Mark Skaife believes an unprecedented level of driver movement between V8 Supercar Championship Series seasons translates into two things: a fiercely competitive sport and an intriguing final round at the BigPond Grand Finale at Eastern Creek in...
Mark Skaife believes an unprecedented level of driver movement between V8 Supercar Championship Series seasons translates into two things: a fiercely competitive sport and an intriguing final round at the BigPond Grand Finale at Eastern Creek in Sydney this weekend.
Almost half of the 20-strong championship teams will have at least one new face in their garages next year, something the five-time champion believes is endemic of a very healthy and intensely competitive sport.
The most high profile movements, in no particular order, are Craig Lowndes going from Ford Performance Racing to Betta Electrical, Jason Bright from PWR to FPR and Greg Murphy from Kmart Racing to PWR, to name a few.
Interestingly the championship's most powerful teams from Ford and Holden -- Stone Brothers Racing and Skaife's Holden Racing team -- remain unchanged for 2005.
"There certainly hasn't been in my time, or even since the inception of the Australian Touring Car Championship, that has resembled this one in terms of driver movement," Skaife said.
"What is does is reflects modern sport. Much like the AFL where they have their off-season recruiting and draft, our sport goes through a period where teams actively seek ways to gain any competitive edge they can.
"This is relatively new territory for us. It is not uncommon in Formula One for teams to continually be looking out for an opportunity to secure more experienced drivers. As the stakes continually rise in our sport this has been stressed even more.
"It demonstrates that the level of competitiveness of track is just as fierce as it is on track."
Skaife said that movement did not always guarantee immediate success. He recalled his 1997 move from Gibson Motorsport to the Holden Racing Team where he, even as a previous champion, played a backseat role to Lowndes.
"I was the new kid on the block in the team and it took me a good year to make the complete transition," said Skaife.
"It's actually quite a complex thing when you sit down and analyse it. There are so many different factors and variables that a new driver brings with him.
"It also means that we are going to have a very interesting championship next year."
For HRT and SBR, whose gun drivers Marcos Ambrose and Russell Ingall will be out to grab first and second in the championship at Eastern Creek, they will return next year with the same teams.
"The positive aspect for us is stability. For Todd and I to know we are rolling into next year in a very stable environment is the upside of these things," Skaife said.
Skaife rightfully pointed out that drivers leaving teams will want nothing more than a victory on a weekend that includes live prime time coverage of a twighlight race tomorrow night on Network 10. Lowndes agreed.
"Heading into the final round of the season and my final round with FPR, I would love nothing more than to end the season with a great result for the team and our sponsors," Lowndes said.
"I really love racing at Eastern Creek and I have had some great results there. I am particularly looking forward to the twilight race - it will be a real spectacle for our fans with red hot brakes and flaming exhausts coming to the fore.
"The team has prepared well for this final round and we all share the goal of ending the season on the highest note possible."
Ambrose' attitude this weekend will be no different to the one that should clinch him the second successive title. He will become the first Ford driver to do so since the great Dick Johnson in 1988 and 1999.
"Dick Johnson is one of Ford's great names," Ambrose said.
"To have the opportunity to be the first driver since him to give the Blue Oval two-straight titles has me even more determined to get the job done at Eastern Creek.
"The best place to be is up front, both in the race and the championship. I want to win the round, but for sure I need to be aware of the championship situation and that's the priority. I don't expect any of the other teams to simply give it to us and we wouldn't expect it any other way."
Flying Kiwi Greg Murphy can launch an assault on Ambrose from second place as unlikely as it is. Next best, and keeping Ingall at bay, is the second priority.
"If you can't win the championship, the next best thing is to finish second and that's really what our aim is this weekend," said the 32-year-old.
He has finished runner-up in the series twice during his tenure with the team, in 2002 to Mark Skaife and last year to Marcos Ambrose.
Castrol Perkins Motorsport's Steven Richards registers his 100th race start in the category this weekend. The 32-year-old made his debut in a Garry Rogers Motorsport/Valvoline Commodore at the same venue in 1996.