The make-up of next year’s V8 Supercars Championship field could be decided before the current season is out, with reportedly just four of the grid’s 26 seats left to be claimed.
Those remaining seats are the #3 Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden, #21 Brad Jones Racing Holden, #99 Nissan and #111 Super Black Ford entries, with all four outfits looking at well-funded drivers to claim the drives.
Tim Blanchard and Dale Wood, who currently occupy the first two seats in the above quartet, are considered in the mix to remain in the championship with one of these outfits, along with Volvo Polestar GRM co-driver Chris Pither.
Blanchard (pictured above) is considered a near-certain prospect to remain with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport for a second season, which – given Nick Percat is on a two-year contract to drive its #222 entry – would give the privateer outfit the same driving line-up over consecutive seasons for the first time in its history.
Blanchard comes with the backing of his family’s Cooldrive business, and the 28-year-old has indicated his preference is to continue with the team into 2016.
Wood and Pither, meanwhile, are considered hot prospects to claim the Nissan and Super Black Racing seats respectively, which are currently occupied by the GRM-bound James Moffat and rookie New Zealander Andre Heimgartner.
Wood enjoys the commercial backing of GB Galvanising and ADVAM, and is also a long-time friend of the Nissan Motorsport owners, the Kelly brothers, for whom he raced in 2009.
Nissan Motorsport was forced to part ways with Moffat – who has achieved the Japanese marque’s best results since its return to Australian touring cars – over the need to seek additional sponsorship revenue in order to keep its four-car operation going.
“There’s a couple of really solid options which are both what we’re looking for in a driver and have also got some of their own sponsors to go along with it as well,” team co-owner/driver Todd Kelly is quoted as saying.
Should Wood switch camps, that will then leave his currently-occupied #21 entry at Brad Jones Racing open to be claimed. That entry is majority-owned by the team’s veteran driver, Jason Bright, where Pither would be among a number of possible candidates if Wood departs the team.
“Brad [Jones, BJR team principal] is the one that will run it for the year and we’re talking a lot about it, but ultimately the driver will be his decision,” Bright confirmed.
“There are negotiations still going on with several different people.”
Pither, widely lauded as one of the most promising drivers yet to land a full-time V8 Supercars seat, would be a driver targeted by both Brad Jones Racing and Super Black Racing.
Super Black Racing owner Tony Lentino has previous declared that he is only interested in running a New Zealand driver in the team’s Ford Falcon, which will continue to be run out of the Prodrive Racing Australia stable using a Racing Entitlements Contract purchased from Walkinshaw Racing.
Incumbent driver Andre Heimgartner brings little commercial backing in comparison to Pither – who is supported by the Ice Break beverage group – and Lentino is looking to broaden the team’s sponsorship base beyond his own group of companies.
Elsewhere, two others seats remain officially unconfirmed, although the identities of their new drivers are open secrets. The #55 Rod Nash Racing (Prodrive) currently occupied by the Erebus-bound David Reynolds looks set to be claimed by Prodrive protégé Cameron Waters, while the #14 BJR Holden occupied by the DJR Team Penske-bound Fabian Coulthard is set to go the way of Tim Slade, who currently drives the #47 Walkinshaw Holden (which has had its REC sold to Super Black Racing).
At this stage, next year’s V8 Supercars Championship grid looks like this:
|2016 V8 Supercars Championship – Provisional Driver Line-ups|
|#||Team / Entry||Driver||Notes|
|2.||Red Bull Racing Australia||Garth Tander|
|3.||Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport||Tim Blanchard^|
|4.||Erebus Motorsport V8||Ashley Walsh|
|5.||Prodrive Racing Australia||Mark Winterbottom|
|6.||Prodrive Racing Australia||Chaz Mostert|
|7.||Nissan Motorsport||Todd Kelly|
|8.||Brad Jones Racing||Jason Bright|
|9.||Erebus Motorsport V8||David Reynolds||Moving from Rod Nash Racing|
|12.||DJR Team Penske||Fabian Coulthard||Moving from Brad Jones Racing|
|14.||Brad Jones Racing||Tim Slade*||Moving from Walkinshaw Racing|
|15.||Nissan Motorsport||Rick Kelly|
|17.||DJR Team Penske||Scott Pye|
|18.||Charlie Schwerkolt Racing||Lee Holdsworth|
|21.||Brad Jones Racing||TBA|
|22.||Holden Racing Team||James Courtney|
|23.||Nissan Motorsport||Michael Caruso|
|33.||Volvo Polestar Racing||Scott McLaughlin|
|34.||Volvo Polestar Racing||James Moffat||Moving from Nissan Motorsport|
|55.||Rod Nash Racing||Cameron Waters*||Promoted from Dunlop Series|
|88.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Jamie Whincup|
|97.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Shane van Gisbergen||Moving from TEKNO Autosports|
|99.||Nissan Motorsport||Dale Wood^|
|111.||Super Black Racing||Chris Pither^|
|222.||Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport||Nick Percat|
|888.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Craig Lowndes|
|TBA.||TEKNO Autosports||Will Davison||Moving from Erebus Motorsport|
* Deal yet to be officially confirmed
^ Unconfirmed, but considered the favourite for the seat
Images via Motorsport.com