Mark Skaife, Craig Lowndes, Russell Ingall and Marcos Ambrose are the names most Australian motor sport fans can relate to. So who are Mark Winterbottom, Matthew White, Dale Brede, Luke Youlden and Tony Riccardello. If you haven't heard of them...
Mark Skaife, Craig Lowndes, Russell Ingall and Marcos Ambrose are the names most Australian motor sport fans can relate to. So who are Mark Winterbottom, Matthew White, Dale Brede, Luke Youlden and Tony Riccardello.
If you haven't heard of them yet, you more than likely will towards then end of the season when the V8 Supercar series enters the endurance rounds and these 'young guns' get the opportunity to partner the heavyweights of the championship.
After spending a weekend around these guys there is one thing for sure, they have the talent and commitment to build on their careers, and that is what the Konica V8 Supercar series is all about.
Since it's inception in 2000, it has provided a number of drivers the opportunity to move into the big league, including past winners, Dean Canto (Briggs Motor sport), Simon Wills (Team Dynamik) and Paul Dumbrell (Perkins Castrol Motor sport). This year sees no exception, with current leader Winterbottom looking to head in the same direction in 2004.
Without a doubt he is dominating the series, while White and Youlden are knocking on the door. With two rounds of the championship left he holds a slim lead. However, when watching him you can understand why Stone Bros Racing were eager to sign him. He has the talent, the patience and the know how, and that was proved recently at Phillip Island when he put down some lap times that would have put him in the top ten in the 'big brother' series.
Like Stone Bros Racing, other teams, including Dick Johnson Racing look to the Konica series for the future, giving up and coming drivers the opportunity to compete in perhaps the best touring car championship in the world. Admittedly, there is always going to be a handful of drivers that stand out from the crowd, but then again it would be boring to watch six car fields racing each other.
When you look through the history of the drivers entered in the series, it's evident all have some form of racing background. Many have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time during their careers and have been picked up and nurtured along the way by some of Australia's leading teams, whether in go-karts, Formula Ford, Formula Holden or some other category.
Some could be classed as privateers, as they struggle to prepare their cars for each round, as the sponsorship dollars are just not there. Many rely on friends and family to act as crew members, mechanics and engineers, while others have their own media managers. At the end of the day, they all have the same dream and that is to one day race in the top category, alongside or against their heroes. Such is the attraction of Australian Motor sport at the present time, there is a need for a second tier competition as drivers from across the Tasman and as far a field as Brazil are heading Down Under.
So which teams do the fans follow. It's easy, they either follow Ford or Holden, and these are the only two manufacturers in the competition and will be for some years to come. That is what Australians have been brought up on, and legends such as Peter Brock and Alan Moffat have ensured that the rivalry still continues today.
The Konica series now consists of six rounds, which commenced in February and conclude in August in South Australia, with a non championship round at Bathurst over the long weekend. Most drivers consider the Mountain as their favorite track, and if you perform here you will be noticed.
Apart from the Konica race, this is where the likes of Winterbottom and others will get the opportunity to prove themselves amongst the elite. For the endurance race he has already been linked to Marcos Ambrose, with Youlden looking to partner Steven Ellery in the Super Cheap Auto, Owen Kelly being picked up by Ford Performance Vehicle and Riccardello sharing a drive in one of the Shell Helix Fords.
To be competitive and survive in motor sport you need sponsorship and that sponsorship comes from obtaining results on and off the track. It is clear that V8 Supercars in Australia are growing at a rapid rate. Already we have an international race in New Zealand and are heading to China in 2004. Through the generosity of Konica's sponsorship of this series since 2000, young drivers are being given the opportunity to compete and perform on the world stage.