The Supercars career that failed to fire

Tim Blanchard arrived in Supercars as a highly-rated rookie, but an underwhelming career has left him widely-regarded as a pay driver and a backmarker. How did such a promising talent fail to fire?

The Supercars career that failed to fire

Tim Blanchard's career as a Supercars driver fell short of expectations.

That's not to say he's disgraced himself since joining the series. Or even that he hasn't deserved to be on the grid for the five seasons he's spent as a full-timer.

However, the fact that he walks away from his full-time career best-known as a backmarker who has survived solely on family backing speaks volume.

It's an easy conclusion to reach. From a career that properly started back in 2012 he's only finished in the top 10 on five occasions, and only twice in single-driver races. He's not once qualified in the top 10, a pair of elevenths, four years apart, his best single-lap efforts.

And, for the past four seasons, the primary backer on his car has been CoolDrive, the Blanchard family business.

Damning stats, sure. But also not reflective of the bright young talent that starred in Formula Ford both home and abroad, and came into Supercars considered more than capable of forging a pukka career.

Blanchard's pre-Supercars CV makes decent reading. He was an Australian Title winner in karts, before heading to state and then national-level Formula Ford.

In 2007 he won the Australian Formula Ford Championship, ahead of guys like James Moffat and Nick Percat, now both Supercars race winners.

The following season he took off to the UK to tackle a British Formula Ford Championship that was still at that point somewhat competitive. He and Wayne Boyd dominated the season, Blanchard finishing up second for the year before finishing third at the Festival at Brands Hatch.

Blanchard made his Supercars main game debut at Phillip Island in 2010

Blanchard made his Supercars main game debut at Phillip Island in 2010

Photo by: John Maricic

With British F3 plans scuppered due to a lack of budget, Blanchard headed back to Australia. Those money woes led to a year on the sidelines in 2009, before he moved into the second-tier Super2 series the following year. He finished second in his rookie season and joined a list of Mike Kable Young Gun Award winners that includes the likes of Marcos Ambrose, Mark Winterbottom, and James Courtney.

Things were looking good.

"I got to a certain level pretty quickly in a Supercar in my first year in Super2," explains Blanchard.

"But once I was comfortably in that top three or four in Super2, I felt the progress and improvement slowed down.

"There were a number of issues even then. We were very tight on budget. That first year, I'd spent a year out of racing. I was full of confidence, everything had gone well in the UK, and then I didn't sit in a racecar for 12 months.

"At that stage of your development, that hurts..."

He still did more than enough to earn promotion to the main game, firstly at the back end of 2012 with Kelly Racing before a tough debut full season with Dick Johnson Racing, which yielded a lowly 26th in the points.

Blanchard then stepped back to a co-driver role with minnow squad LD Motorsport, before returning as a full-timer with LDM in 2015 with a career-best 21st in the season-end standings.

His next move was to the third Brad Jones Racing car for three seasons, even buying a Racing Entitlements Contract to underpin that entry before the 2017 season. However he still never climbed higher than 22nd in the points.

This year he decided enough is enough. In October he confirmed he'll step back from full-time driving, opting to concentrate on running CoolDrive and managing the REC that will continue to run out of the BJR garage.

Given the promise he showed in everything he drove before Supercars, the obvious question is this: why did Blanchard endure such an underwhelming career at the top of Aussie motorsport?

"I guess there are a number of reasons," explains Blanchard.

"Firstly, Supercars is an extremely tough series. There's almost nobody there who hasn't won through the junior categories. So it's not like I'm getting beaten by people who ran around in 10th in Formula Ford. Everyone at this level has won before, we all come in with a similar pedigree. That's the first factor.

"The second one is that I didn't come in to the best environment. Things were very tough at DJR, and at LDM it wasn't any better. At BJR it's been an improvement on that, but my confidence took such a belting over the first few years that by the time I got somewhere I was happy with, I was so demoralised.

