The countdown is nearly over as the Supercars Championship stars are set to kick off the 2020 season in Adelaide this weekend.
The game of musical chairs to determine the make-up of the 2020 grid began in earnest halfway through last year, culminating in one of the busiest driver markets to have been seen in recent years.
Just three teams have kept completely the same driving line-ups from last year, while a number of outfits opted to expand or shrink as Racing Entitlements Contracts were traded.
There are some new faces this year, while some popular folk will be missing in action. While the grid has contracted to 24 cars, it’s still an exciting high-calibre field. Here’s who will be racing where for 2020:
DJR Team Penske
The defending Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship title-winners, the Queensland squad will be hard to beat thanks to stability in its leadership and driving line-up. After a dominant year running the brand new Ford Mustang, the outfit won 20 of last year’s 32 races and a repeat dose might not be out of the question. Under team principal Ryan Storrey, the outfit will need to shake off the largely self-inflicted perception that it must win at all costs.
Scott McLaughlin will head into the 2020 season as a two-time Supercars champion after successfully defending his maiden 2018 crown in dominating style. By the halfway point of the season, the Kiwi had 11 poles and 11 wins from the 16 races thus far, putting his quest for back-to-back titles almost beyond doubt. The second half of his campaign was less dominant as the Red Bull Racing Holdens finally came on song, and perhaps the pressure told when he had a huge accident in qualifying at Surfers Paradise that ruled him out of Sunday’s race. In all, his season-ending tally of 18 wins – including a long overdue maiden Bathurst 1000 win – was an Australian touring car record.
The big question of 2020 will be whether McLaughlin can claim three in a row. This year’s cars will have less downforce and potentially punish those, like McLaughlin, who push their cars hard over a single lap. A recent IndyCar test for Team Penske has led to a one-off outing for the squad at the Indianapolis Grand Prix, strengthening the speculation that this could be McLaughlin’s last year in the category before a permanent switch to the United States.
Teammate Fabian Coulthard will be looking to rebuild a reputation that copped quite the battering in 2019, in part thanks to his role in DJR Team Penske’s clumsy use of team orders at the Bathurst 1000. Back-to-back wins at Phillip Island and Perth briefly put him in the title fight, but thereafter his form faded as qualifying struggles saw him mired in the midfield. Two wins and eleven podiums over a season is very respectable on most drivers’ records, but when compared against a teammate like McLaughlin in identical machinery the gulf is vast.
In sharp contrast to DJR Team Penske’s dominance last year, the 2019 season can only be described as a disappointment for the field’s other Ford Mustang outfit: Tickford Racing.
The Melbourne squad ran second fiddle to its fellow Ford runners pretty much all year, with its sole victory coming in the third race at Albert Park. Chaz Mostert claimed the spoils to break Scott McLaughlin’s run of four victories in a row, but the championship leader also failed to make the start of that race…
Mostert’s victory in Melbourne aside, the gloss was well and truly beginning to tarnish for the once blue-eyed boy of the team. He turned into something of its enfant terrible, having run-ins with teammate Cam Waters on no less than three occasions as well as wrecking his car in qualifying at the Gold Coast. Few in the team were sad to see him move to Walkinshaw Andretti United in the off-season.
Mostert’s replacement in the SuperCheap Auto sponsored Mustang will be Jack Le Brocq. Having had a disastrous 2019 campaign with TEKNO Autosport, Le Brocq will need to knuckle down quickly and prove that he deserves his seat with a top-line outfit. Great drivers manage to outperform bad cars, and there was no evidence of that last year.
When he wasn’t being punted into the scenery by Mostert, Waters drove solidly when the car and his mood would allow. A trio of podiums in Adelaide and Melbourne saw him start the year strongly, but he visited the rostrum just three times further over the rest of the year. He needs to be a regular podium visitor at minimum in 2020.
Lee Holdsworth returned to the squad from Charlie Schwerkolt Racing in a straight swap with Mark Winterbottom and it took him a while to settle in. He was the fourth-best of the closely matched Tickford Mustangs for much of the season, but grafted hard and was finally rewarded with a return to the podium at the Sandown 500. Ever the bridesmaid in Supercars, Holdsworth will need to move forward this year.
Perhaps the unsung hero of the squad was Will Davison in the satellite 23Red Milwaukee Racing entry. The veteran was a regular top-ten finisher throughout the year and claimed two superb second-placed finishes at Ipswich and Tailem Bend. Fastest in the 2020 pre-season test at The Bend, Davison could be one to watch.
