of the podium for a few rounds now and with four cars, were bound to get it right eventually.
As for passing being too easy? Sure, cars on good tyres were blowing past cars on not good tyres like they were standing still.. but then again, that’s generally the way car racing has been for as long as I’ve watching.
I spoke at length to Todd Hazelwood this week and his description of how he had to drive to hustle past Dave Reynolds on the final lap of the last race sounded anything but easy. He absolutely earned that spot on the podium.
The final, and I think the key point, is this: Everyone is still working to the same rules and, as DJR Team Penske proved by putting their cars first and third overall for the weekend, the best teams should still be able to deliver the best overall results across a weekend.
All this does is open the door to others to experiment a bit and play an ace card when they can to get themselves up front.
I have no problem with that at all.
Look, I admit it is not the ultimate scenario. In a perfect world we’d have cars that allowed for the playing field to be more level than it is and the general racing product to be better without artificial aids like using different tyre compounds, or DRS in Formula 1.
However as we all know it is far from a perfect world and now more than ever it’s important that the show is as flat-out entertaining as it can be so we can come out of the other side of this current economic drama in decent shape.
In finding the balance between ‘sport and entertainment’ that people so often bang on about, I think it is the latter we should be emphasising because the former, right now, is not good enough in its pure form. The lacklustre on-track show at the Adelaide 500 was proof of that.
Once we come out the other side we can focus on getting back to proper racing without the contrivances to help the show.
But right now, in the middle of all this, the show must go on.. and I think the show is very good.