Insight Motorsport News

COMMENT: ‘TOO UNPREDICTABLE’?

THE OTHER day a fan of our sport, one with whom I often talk motorsport, had a bit of a rant at me about the recent Sydney Supercars round.

WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Mark Horsburgh / Supercars

Now, this fan – he doesn’t work in the industry – in the past has spent much of his timing complaining about the domination of the sport by Triple Eight and DJR Team Penske, and how he’d like other teams to step up.

This column first ran on TalkMotorsport.co.nz – our friends over the Tasman do a super job covering off all the Kiwi racing news and views – do check them out!

So you can imagine my surprise when he said he felt the weekend’s racing was ‘too unpredictable’. Really? 

His comments grated because in my eyes the last two rounds have delivered exactly what a large portion of people within the sport, both those within it and those watching from the outside, have clamored after for years and years.

Unpredictable racing. Varied results. Different teams and drivers doing the job.

Now I firmly believe that the best team and driver should win on any given Sunday, but there’s a point where that becomes too much of a good thing and becomes bad (unless we’re talking about the Crows going undefeated. That’d be fine).

Everyone goes misty-eyed over the periods of domination in our sport’s history, but the reality is that when you’re living through an era of one team routing everyone else week in and week out, (hello, F1) it’s all rather tedious.

As the world changes and people consume sport and media in different ways, our sport has to be conscious of evolving to suit – and that means it has to be a good product, as often as possible.

I’ll go on the record immediately by saying that I agree some areas of the current Supercars regulations put in place for the balance of the season need some rapid revision: for instance, drivers who make the shootout should be given an additional set of tyres they hand back immediately afterwards because otherwise qualifying is rubbish.

I also think there needs to be a better way to communicate who has what on their car at any given time – a lot of the confusion, at no fault of the broadcaster who only has limited resources and information to tell the story, was centered around who had good soft tyres and who didn’t. But there are ways and means around that.

Aside from those points, I think the format does exactly what it is designed to do without completely ruining the more ‘pure sporting’ philosophy that has the best team and driver winning on the day which, of course, still happened: Scott McLaughlin scored the most points of any over the last weekend and greatly extended his championship lead and there’s very few in pit lane who won’t say he and the #17 crew aren’t the best in the game at the moment.

Meanwhile, the rules also punished those who made strategic miscues like Red Bull, whose baffling decision to keep Shane van Gisbergen out on his rubber for so long in races 10 and 11 arguably saw them engineer themselves out of a pair of podium finishes.

But what of the claims it is ‘too unpredictable’? Well, Brad Jones Racing was impressive – but then they were impressive at the last Sydney Motorsport Park round as well. Nick Percat won a race at both events, Todd Hazelwood starred in both events and generally the team looked very good at both.. which seems reasonably on-form to me.

Jack Le Brocq’s maiden win was a case of being in the right place at the right time – but then again, Tickford have been close to the top step of the podium for a few rounds now and with four cars, were bound to get it right eventually.

Yes you’re going to get an anomaly of a result here or there, but in the main it seems like the good teams are still good and those that aren’t that good, aren’t being gifted a podium.

If Team Sydney popped up in the top five I’d agree that things had gone too far, but that wasn’t the case.

As for passing being too easy? Sure, cars on good tyres were blowing past cars on not good tyres like they were standing still.. but then again, that’s generally the way car racing has been for as long as I’ve watching.

On the Grid spoke at length to Todd Hazelwood last week and his description of how he had to drive to hustle past Dave Reynolds on the final lap of the last race sounded anything but easy. He absolutely earned that spot on the podium.

The other thing to keep in mind is how circuit-specific the conditions we saw at Sydney Motorsport Park were. It’s a tyre-killer and what we saw there won’t necessarily be repeated in Darwin or Townsville, at least not to such extremes.

The final, and I think the key point, is this: Everyone is still working to the same rules and, as DJR Team Penske proved by putting their cars first and third overall for the weekend, the best teams should still be able to deliver the best overall results across a weekend.

All this does is open the door to others to experiment a bit and play an ace card when they can to get themselves up front.

I have no problem with that at all.

Look, I admit it is not the ultimate scenario. In a perfect world we’d have cars that allowed for the playing field to be more level than it is and the general racing product to be better without artificial aids like using different tyre compounds, or DRS in Formula 1.

However as we all know it is far from a perfect world at the moment and now more than ever it’s important that the show is as flat-out entertaining as it can be so we can come out of the other side of this current economic drama in decent shape.

It might not be the way we race long-term, but in the immediate future in my mind it ticks all the boxes because without it, Supercars racing was heading for a challenging season: a lacklustre Adelaide 500 showcased everything wrong with the current formula.

Sydney showed how right it can be when things are mixed up on a track brutal on rubber.

The bottom line is this: once we come out the other side we can focus on getting back to ‘proper’ racing without contrivances liked mixed tyres and high degradation to help the show.

But right now, in the middle of this nightmare, the show must go on.. and based on what we’ve seen so far, I think the show is very good indeed.