The Albury squad has undergone the biggest transformation in the off-season, ditching its long in the tooth – and rather unsuccessful – Nissan Altimas for the frontrunning Ford Mustangs. With just eight weeks to complete the transformation and build up its new chassis, the team took the prudent decision to scale back its four-car operation to just two runners for 2020.
Out went Simona de Silvestro and Garry Jacobson, with team owner/driver Rick Kelly remaining along with promising Kiwi Andre Heimgartner. Despite the limitations of their machinery, both Kelly and Heimgartner (particularly the latter) showed flashes of promise in 2019. Once they’ve sorted out their new cars, both can expect that the more competitive Mustangs will move them to the sharper end of the grid.
Triple Eight Race Engineering
Surprisingly, the factory-backed Red Bull Holden Racing Team was the only outfit among the Commodore runners to stand on the top step of the podium in 2019. In truth, it took a while for that to happen, with the team initially struggling to match the DJR Team Penske Ford Mustangs at the start of the season.
Accusations were immediately levelled from the squad that the Mustangs were enjoying a parity advantage – quite hypocritically, it must be said, given Triple Eight’s own past past dominance of the series – and what followed were a series of parity adjustments on both the Fords and Holdens at several points in the season.
It took until the eighth race of the season for a Holden victory – Shane van Gisbergen did the honours in Tasmania – and a further ten races for the feat to be repeated at Townsville and then Ipswich. By the back end of the season, the Red Bull Holdens were seemingly unstoppable, winning eight of the last ten races.
This momentum could propel them to success in 2020, blessed with an unchanged line-up of van Gisbergen and veteran Jamie Whincup. The latter is rumoured to be contemplating retirement from full-time driving at the end of the season, and the news of Holden’s impending exit from the automotive world may well prove a factor in his decision.
For all their talk about progress, Erebus Motorsport just didn’t fire in 2019 and failed to claim a race win. David Reynolds had flashes of form when the car and his moods were in sync, but he and the team have committed to a record contract extension that will see him with the Betty Klimenko squad for years to come.
Teammate Anton de Pasquale generally impressed after a stellar rookie campaign with the team in 2018. The youngster pushed Reynolds hard and occasionally outpaced his far more experienced teammate, peaking with a pair of third place results at Phillip Island and Tailem Bend. That was offset by uncompetitive outings at Winton, Auckland and Newcastle where he was all but invisible. More consistency is needed from the drivers and the team in 2020.
Walkinshaw Andretti United
It’s all change for one of the series’ stalwart outfits, with the team fielding an all-new driving line-up of Chaz Mostert and Bryce Fullwood after long-time drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye both opted to jump ship.
Now entering its third season under the joint ownership of Ryan Walkinshaw, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown, the team clearly has the resources that should propel it to the front of the field. Yet season after season, that hasn’t materialised – it’s as strangely predictable as its customary strong showing at Bathurst every year.
Whether the change of drivers brings new impetus remains to be seen. For all his undoubted talent, Mostert is something of tarnished goods after a wild 2019 campaign with Tickford Racing and has more to prove than most.
Fullwood, the reigning Super2 Championship title-winner, is considered a highly talented prospect and could well give Mostert a run for his money. We will be watching this rookie with interest.
Brad Jones Racing
The country team once again cemented itself as a midfield runner in 2019 and made the decision to expand from three cars to four for the 2020 season.
Nick Percat was the team’s standout driver last year, showing calmness and maturity that has generally been lacking in his Supercars career to finish ninth overall in the standings despite never visiting the podium during the season. Re-signed by the team until the end of 2022, the Adelaide-born driver can now assume the mantle of team leader.
Despite claiming the outfit’s only two podium finishes in Melbourne and Newcastle, Tim Slade was shown the door at the end of the year and replaced by the promising Todd Hazelwood. The youngster had a fine sophomore season with the little Matt Stone Racing outfit and big things will be expected of him in the more established BJR operation.
The other half of the garage has more questions than answers. Macauley Jones, son of team owner Brad Jones, made his full-time debut in 2019 in the Tim Blanchard-owned satellite entry and was generally mired towards the back of the field. He will have to prove that he deserves his place on the grid on merit, rather than by dint of his surname.
Joining the team full-time is Jack Smith, who made a handful of unimpressive wildcard outings for the team in a fourth ZB Commodore in 2019. The long-haired youngster comes armed with plenty of family backing to fund the team’s expansion, but there’s little to suggest that he will do much more than prop up the back of the grid.
A strong start to the 2019 season ultimately petered out over the rest of the year for the Charlie Shwerkolt-owned team. Having acquired the services of 2015 series champion Mark Winterbottom and a major sponsorship boost from the Stanley Black & Decker’s Irwin conglomerate, the partnership started strongly with a pair of top-ten finishes in Adelaide and a maiden pole position in Tasmania.
