Analysis: What the Holden Racing Team switch really means

The Holden Racing Team as we know it will be no more as of the end of the current Supercars season, with Triple Eight set to take over as the brand’s factory squad. But what does it all actually mean? Andrew van Leeuwen investigates.

Analysis: What the Holden Racing Team switch really means
Garth Tander, Holden Racing Team, pit action
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden, Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden, pit action
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Garth Tander, Holden Racing Team
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
Garth Tander, Holden Racing Team
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team
Jamie Whincup, Triple Eight Race Engineering Holden
James Courtney, Holden Racing Team

It’s hard to imagine Supercars without the Holden Racing Team. But that’s what we’re facing. After a 26-year existence as the flagship Holden squad, the lion, helmet, and HRT brand will be parked at the end of the season, Triple Eight taking over as the factory team.

So why has Holden made this decision? Is it a good thing or a bad thing for Supercars? And will Walkinshaw Racing ever get back to the top of the sport?

The background to the decision

Holden’s investment in Supercars is, as it stands, significant. It’s also significantly difficult to quantify; depending on who you talk to, members of the Holden ‘family’ (Brad Jones Racing, Tekno Autosports, LD Motorsport, Erebus Motorsport, Team 18) all receive support through a number of different ways. Typical examples are parts, road vehicles, or driver’s wages.

On top of that, there has been traditional cash-based sponsorship poured into both the Holden Racing Team (the one ‘true’ factory team), and the Triple Eight set-up.

With the current contract up, a restructure was inevitable. And the conclusion that focussing the factory status – and money that comes with it – on one team would have been a pretty simply one to draw.

Equally simple would have been choosing which team to go with – if you’re looking at pure performance. Since Triple Eight switched to Holden in 2010, the Brisbane-based squad has racked up 101 wins. In the same timeframe, HRT has won just 16 races.

Triple Eight have also set the benchmark for chassis build/customer programmes. And the chassis production side of the business was something the organisation was expanding even before this news broke – leaving Triple Eight perfectly placed to lead the way with the development of the next-generation Commodore.

If the name of the game was to streamline and optimize Holden’s involvement, then full alignment with Triple Eight was by far the cleverest option.

Another nail in the Supercars coffin?

Yesterday’s news stirred up plenty of negative social media reaction. From diehard Holden fans dismayed at the thought of losing the iconic Holden Racing Team, that was understandable. 

But there was also plenty of people claiming the news was yet another sign of Supercars’ impending demise. That one is more difficult to comprehend.

Because what can’t be lost here is that, in the middle of it all, Holden has recommitted to the sport. And not just in a ‘here’s a little bit of cash and some Holden badges’ way, but a way that will see a brand new Holden Commodore come into the sport in 2018. Realistically, it will be turbo-powered, which means Holden will probably be the first manufacturer to take a proper swing at the post-Car of the Future regulations.

That’s proper commitment, and that’s a good thing for Supercars. It sends a clear message that, despite all the doom and gloom, a manufacturer like Holden can still make a proper case for being involved in the sport.

Supercars isn’t something that would work for every manufacturer in the Australian market, but it obviously does for Holden. After all, if the dollars hadn’t made sense, this deal wouldn’t have happened.

So we can chalk this up as a good thing for Supercars. Although there is a but that goes along with that…

Commercially/Competitively

The reality of the situation is that Holden’s decision will, more than likely, mean one less powerhouse team on the grid in the future. And two less cars capable of winning races (at least consistently).

Some may ask, 'Is HRT really a powerhouse team on current form? And are the two red cars consistently challenging for race wins right now anyway?'

No, they are not. However, with the financial might of Holden behind them, the possibility always existed that the team could claw back to its winning ways. It wasn’t going to happen this year, it probably wouldn’t have happened next year.

But in a well-funded team there is always potential. Take that funding away, and the potential dips dramatically.

Now, a lack of funding is/was never likely to be an issue for Triple Eight. Manufacturer backing or not, T8 is a commercial powerhouse. If Holden had vowed to never give them another cent, Triple Eight would have been the best-placed outfit in the paddock to go and find either a sponsor to fill the gap, or another manufacturer to bring into the sport (and don’t underestimate the role that idea may have played in Holden’s decision).

Thanks to its relative lack of success, it won’t be that straightforward for the new Walkinshaw Racing set-up. Without the HRT brand to bounce off, it could prove tough for Clayton to make up the ground it's lost to the likes of T8 and Prodrive over the last couple of seasons.

Walkinshaw Racing future

What will make a WR resurgence even more difficult is that it’s tough to imagine that both its current gun drivers will be retained beyond the end of this season.

Garth Tander and James Courtney are two of the best-paid blokes in pitlane – for good enough reason, too – and without HRT and the Holden money coming in, it seems unlikely that sufficient cash will be available to fill both of their expectations in their off-contract years.

It could be that, thanks to a little Holden help, one of them stays. One could imagine either Tander or Courtney being joined by someone like Scott Pye, someone who won’t fill the pay driver role and bring a budget, but would certainly be a lot easier on the bank balance in terms of wage expectations compared to the current drivers.

Of course, one meeting with the right sponsor could change everything. Prodrive has had its best years following Ford’s withdrawal, and it's not impossible that the same could happen for WR.

It’ll be difficult, but not impossible.

 

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