"When you pair that with the level of competition, with how everyone is on top of what they're doing, it's difficult to get back on a level pegging with everyone else.

"A third issue is that I've struggled with the driving technique required for these cars. My driving technique suits a lighter car, an open-wheeler. I like stability on entry and high-speed flow. Some of my best results have been at places like Sandown and Pukekohe, Sydney Motorsport Park, Darwin, the tracks where it's fast and flowing. I can drive the car a bit more the way suits me.

"When I get to places like Adelaide, Townsville, even Queensland Raceway where it's very heavily focussed on braking and rotation of the car, that's where I struggle.

"The area of your driving that you need to be good at to make a Supercar fast is my weakness as a driver. I feel like that if we all raced Porsches or something like that, we'd be having a different conversation right now."

The reference to struggling at DJR may seem odd in a contemporary context, but it's important to remember that we're not talking about the DJR Team Penske megateam that won this year's Supercars title.

It was a squad at its lowest ebb when Blanchard joined, not at all conducive to a rookie looking to make his mark. Sure, Chaz Mostert enjoyed more success across the other side of the DJR garage that same year, but he was on loan from what was then known as Ford Performance Racing, and had the technical backing to boot.

"If you look at people like Chaz or Anton [De Pasquale], they came into Supercars in a good environment," he says.

"They were nurtured all the way through Super2, then they went into a supportive environment in a reasonable car in Supercars. It helps that's transition. They were able to focus on what they were doing.

"I feel like I had a lot of other distractions, like working with the family business.

"Plus there was everything that was going on with DJR; I rocked up to every event wondering if there was even going to be a car there. I went to my first Adelaide 500 as a DJR driver and we were pouring the seat on the Thursday.

"Most rookies have done tests days by then, and we were still bolting the car together an hour before practice started."

Blanchard's rookie full-time season came in 2013 with a struggling DJR outfit.

Blanchard's rookie full-time season came in 2013 with a struggling DJR outfit.

Photo by: Circuit of the Americas

The lack of results, matched with the CoolDrive backing and the REC ownership, have directly led to Blanchard being pinned as a pay driver.

Blanchard understands how it happened, and argues the business case to providing his own backing has always made plenty of sense.

However, it's still a painful tag to carry through your career.

"I didn't get into Supercars as a pay driver, I earned my seat," he says.

"It didn't quite work out for me, but I still think I didn't land a seat by accident. I deserved to be here and to have a crack at it. There wouldn't be many people that have a better CV coming into Supercars. I did enough to have a go.

"Over the last couple of years it's been the family business on the doors of the car, but it's been a successful marketing programme for the business. So if you're sponsoring a car, and it's providing a good return to the business, it'd be stupid to sponsor someone else's car when I'm racing in the series.

"I'd rather control the marketing platform. I understand our business, our customers, and what we need out of the sponsorship better than anyone else.

"I've got that pay driver label, deservedly or not, and that's the reality of it. I'd prefer not to have the label, but the sponsorship made sense for the business."

As we've already covered, Blanchard didn't disgrace himself in Supercars. In a ridiculously competitive field he's held his own, his 'struggles' being that he's been on the wrong side of a few tenths per lap, not a few seconds.

He also could have given up years ago and gone trophy hunting in Carrera Cup or Australian GT. However Blanchard says he'd rather have slogged around near the back of the best field in Australia, that having made it a rewarding career despite the lack of results and the unflattering public perception.

"I enjoy driving a car, sure, but it's the competition side of motorsport that I really love," he says.

"The further I went, the more I enjoyed it because the competition got tougher and tougher. The reason I'm less interested in Porsches or GT is because the thing I love about Supercars is that level of competition, and you won't get that anywhere else.

"I want to race against the best guys and compare myself to the Jamie Whincups of the world, and you don't get that anywhere else in Australia.

"I absolutely enjoyed challenging myself week-in, week-out. I that respect, I enjoyed every bit of it."

 

Photo by: LAT Images

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