That was about as good as it got. Winterbottom, very much in the twilight of his career, plugged away and generally hovered on the cusp of the top ten or better when the car was sorted.
The team endured some of the challenges of being a single-car operation by having to share a pit boom, and Shwerkolt’s frustrations grew to the point of opting to expand to two cars for 2020, hiring WAU refugee Scott Pye to partner ‘Frosty’ for the coming season. With a proven line-up of race-winning drivers and the benefits of data from two cars, can Team 18 make progress towards the front of the field? Time will tell.
Matt Stone Racing
Another team expanding its presence on the grid. After a tough baptism in 2018, the team’s decision to switch to Holden power yielded dividends in its sophomore campaign with Todd Hazelwood delivering some sparkling performances.
Hazelwood generally hovered close to the top ten for much of the season, but concerns over the team’s funding saw the youngster ultimately make the decision to join Brad Jones Racing for 2020.
Dropped by Kelly Racing at the end of the season, Garry Jacobson was signed to MSR for 2020 and will bring much-needed backing. Jacobson had a largely uninspiring 2019 campaign, his first as a full-timer. The second car, dubbed the ‘SuperLites’ entry, will be shared by Super2 Championship graduates Zane Goddard and Jake Kostecki who are both funding their drives.
Team Sydney by TEKNO
It would be a compliment to describe the TEKNO squad’s 2019 campaign as an embarrassment. such is the squad’s continued slide from its race-winning heyday years. Despite the trappings of a Triple Eight developed Holden and the talented Jack Le Brocq behind the wheel, there was next to no development through the season.
Le Brocq was mired at the back of the grid from the outset, with his cause not helped by continued speculation over whether he would see out the season. It is often said that former drivers make poor team owners and it would appear that is true of Jonathon Webb, with whom Le Brocq well and truly fallen out by mid-season.
Yet, thanks in part to a financial incentive from Supercars and the New South Wales government, the team has opted to relocate to Sydney and rebrand as the city’s Supercars team for 2020.
WAU refugee James Courtney is its headline driver signing, while there are promises of decent sponsorship when the team unveiled a Coca-Cola livery at the pre-season launch earlier this month (although Courtney’s car will carry the unpopular Boost Mobile colours in Adelaide). Former Super2 champion and occasional Supercars driver Chris Pither was confirmed to drive the team’s second car at the eleventh hour.
The more things change, the more things appear to stay the same, it would seem…
|2020 Australian Supercars Championship – Confirmed Entry List|
|#||Team / Entrant||Car||Driver|
|2.||Walkinshaw Andretti United||Holden ZB Commodore||Bryce Fullwood|
|3.||Tim Blanchard Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Macauley Jones|
|4.||Brad Jones Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Jack Smith|
|5.||Tickford Racing||Ford Mustang GT||Lee Holdsworth|
|6.||Tickford Racing||Ford Mustang GT||Cameron Waters|
|7.||Kelly Racing||Ford Mustang GT||Andre Heimgartner|
|8.||Brad Jones Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Nick Percat|
|9.||Erebus Motorsport||Holden ZB Commodore||David Reynolds|
|12.||DJR Team Penske||Ford Mustang GT||Fabian Coulthard|
|14.||Brad Jones Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Todd Hazelwood|
|15.||Kelly Racing||Ford Mustang GT||Rick Kelly|
|17.||DJR Team Penske||Ford Mustang GT||Scott McLaughlin|
|18.||Charlie Schwerkolt Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Mark Winterbottom|
|19.||Team Sydney by TEKNO||Holden ZB Commodore||James Courtney|
|18.||Charlie Schwerkolt Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Scott Pye|
|22.||Team Sydney by TEKNO||Holden ZB Commodore||Chris Pither|
|23.||23Red Racing||Ford Mustang GT||Will Davison|
|25.||Walkinshaw Andretti United||Holden ZB Commodore||Chaz Mostert|
|34.||Matt Stone Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Zane Goddard
|35.||Matt Stone Racing||Holden ZB Commodore||Garry Jacobson|
|55.||Tickford Racing||Ford Mustang GT||Jack Le Brocq|
|88.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Holden ZB Commodore||Jamie Whincup|
|97.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Holden ZB Commodore||Shane van Gisbergen|
|99.||Erebus Motorsport||Holden ZB Commodore||Anton de Pasquale|
Images via Brad Jones Racing, Erebus Motorsport, Kelly Racing, Matt Stone Racing, Red Bull Holden Racing Team, Team 18, Tickford Racing, Walkinshaw Andretti United