Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

How unnecessary off-track drama overshadowed Supercars' Gen3 debut

OPINION: What should have been a weekend of back-patting over the successful debut of Supercars’ Gen3 machines will instead be remembered for the furore surrounding misplaced criticism of champion Shane van Gisbergen in the wake of comments resulting from the series' desire to keep a tight lid on the narrative

Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Triple Eight Race Engineering Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Edge Photographics

The Newcastle 500 should have gone down as a great success for Supercars. The Aussie category last weekend pulled off something that just weeks ago seemed impossible. Its teams delivered 25 reliable, beautiful, and actually quite fast Gen3 cars for the first round of the new season. The racing was good. The weather was great. People flocked through the gates…

But instead, off-track controversy took over with two major storylines. The first was the two Triple Eight Chevrolet Camaros being disqualified after a historic 1-2 in the first race. The cars were found to be carrying a dry ice radiator on the driver’s side of the cockpit to cool air to a helmet fan. The system itself was perfectly legal. But all cooling systems must be mounted to the passenger side of the car.

Triple Eight argued that Supercars head of motorsport Adrian Burgess had verbally approved the system, including its location. Burgess denied that was the case. In the absence of hard proof, Motorsport Australia stewards were left with no choice but to disqualify the cars. The cooling rules sit in Division C of the Operations Manual. That’s the technical rules. And with technical breaches there can be no tolerance.

Sunday’s race was a genuine thriller as Shane van Gisbergen ran down Chaz Mostert to take a win he’d be able to keep. But he didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy it. When the post-race media commitments started, van Gisbergen began reeling out the same line over and over: “All our talking was done on track. Thank you.”

After some needling in the press conference, he added context to his actions.

“I said a lot of stuff yesterday, tried to open up a bit more and then maybe it bit me in the arse,” he said. “I just said the truth about the cars I guess, tried to be honest. And it goes down the wrong way. So I’ll focus on my driving.”

Van Gisbergen’s protest was nothing to do with Saturday’s disqualification. He had already twice been publicly critical about Gen3, firstly regarding heat protection, and secondly the raceability of the cars. He had clearly been told not to do it again.

Van Gisbergen was unwilling to open up after his victory on Sunday - but not because of his race one DSQ, as was made out to be the case on TV

Van Gisbergen was unwilling to open up after his victory on Sunday - but not because of his race one DSQ, as was made out to be the case on TV

Photo by: Edge Photographics

If the inference of censorship wasn’t clear enough, David Reynolds put it beyond doubt. He too had felt the wrath of senior officials several weeks back after publicly questioning the parity of the two models from Chevrolet and Ford.

“They don’t want us to say anything negative,” he said in defence of van Gisbergen.

Moments later, the clip of van Gisbergen refusing to engage with the press was shown on the Fox Sports broadcast. But only his refusal to answer questions. What was missing was the highly critical context of his explanation.

That sent broadcast hosts Mark Skaife, Garth Tander and Jess Yates into a frenzy of criticism levelled at van Gisbergen for not representing the sport the way a champion should. All told through the hugely manipulated lens of this being a hissy fit after he was disqualified. As a five-time series champion and a Supercars board member, the voice that carried the most weight was clearly Skaife’s.

Ironically, had there been no censorship, this column would have been about the successful rollout of Gen3 after a fraught build-up over the past few months

“When you’re the champion, you have an ambassador’s role in this sport and although you might not want to make any more comment, you actually have a duty as a custodian of the sport to say what you need to say about the results and what has gone on today,” said Skaife.

“Now whether he agrees, obviously he won’t be liking disqualification from yesterday. He has come into today angry about how it is, but there is a duty of care, there is something about being the champion driver and the ambassador in the sport.

“He has a duty under that scenario as one of the highest paid, the benchmark operator… There is no one in this industry that in any way, shape or form would ever contend on his driving talent and his ability. He is extraordinary, maybe one of the best drivers ever. I’d call him Jim Richards-like, he is unbelievable. But you do off the track have a duty and that’s not right.”

Now here’s the issue. Earlier in the weekend, Skaife had voluntarily spoken on the broadcast about how he had instigated a text message disagreement with Reynolds over the parity remarks as that saga played out. Now here he was telling van Gisbergen to speak up more.

Reynolds echoed van Gisbergen in making it clear that the series didn't want negative comments being aired

Reynolds echoed van Gisbergen in making it clear that the series didn't want negative comments being aired

Photo by: Edge Photographics

Van Gisbergen doesn’t like the media; it’s not his domain. He doesn’t give the broadcast team much and perhaps that played a role in the willingness to rush his media conference antics onto the screen before critical thought had gone into why he was refusing to speak and how the segment should be packaged.

But whatever van Gisbergen has done in the past, leaving out vital context for a TV segment isn’t on. And neither is the sheer act of censorship. Censoring athletes should be reserved for the most delicate of social and/or political issues, and even then used incredibly sparingly and only when it will stop real damage in society.

Ironically, had there been no censorship, this column would have been about the successful rollout of Gen3 after a fraught build-up over the past few months. That would have been the story; regardless of what van Gisbergen might have said in the press conference.

The weekend will go down as a missed opportunity for Supercars

The weekend will go down as a missed opportunity for Supercars

Photo by: Edge Photographics

Be part of Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Tickford raises questions over robustness of Gen3 Supercars
Next article Skaife responds to van Gisbergen Supercars furore

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe