The endurance season gets underway with the Sandown 500 curtain raiser this week, the first of the three-leg PIRTEK Enduro Cup races. With 300 points for the taking and nine drivers within 245 points of the Championship lead, the attention turns to the co-drivers ahead of the most unpredictable part of the season and the closest title run-in for years.
The 2013 endurance pairings are now locked in, complete with one very exciting wildcard entry.
Of the driver combinations, twelve remain the same from 2012 with eight nationalities represented and players from the second tier V8 Supercars Dunlop Series, the Porsche Carrera Cup, V8 SuperTourers, World Endurance Championship, ALMS and DTM all taking their place alongside the main game drivers to battle it out for the PIRTEK Enduro Cup.
So here’s how the runners and riders line up…
Triple Eight Race Engineering
Continuity is the theme at Triple Eight after the endurance pairings each took a race win in 2012…
#1 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden – Jamie Whincup / Paul Dumbrell
After quitting full-time V8 Supercars in 2011 to focus on running the family business, Dumbrell re-emerged last season at Triple Eight and helped steer the #1 Holden Commodore to victory in the Bathurst 1000. In 2013, Dumbrell again pairs with the four-time series champion and four-time Bathurst 1000 winner, marking 15 years since his debut at Mt. Panorama as a 17-year-old.
#888 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden – Craig Lowndes / Warren Luff
Triumphant in the 2012 Sandown 500 and racking up a Bathurst 1000 podium to boot, Luff will again partner Craig Lowndes in the #888 Holden. The V8 Supercars journeyman is currently riding high in the Australian Porsche Carrera Cup series standings and fulfilling his day job as Movie World’s resident stunt driver.
Erebus Motorsport V8
Experience is vital in the endurance races and in its first V8 Supercars campaign Erebus Motorsport V8 has the knowledge of three seasoned endurance veterans at its disposal…
#4 IRWIN Racing Mercedes E63 AMG – Lee Holdsworth / Craig Baird
The New Zealander has made regular endurance appearances since quitting the series full-time at the end of 2005 and partnered Holdsworth last year at Sandown and Bathurst, where they netted a pair of eighth places in the Stone Brothers Racing Ford Falcon. The reigning Porsche Carrera Cup Australia champion claimed his 10th Porsche one-make championship victory in 2012, adding to an impressive record of international success in single seater, sports cars, touring cars and Porsche racing, including the 1998 British Touring Car Championship.
#9 SP Tools Racing Mercedes E63 AMG – Maro Engel / Steve Johnson
Having stepped away from full-time driving this year and taking on the role of general manager at Dick Johnson Racing, the veteran of over 400 V8 Supercars races and 18 Bathurst 1000 starts, will make his first start in a non-Dick Johnson Racing prepared car having signed up with Erebus Motorsport V8 to co-drive alongside Maro Engel. His time behind the wheel of the E63 AMG Mercedes may be limited, but his experience can only help both him and rookie Engel who hasn’t raced at any of the three endurance circuits before.
#47 Heavy Haulage Australia Racing Mercedes E63 AMG – Tim Slade / Andrew Thompson
After teaming up in 2012 under the Stone Brothers Racing banner and netting a pair of seventh place finishes at Sandown and Bathurst, former karting rivals, Tim Slade and Andrew Thompson reunite once more. Thompson, the 2011 Dunlop Series champion has been an endurance regular since 2007, and co-piloted the #88 TeamVodafone car with Jamie Whincup to second place at the 2011 Phillip Island L&H 500.
Brad Jones Racing
Given what it has achieved in the first year under the new ‘Car of the Future’ regulations, the stability and strong credentials of its co-drivers leave the team quietly optimistic ahead of this year’s Season of Endurance and in its hunt for success on the Mountain…
#21 Wilson Security Racing Holden – David Wall / Chris Pither
Chris Pither joins David Wall in the #21 Wilson Security backed Holden for a second consecutive season, after pairing with Wall at Sandown and Bathurst in 2012. Pither fills the place left after the tragic death of Allan Simonsen in this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours race. The New Zealander’s V8 Supercars career was put on hold after a serious crash in practice at the 2008 Bathurst 1000, but after a couple of years out of the game, Pither went on to win the 2011 Australian V8 Ute Racing Series and following last year’s endurance races, secured a drive in the 2013 Dunlop Series with Brad Jones Racing.
#8 Team BOC Holden – Jason Bright / Andrew Jones
Currently competing in the Dunlop Series for Brad Jones Racing, Andrew Jones will share the Team BOC Holden with Bright for a third consecutive season. 2013 marks Jones’ 12th consecutive appearance in the Bathurst 1000 – all but two of which have come with BJR. The duo finished fifth at Bathurst in 2011 and 12th last year, but believe that consistency coupled with the team’s strongest Championship start to date, can give BJR its elusive first win on the Mt. Panorama circuit.
