Shane van Gisbergen’s ban from the Turtle Wax Trans Am Series might prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for one Supercars co-owner.
On Monday, Triple Eight Race Engineering confirmed their star driver had been told he couldn’t compete in the forthcoming Speed Series event at Queensland Raceway.
Although the Supercars team claimed there was no outside influence, Wide World of Sports understands the call by Triple Eight was made under harshness from Supercars.
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The ban prompted a terse response from the team van Gisbergen was to drive for, citing “political pressures” for the driver’s omission.
The two-time champion was to race a Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR-style series next month at a time when Supercars is in the midst of developing its own Chevrolet Camaro.
The Kiwi has been a key part in the development of the next-generation car under the so-called Gen3 regulations and has been a critic of the formula until recent revisions.
If there were any suspicions Supercars sees Trans Am as a rival before, those have now certainly been confirmed.
Had van Gisbergen raced, he would have been the first active Supercars driver to compete in the Trans Am series.
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It’s a sticky situation for Barry Rogers, who with his father Garry Rogers, has the largest ownership stake in the Australian Racing Group (ARG) alongside Brian Boyd and John McMellan of property developer Payce.
The motorsport promoter is behind a suite of categories including Trans Am and also has a share in the Supercars ownership group, Racing Australia Consolidated Enterprises Ltd (RACE).
RACE is made up of three primary parties; the Australian Racing Group, independent advisory firm Henslow, and QMS APAC CEO Barclay Nettlefold.
Nettlefold chairs the board of RACE alongside five-time Supercars champion Mark Skaife, Henslow director Stephen Macaw, Doma Group managing director Jure Domazet as well as McMellan and Rogers.
ARG initially bid for Supercars on its own but was later invited to join a combined front with Henslow and Nettlefold under the RACE banner.
That conglomerate would win the bidding war after the effort with a slew of high-profile motorsport figures led by Boost Mobile owner Peter Adderton pulled out.
Speaking with Wide World of SportsRogers said Henslow and Nettlefold bought into his vision of a holistic approach whereby Supercars and its associated categories would race alongside the ARG card of series harmoniously.
That would see the Repco Supercars Championship remain the top dog, albeit supported by the likes of the Supercheap Auto TCR Australia and Turtle Wax Trans Am to name a few.
However, that’s not played how Rogers had planned, and the van Gisbergen situation has only cemented his view that the other owners in RACE only care about Supercars.
“The key motivator for us was to get all of motorsport together to have a whole offering of motorsport. Now that hasn’t happened at this point, which is disappointing,” said Rogers.
“If it had unfolded in that manner and we were all together in one group – although we do have ownership in both groups – if it all worked like that then things like what just happened with Shane wouldn’t happen. It would all go ahead and we’d march on because what’s best for motorsport would happen.
“That hasn’t occurred. Whether it does eventually or not, time will tell, but if it doesn’t occur in the near future we’ll be looking to get out of our shout in Supercars because it’s not what we bought into.
“We told them what our aims were, which was the whole of motorsport. They [Henslow and Nettlefold] loved all that and they thought that was a fantastic idea. They sold that to all their shareholders and nothing has happened. That’s disappointing, definitely. When you buy into something with an expectation, maybe that was naïve from us.”
A report in The Australian revealed RACE was recently approached by an overseas investor looking to buy the Supercars business.
It’s since been revealed that the approach, later reported by Self Action to be from media group FanTech, was deflected. Instead, RACE is now looking to sink capital into the business by way of new investors or loans.
That’s caught the ire of Rogers who believes the buyout by the international group would have given investors a net gain. Now they face the prospect of their share being devalued.
Compounding the situation is Supercars’ supposed debt, which has not been helped by the complicated and seemingly perpetually delayed introduction of Gen3.
A statement from RACE to motor racing outlet Self Action indicated the group had invested in Supercars with a long-term vision and has no immediate plans to sell.
Whether Rogers stays invested in Supercars remains to be seen. If push comes to shove, Rogers could soon sell his stake to the existing investors or find a new suitor entirely.
In any case, he believes a change of attitude by the other investors is needed for the current relationship to remain.
“The problem is, there’s probably a number of key people in the Supercars business – I’ll call it RACE at this point – who earn a living directly from Supercars so they’re very protective of the Supercars brand,” Rogers explained, referencing van Gisbergen’s ban.
“The brand is a fantastic brand, but it’s a bit like the AFL. That’s a brand, and if you call it the marquee part of the AFL is the men’s game on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you can’t just do that alone , you need to have WAFL, you need to have junior footy, you need to have a whole lot of other things under that umbrella to make the key one mean everything.
“Now, there’s no doubting Supercars is the king of Australian motorsport and there’s no reason why that would ever change because it is an incredible product, but it can’t do it by itself.
“With the suite of categories that ARG has got, plus other categories in Australia like Carrera Cup and Toyota 86 that Supercars have got some control over, if you can put it all together and just have a menu board of categories and pick and choose where you go and what they race, you can put together 18 or 20 weeks of motorsport that maybe Supercars appears at 12 or 13 of them.
“You might go to an event like Western Australia where the government wasn’t happy with the categories that turned up. You could take TCR with Supercars. You can mix and match the categories according to what’s required by the governments. At the moment, they’re very limited in what they can do and I think it would be best for everyone if it was all together.
“Can it eventually happen? I’d like to think so, but at this point, there are too many decision-makers that are just wearing a Supercars hat, not a RACE hat. RACE should be about the whole of motorsport, not just what’s best for Supercars.
“It sounds like we might be living in a dreamland thinking it can all work out, but I still had hope that it will.”
Ultimately, Rogers said the biggest losers are the fans who miss out on an opportunity to see one of the sport’s best in van Gisbergen.
“I get the commercialism of a sport and how all that goes, but often the fan is forgotten about in commercialism,” Rogers explained.
“Without the fan, none of it ever happens. You probably would’ve got another 1000 or 2000 people at Queensland Raceway to watch van Gisbergen up against [Nathan] Herne and [Owen] Kelly and these sort of guys.
“That’s all good for the sport. That’s the disappointing part I think. When you’re a professional race car driver within the Supercars ranks, you can race 12 times per year and it’s pretty well understood now amongst all the drivers you need to be racing more often.
“It’s the fan I feel for. Without them, none of us go racing.”
The Speed Series continues at Queensland Raceway on August 5-7.
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