This morning’s news that seven-time Supercars champion Jamie Whincup would be pulling up stumps at the end of 2021 to take over Triple Eight as team boss was a long time in the making, beginning a few years ago with his acquisition of shares in the team and stoked by a full season of ‘will he, won’t he, retirement innuendo.
Now that the 37-year-old’s exit has been formalized, one of the leading questions is who exactly will replace him. Current team boss Roland Dane (who hands Whincup the torch at the end of the season) has already said that the team has been flooded with approaches by various drivers. Here’s seven that we think could (or should) be in the mix.
1. Broc Feeney
Maybe the most obvious name for the job is Broc Feeney; the 18-year-old that Triple Eight just snatched up from Tickford to head its Super2 squad for the 2021 season.
Feeney doesn’t bring a big mountain of results, but he’s been a gun in each junior formulae he’s competed in to date. The past Super3 champ will undoubtedly be aiming for a Super2 title and plum Bathurst 1000 co-driver gig (Dane has confirmed Feeney can co-drive for any team he wants for this year’s Great Race).
Being managed by Paul Morris is icing on the cake. Drivers that have been under the wing of ‘The Dude’ can be found in just about every major circuit racing category in Australia. He’ll keep Feeney grounded while further honing his talents.
2. Andre Heimgartner
It seems unlikely that Triple Eight will hire a big gun. The notion of grabbing a driver that’s ‘on the up’ seems much more likely, and perhaps that driver is Kiwi Andre Heimgartner.
Into his fourth season with Kelly Racing — now with added Grove — Heimgartner is a leading prospect among the youngsters on the fringes of the Supercars’ biggest teams. He very nearly claimed a win last year at a few venues (while simultaneously making team owner Rick Kelly look a little ordinary), and will hope to tick the box this year.
The mix of youth and experience will be tantalizing to Dane and Whincup. The time seems right for Heimgartner to be bolted into a hot seat, too.
3. Nick Percat
In a way, Nick Percat could almost be seen as Holden’s Heimgartner equivalent — although his 2020 was filled with even more success in the form of a pair of wins and seventh in the standings.
While he won Bathurst and made his full-time debut with a factory team, Percat hasn’t had a plum factory opportunity since, despite being one of the most tenacious racers in the series. He was one of the category’s most prolific over-takers last season, and arguably deserved more than a seventh place overall.
He may be 32 and no longer able to be classified as a ‘series youngster’, but few would doubt the view that Percat is driving as well now as he’s ever driven. He signed a two-year contract with Brad Jones Racing last February. But you’d bet that most drivers on the grid could be lured out of contracts for the chance to race for Triple Eight.
4. Liam Lawson
Dane has already stipulated in the media that he would be keen to look further afield than drivers in Australia or New Zealand. Well, what about a driver from New Zealand that’s racing in Europe?
The idea of Lawson racing in Supercars relies on him falling away from the Formula 1 bubble. He had a rollercoaster 2020 Formula 3 season but still managed to knock out three race wins. His Red Bull junior offsider, Yuki Tsunoda, makes his F1 debut this year with Alpha Tauri, while Lawson makes the jump to F2 and DTM.
The DTM drive should be read as a dress rehearsal to see how he compares with new teammate (and F1 refugee) Alexander Albon, rather than as a genuine foray into tin-tops. His proximity to all these parties means he’s still well and truly in the mix for an F1 seat, although he’ll need to be incredible in F2 to seal the deal.
Still, if things don’t work out, he would be an utter superstar in a Supercar. Ditto for his new teammate Nick Cassidy, too, although Cassidy’s multi-year Formula E contract might have something to say about such plans.
5. Anton de Pasquale
The biggest question about the forthcoming Supercars season in my mind isn’t about Covid-19 response or television contracts, but rather about whether the departure of Team Penske from Dick Johnson Racing will see results dive.
With the team retaining Shell, Ludo Lacroix, and two guns in Will Davison and Anton de Pasquale, I’m certain they’ll still be a huge championship threat. But, stranger things have happened. If things don’t go quite to plan, de Pasquale could be part of the biggest silly season story for two seasons in a row.
De Pasquale has been previously linked to a move to Triple Eight, and even drove for them at last year’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
6. Scott Pye
Scott Pye’s 2020 Supercars year was one of the weirdest. A disastrous opening round was followed by Pye becoming one of the most followed drivers during the Supercars’ Covid-19-inspired iRacing Eseries, which was then followed by a credible resurgence.
By the end of the season he had climbed from the championship doldrums to ninth in the standings, thanks to a trio of podiums and a credible nine-race top-10 streak (the only other drivers to equal or better this were Whincup and Scott McLaughlin). Not bad for a debut season with (the formerly embattled) Team18.
It’s been widely reported that Pye was formerly managed by Dane. At this time he was considered a shoe-in to be a driver that would enter the T8 fold at some point. Like Percat he’s also on a multi-year deal with his current team.
7. Thomas Randle
If you had to line up all of the drivers who currently don’t have a full-time Supercars drive in place, the best of the bunch would arguably be 2020 Super2 champion Thomas Randle.
Having lobbied hard for a full-time seat this year with Tickford, Randle appeared set to replace Lee Holdsworth in the team’s fourth car. But the lack of an available REC put paid to the plans. Instead he will forgo another Super2 season (citing costs) to instead run in the Australian S5000 Championship. He’s also been retained (well, resigned) by Tickford as a co-driver for this year’s Bathurst 1000.
Randle’s other big battle is his fight with testicular cancer. Towards the end of last year he underwent two cycles of chemotherapy on top of abdominal surgery. Thankfully the therapy is complete, and he can put full focus on motorsport. He’ll undoubtedly be a Supercars silly season factor for 2022, regardless of whether T8 want him or not.