#14 Lockwood Racing Holden – Fabian Coulthard / Luke Youlden
A podium finisher in the 2010 Phillip Island L&H 500 alongside Mark Winterbottom and a year later alongside Will Davison in the 2011 Bathurst 1000, Luke Youlden has been a solid campaigner in the endurance races since 2001. After helping Davison to pole at the Phillip Island 500 in 2011 and winning the Sandown 500 co-driver qualifying race to take pole alongside Shane van Gisbergen in 2012, Youlden is hoping to make it a hat trick of pole positions, and of course a win, this time alongside good friend Fabian Coulthard.
Ford Performance Racing
Familiarity and continuity is also seen as the key to success at Ford Performance Racing with the now four-car outfit sticking with two of its team stalwarts, and bringing on board two well qualified endurance pros…
#5 Pepsi Max Crew FPR Ford – Mark Winterbottom / Steve Richards
Long-standing pairing Mark Winterbottom and two-time Bathurst winner Steve Richards partner up for a third season together. The New Zealander may have retired from V8 Supercars full time, but Richards certainly isn’t showing any signs of slowing down having topped the timesheets in July’s co-driver only Townsville 400 Practice Session and pitting his wits against the likes of Craig Baird, Warren Luff and Nick Percat in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia series. Runners-up at the Bathurst 1000 in 2011 and the Sandown 500 in 2012, the duo hope to go one better in 2013.
#6 Pepsi Max Crew FPR Ford – Will Davison / Steve Owen
After missing out on a full-time drive this season when Dick Johnson Racing scaled down its operation, Steve Owen signed a two-year enduro deal with Ford Performance Racing. Owen lines up with Will Davison after the #6 Pepsi Max Crew FPR driver pressed the team to partner him with the former Bathurst 1000 podium finisher and Gold Coast 600 winner (both alongside Jamie Whincup in 2010). The pair previously worked together in 2008 and 2009 as part of Dick Johnson Racing’s and then Walkinshaw Racing’s endurance campaigns, although never as a driver pairing. The two-time Fujitsu V8 Supercar Champion, returned to the development series this year, taking over Chaz Mostert’s ride with Matthew White Motorsport and landing pole ahead of his first start. He also made his Carrera Cup Australia debut in the category’s two-driver Rennsport event in May again setting the fastest time in qualifying.
#18 Team JELD-WEN FPR Ford – Alex Davison / John McIntyre
Long-standing Ford driver John McIntyre looked set to miss out on an endurance seat after a difficult Bathurst 1000 campaign in 2012, but was handed a lifeline after FPR protégé Chaz Mostert, who was originally set to share the Ford Performance Racing-prepared entry with Davison, stepped into a full-time V8 Supercars Championship ride with Dick Johnson Racing. With three New Zealand touring car titles, a NZ V8 SuperTourers Sprint Series and two V8 Supercar podiums to his name, team owner Charlie Schwerkolt believes his car will be a contender with the experienced pair at the helm.
#55 The Bottle-O Racing Team FPR Ford – David Reynolds / Dean Canto
Dean Canto has been part of the Ford Performance Racing enduro line-up since 2008 and for the last three years has driven the FPR-prepared #55 The Bottle-O Ford. This year the two-time Development V8 Series champion reunites with David Reynolds after the pair took an incredible maiden Bathurst 1000 podium in 2012, just 0.3 seconds off the win.
Given the change to the Gold Coast 600 format, most teams have opted for local drivers with development or main game experience. Tekno Autosports, on the other hand, bucked the trend signing up two highly experienced and successful international endurance sports car racers, each re-uniting with their 2012 Gold Coast 600 partner. However, neither will get their first drives in their respective cars until opening practice at Sandown…
#19 Team TEKNO Darrell Lea Holden – Jonathon Webb / Marc Lieb
Following the duo’s second place podium finish together at the 2012 Gold Coast 600, Marc Lieb will again team up with Jonathon Webb. Lieb, an endurance race specialist, was one of the quickest international co-drivers in last year’s Gold Coast event and on his debut alongside Alex Davison in 2011, and Webb is pleased to have the German Porsche works driver who won the fiercely competitive GTE-Pro class at Le Mans this year back alongside him in the #19 Team TEKNO Darrell Lea Commodore.
#97 Team Tekno VIP Holden – Shane van Gisbergen / Jeroen Bleekemolen
After the pair joined forces for Stone Brothers Racing at the Gold Coast event in 2012 and taking two top-ten finishes, Jeroen Bleekemolen will again line up alongside Shane van Gisbergen, albeit this time in a Holden. Dutchman Bleekemolen also has experience at Bathurst having raced there in the 2012 Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 Porsche Carrera Cup support races.
Across its three-car operation, Walkinshaw Racing has assembled a formidable endurance line-up, between them boasting a combined total of ten Bathurst wins across the current pairings, and five victories in the traditional 500km Bathurst warm-up at Sandown…
#2 Holden Racing Team – Garth Tander / Nick Percat
Nick Percat reunites with 2011 Bathurst-winning teammate Garth Tander for a third consecutive season. After crashing out of last year’s Bathurst 1000, Percat looked to be out of contention at the factory Holden team, and signed up to co-drive with Tony D’Alberto in the Walkinshaw Racing customer Holden. That agreement was later reversed and Percat was recalled to the HRT endurance fold in what the team described as “the best interest of team balance”. After three years in the V8 Supercars Development Series, Percat is currently plying his trade in the Porsche Carrera Cup.
#22 Holden Racing Team – James Courtney / Greg Murphy
After closing the door on his 15-season V8 Supercars career at the end of 2012, Greg Murphy switched his attention to the enduros. Quickly snapped up by HRT, Murphy will partner 2010 champion James Courtney, who believes having the four-time Bathurst winner alongside him in the #22 car will give him his best shot to date of success in ‘The Great Race’. Murphy, who currently leads the BNT New Zealand V8 SuperTourers Championship, first tasted victory on the mountain with Craig Lowndes for HRT in 1996. The pair also won back-to-back Sandown 500 titles for the team in 1996/97.
#66 Supercheap Auto Racing Holden – Russell Ingall / Ryan Briscoe
Australian IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe returns to the Walkinshaw Racing stable for a fourth consecutive season, this time with The Enforcer in the Supercheap Auto Racing Commodore, having competed with HRT at the last three Gold Coast 600 events. Briscoe’s V8 Supercars debut also came with Walkinshaw’s factory Holden outfit when he scored provisional pole alongside Jim Richards at the Sandown 500 in 2006. After stints with Andrew Thompson at Bathurst and Will Davison on the Gold Coast in 2010, Briscoe joined Garth Tander in 2011 for the Surfers Paradise event, the pair going on to finish both races in the top five in 2012.
Tony D’Alberto Racing
It’s been a case of when one door closes another opens for both Tony D’Alberto Racing and its endurance co-driver this season. Having renewed ties with Walkinshaw Racing for a technical alliance, the field’s only single car team lost out on co-driver and former Bathurst 1000 winner Nick Percat. In Percat’s place, TDR has secured one of its original picks…
#3 Team HIFLEX Commodore – Tony D’Alberto / Jonny Reid
Jonny Reid is relishing his shot in the enduros. Following a tough start to his debut V8 Supercars season earlier this year, which saw him replaced at Dick Johnson Racing by Chaz Mostert after just three championship events, Reid steps into the co-driver seat vacated by Nick Percat with high hopes of making a full-time return to V8 Supercars soon. Regarded as one of the best New Zealand’s best drivers, the former A1GP and Porsche Carrera Cup racer made his Bathurst 1000 debut as a 19-year-old in 2003 (with Robert Smith Racing) but had to wait until 2012 for his second start there (alongside Michael Patrizi at Tekno Autosports). Reid has endured a frustrating season, but there’s no denying the Kiwi’s racing pedigree.
Dick Johnson Racing
Dick Johnson Racing has gone from a team on the brink of collapse to a team with genuine potential and the team’s focus on developing young talent this year has been reinforced by taking on two of the Dunlop Series top-seed drivers…
#12 Wilson Security Racing Ford – Chaz Mostert / Dale Wood
Dunlop Series front runner Dale Wood has the most endurance starts of the four DJR drivers this year and is seen as a perfect partner for rookie Chaz Mostert. Wood made his endurance debut with Tasman Motorsport in 2008 before a two-year stint with Kelly Racing and another two-year spell with Tony D’Alberto Racing. The 30-year old will also make his second start in the Gold Coast 600 after competing in the 2010 event under that year’s one international co-driver per team regulations alongside Stratco Racing’s Tony Ricciardello.
#17 Wilson Security Racing Ford – Tim Blanchard / Ash Walsh
While Blanchard is competing in his third Endurance Series, the Sandown 500 will mark Ash Walsh’s first V8 Supercars start. But the 25-year-old, now in his third Dunlop Series season, has recent experience of Sandown and Bathurst having competed there in both Formula Ford and the V8 Supercars development series.
Garry Rogers Motorsport
This is Garry Rogers 50th year in racing and the Team Principal knows what he wants, announcing right at the start of 2013 that the 2012 co-drivers would line-up for the team again this year, involving both in testing and development of the team’s ‘Car of the Future’…
#33 Fujitsu Racing GRM – Scott McLaughlin / Jack Perkins
Jack Perkins returns for his second season with Garry Rogers Motorsport. The 2011 Dunlop Series runner-up has competed in every V8 Supercars endurance season either as a primary or co-driver since 2006. Teaming up with Alexandre Prémat last year, Perkins ended up taking over Qualifying duties as the Frenchman struggled in his first encounter with ‘the Mountain’.
#34 Fujitsu Racing GRM – Alexandre Prémat / Greg Ritter
After a fantastic fifth place finish in last year’s Bathurst 1000 alongside Michael Caruso, Greg Ritter returns for his eighth consecutive season with GRM. A former winner of the Sandown 500 (with V8 supercar champion Marcos Ambrose in 2004), Ritter made his V8 Supercar debut with the team in 1999’s endurance events at Queensland and Bathurst after winning the national Formula Ford Championship in the same year. Ritter also replaced Prémat in the Fujitsu Racing GRM Commodore at last year’s Gold Coast 600, after a troubled debut year for the Frenchman saw him benched for the event.
Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport
With the support of Triple Eight Race Engineering, the team are slowly heading in the right direction after a poor start to the season. A good showing in the enduros is definitely needed to catalyse its season…
#80 ekol Racing Holden – Scott Pye / Paul Morris
Sharing the driving duties with rookie Scott Pye is his mentor at Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport, experienced veteran Paul Morris. Since retiring from full-time V8 Supercars at the end of 2008, Morris has continued to race in the enduros and dipped in and out of the Dunlop Series over the past three seasons. Unlike the pairing on the other side of the garage however, Pye and Morris are not of a similar size which doesn’t bode particularly well for seating and driver changes.
#88 Dodo Insurance Racing Holden – Dean Fiore / Matt Halliday
This will be Matt Halliday’s ninth year in the endurance events and second alongside Dean Fiore, the good friends teaming up last year at Dick Johnson Racing, scoring 16th at Sandown and 22nd at Bathurst. The duo intend to capitalise on the experience they gained racing together and are confident they will be a strong package.
22 years after last racing at Mount Panorama, (a factory-backed) Nissan returns to tackle the mountain. Given that all eyes will be on the it, the team have resisted the temptation to dip into the roster of racing drivers available to it via the “Nismo Global Driver Exchange Program” initiative, opting instead for a mix of familiarity, youth and experience…
#7 Jack Daniel’s Racing Nissan – Todd Kelly / David Russell
David Russell returns for a third consecutive year with the Kelly Racing brothers (albeit the first time in a Nissan) after pairing with Rick Kelly in 2012 and Todd Kelly in 2011 and standing in for the injured Greg Murphy (Kelly Racing Pepsi Max Crew) at Tasmania and Darwin in 2012. Russell says he has “some unfinished business” from last time he was with Todd at Bathurst. Running in the top-ten, a drama with the drive pegs on the left rear axle put them out of contention and left the pair thinking about what could have been.
#15 Jack Daniel’s Racing Nissan – Rick Kelly / Karl Reindler
After spending the past three years in the V8 Supercars Championship, former Kelly Racing full-timer Karl Reindler is competing in the Porsche Carrera Cup Australia championship this year. Reindler lost out when the team switched to Nissan for 2013, but is looking forward to having the opportunity to be part of the Nissan factory team when it returns to Bathurst for the first time since 1992.
#36 Nissan Motorsport – Michael Caruso / Daniel Gaunt
2013 marks Daniel Gaunt’s fourth V8 Supercars endurance campaign, having raced both full-time in 2010 as the primary driver for Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport and as a part-time endurance co-driver in 2009, 2011 and last year alongside Karl Reindler at the then Kelly Racing outfit. Having raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup in recent years, the New Zealander is this year riding high in both the Dunlop Development Series and the V8 SuperTourers in his native New Zealand.
#360 Nissan Motorsport – James Moffat / Taz Douglas
After a “frustrating” full-time season with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport last year which saw him replaced by his endurance co-driver Scott Pye for 2013, Taz Douglas has returned to the Dunlop Series where he had spent his time driving his own team (Fastaz Motorsport) prior to getting his main game call-up. Like Gaunt, this will be Douglas’ fourth enduro season, one as a full-time V8 Supercar driver and this, his third as a co-driver.
Triple Eight Race Engineering – Bathurst 1000 Wildcard Entry
#10 Xbox One Racing Team – Andy Priaulx / Mattias Ekström
Fielded by Triple Eight Race Engineering, the Xbox One Racing team is the only Bathurst 1000 wildcard entry this year. The third, stand-alone VF Commodore will be piloted by three-time WTCC champion Andy Priaulx and two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekström. While Brit Andy Priaulx is no stranger to Triple Eight or the Mount Panorama circuit having previously raced three times at the Bathurst 1000, Ekström makes both his Bathurst and V8 Supercars debut. If you’re going to jump in at the deep end though there’s no better person to have than six-time Bathurst winner, Mark Skaife as Team Mentor!