This weekend’s V8 Supercars Championship WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSpring round will feature at least two driver changes.
Erebus Motorsport V8 has announced that Prodrive Racing endurance co-driver Dean Canto will replace rookie racer Ash Walsh, while Super Black Racing has elected to replace Andre Heimgartner with Chris Pither in order to evaluate him for a full-time race seat in 2016.
Canto’s substitute role in place of Walsh is the bigger surprise, with the Queensland-based outfit making the driver swap in a move to help fine-tune ongoing set-up woes with its Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 cars, which have struggled for consistent competitiveness this season.
Canto has been loaned to Erebus on what is understood to be a one-off deal with the blessing of championship leaders Prodrive Racing Australia, with whom he is contracted on a long-term basis.
Canto’s recent experience in frontrunning machinery as co-driver to championship challenger David Reynolds – who will join Erebus’ line-up in 2016 in place of Will Davison – will benefit the team as it looks to prepare for the 2016 season.
Walsh will remain trackside with the team this weekend in order to benefit from Canto’s feedback.
“When I was approached by the team to see if I could help out at Phillip Island I grabbed the chance,” Canto said.
“As a race car driver, you jump at the opportunity to get into a car so I was more than happy to help out and do my bit. It’s an opportunity to help out the team and Ash, but also it works both ways, and I’m happy to be in a race car for the weekend.”
Walsh has endured a tough baptism to the V8 Supercars Championship and currently sits 25th in the Drivers’ Championship standings, with a best finish of eighth place in the second 125-kilometre race at the Clipsal 500.
While he is on a two-year deal with Erebus, there is no certainty that he will remain with the squad in 2016, particularly if another driver with better funding appears on the horizon.
Joining the ranks of the teams making driver changes is Super Black Racing, which has announced that it will bench Andre Heimgartner in place of Chris Pither, who it tipped to take over the team’s #111 Ford Falcon FG X next season.
“We are using Phillip Island to evaluate Chris for next season so we look forward to seeing how he settles in,” Super Black Racing team owner Tony Lentino said.
“He has experience, is passionate and understands the V8 Supercars landscape well, plus he is a Kiwi too which is obviously an important factor when selecting a driver for New Zealand’s only V8 Supercars team.
“Andre Heimgartner will sit out this weekend and while we understand this has been a difficult situation for him, he has accepted it and both parties agree this change is in the team’s best interest.
“It’s hard being a rookie in this game and being with a rookie team has added to the challenge this year. This isn’t necessarily the end of our partnership but we’ll get through Phillip Island and evaluate things from there.”
Like his fellow rookie Walsh, Heimgartner’s form has been inconsistent – his best results have been a pair of eighth places – and his form has slipped in recent rounds.
Pither also served as a Pirtek Enduro Cup co-driver alongside Polestar Volvo Racing GRM driver David Wall, with the pair’s results (two DNFs and a best finish of 16th) hardly reflective of the potential that many insiders believe he has.
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