With the news that DJR Team Penske has signed the services of rising star Scott McLaughlin for 2017, Jordan Mulach assesses one of the biggest moves in recent Supercars history, as both driver and team search for stability.
2016 marks the fourth season for the young Kiwi whose rise to the top has seen him compared with some of the greats of our sport. In only his first full season, he set the series alight when he won his third race, at home in New Zealand. Another victory came at Queensland Raceway, cementing the belief that McLaughlin was more than a one-shot wonder.
In 2014, Garry Rogers Motorsport switched to Volvo S60’s for its car of choice with McLaughlin putting the car second on debut in a memorable last-lap duel with Jamie Whincup. Despite multiple reliability issues, he was still able to notch up wins at Barbagallo and Sydney Motorsport Park. Those reliability issues again hampered his 2015 campaign, unable to score a win and only two podium finishes.
This year has been one of mixed emotions for GRM and McLaughlin. Despite a strong championship position and clean-sweeping the round at Phillip Island, the team was shocked by Volvo’s announcement that they would be pulling support for the Supercars program and force a recall of the cars at the end of the season. This came as a major shock and the instability that this has caused for the team moving forward must have been a contributing factor to influence the Kiwi’s team change.
Even though early season reports suggested he would in fact be heading to the Holden Racing Team, their lack of results and consistency made it evident that it would not be wise to move there. The opportunity to race for DJRTP means more job security going in to the future, as well as a possible cameo in NASCAR, something that McLaughlin has been interested in trying.
For DJRTP, 2017 will see them have two drivers from New Zealand race for the team, the first time they haven’t fielded an Australian driver. The decision also leaves Scott Pye high-and-dry, further adding to his lack of luck within the Supercars championship. Even though he has posted consistent and often strong results, it is not enough for the team that wants to assert themselves as a dominating force in the sport.
We won’t know until next year whether the combination of a quick, young Kiwi and an old, experienced team will gel well. Sometimes you can have the best driver in the best car but if there isn’t a connection, they won’t win races. However, the new deal will push both parties to strive for better results in the coming years.