The announcement that Mobil HSV Racing Supercars team principal Adrian Burgess had been given his marching orders by team owner Ryan Walkinshaw has sent shock waves through the sport.
The highly experienced Burgess was head hunted by Walkinshaw Racing from the dominant Triple Eight Holden team to join the Clayton-based operation for the 2014 season with high expectations for a turnaround of the team’s results.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out, with his three and a half year tenure showing little in the way of results. That was compounded by the loss of official Holden manufacturer support and the HRT brand, which went to Roland Dane’s Triple Eight team in 2016.
Since the beginning of 2014, drivers Garth Tander and James Courtney have only scored seven race wins and 34 podiums from 111 starts, which could only be described as embarrassing for the former powerhouse team.
At the recent Perth Super Sprint, Scott Pye’s best result was a 14th place, while Courtney scored a lacklustre 17th and 22nd in the two races. To make it more unbearable the team miscalculated the mandatory fuel drop in the second race, which meant Courtney had to make a last-minute pit stop to top up and, as a result, slipped down the order.
These results are in stark contrast to the achievements of the once-great Holden Racing Team that was established in 1990 by the late Tom Walkinshaw (Ryan’s father), who placed the running of the team with British sports car driver Win Percy. That year, Percy and Allan Grice won the Bathurst 1000 and from the mid 90s – through the agency of Craig Lowndes, the late Peter Brock and others such as Tomas Mezera, Greg Murphy, Mark Skaife, Jason Bright,Todd Kelly and Garth Tander etc – HRT enjoyed great success.
In the Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 Supercars championship, until losing their HRT status at the end of 2015 the team won 175 championship races and recorded 89 pole positions.
HRT drivers won championships in 1996,1998 and 1999 with Lowndes and from 2000-02 with Skaife, as well as the customer HSV Dealer Team winning the title in 2006 with Rick Kelly and 2007 with Tander.
From that inaugural Bathurst win in 1990, HRT went onto score six more victories, ending with Tander and Nick Percat in 2011.
From there, the results have steadily declined to the point where the best championship position since 2014 has been a pair of sixth places for Courtney in 2014 and Tander in 2015.
Currently, the Walkinshaw Mobil HSV team are in a lowly sixth in the teams championship, while Courtney is 15th and Pye 18th in the drivers title.
So where does the team go from here to get back to their former glory? Experienced Walkinshaw engineer Matt Nilsson has been appointed as team principal on an interim basis and will have his first opportunity to lead the team at the Winton round this weekend.
Already, Courtney has cautioned against expecting too much too soon from the beleaguered team. Former racer and team owner turned television commentator Mark Larkham has questioned whether Ryan Walkinshaw is capable of following in his father’s footsteps.
There have been ongoing question marks regarding the chassis that Courtney is using, which was used by Garth Tander for most of last year and which he claimed had in built issues that couldn’t be fixed.
Whether that is the case, the fact remains winning in this sport is very much a team effort and to use the analogy “you can have all the best ingredients in the world to make a cake but that doesn’t mean it will turn out OK when you cook it if you don’t follow the recipe.”
Winton is the team’s designated test track, but as we have seen in the past that doesn’t automatically mean you will have an advantage over the opposition.
For the good of the sport, let’s hope this team can be like the phoenix and rise from the ashes.