The five Supercars young-guns to watch in 2022
There’s a changing of the guard looming as Australia’s Supercars series gets back on the rails at Sydney Motorsport Park this weekend. Autosport picks out five future stars to keep an eye on this term, with expert insight from ex-racer and paddock observer Mark Larkham
Supercars is embarking on a generational shift. Jamie Whincup has retired. Mark Winterbottom, Will Davison and James Courtney are all closer to the end of their careers than the start.
The likes of Shane van Gisbergen, Chaz Mostert, Cam Waters and Nick Percat are now the established stars of Australian Supercars, at or near the peaks of their powers. And behind them, there is an exciting crop of new young talent, some semi-established, some just starting their professional careers.
On the eve of the 2022 season opening this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park, we’ve picked our five young drivers to watch – and sought some advice from former Supercars stars and renowned talent spotter Mark Larkham.
Anton De Pasquale
Can De Pasquale make 2022 a breakthrough year at Dick Johnson Racing?
Photo by: Mark Horsburgh, Edge Photographics
Of our five young guns, De Pasquale is the furthest along in his career progression. This will be his fifth season in the top tier of Supercars racing and, perhaps critically, his second as the spearhead of the crack Dick Johnson Racing Ford squad. That De Pasquale is a talent worthy of a spot in Supercars is undeniable. He made that abundantly clear as a main-game rookie for Erebus Motorsport back in 2018.
What now remains to be seen is exactly how good De Pasquale is and how much he’s capable of achieving. Is he an A-Grader, the sort of driver who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as van Gisbergen, Whincup and Scott McLaughlin? Or is he ‘just’ a very, very capable professional racing car driver? This season could go some way towards answering that question.
It was tough to get a clear read on the first season into his career-defining move to DJR. In the early part of 2021 it was easy to be underwhelming. He had effectively replaced McLaughlin, a ruthless winner who’d secured three titles on the bounce. While Davison got McLaughlin’s race number, the famous #17, De Pasquale got engineering guru Ludo Lacroix. Everybody knows that Ludo’s car is the lead DJR car. So when De Pasquale wasn’t immediately a winner, the easy (and lazy) conclusion to draw was, well, he’s no McLaughlin.
Sydney Motorsport Park is an unusual track, so it remains to be seen whether De Pasquale’s form there in 2021 is a true indicator of whether he’ll challenge for the title this season
But, while Lacroix is renowned for setting up very fast cars, they aren’t always easy to drive, particularly if you’re not comfortable with oversteer. And the Frenchman expects drivers to adapt to his cars; he won’t try to suit a driver. So it was always going to take time for De Pasquale and the Lacroix set-up to click.
During the four-round Sydney swing late last season, De Pasquale was the form driver all month and spoke about how the car ‘had his back’. What he meant was that it felt loose, but it would grip up when it needed to. And, once he trusted it, it was devastatingly fast.
Sydney Motorsport Park is an unusual track, so it remains to be seen whether De Pasquale’s form there in 2021 is a true indicator of whether he’ll challenge for the title this season. Given we’re kicking off back in Sydney, we may not know after the opener where De Pasquale is truly at, even if he leaves it leading the points.
Larkham’s take: “Anton’s time has been coming. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be now. Over the course of last season I feel that Anton was the fastest over a single lap. But if you reflect on his results, as much as he smashed everyone on speed, he smashed everyone on DNFs. I’m very close to Anton, I’ve had a lot to do with his career.
“I don’t mentor him anymore, but when he crashed at Bathurst in the first round last year I said, ‘Mate, a championship isn’t won in the first race.’ I told him to have a look at what Whincup does: ‘If the car is good enough for sixth, he finishes sixth. He won’t tip it on its head trying to win the race if the car isn’t good enough.’ Those are the little things that Anton has to learn.
“Anton has enormous self-confidence. He’s only ever seen himself as a race driver. Someone like Ludo can harness that. I’ll be disappointed if Anton can’t start to transfer his incredible speed and talent to a more consistent run of podiums and race wins and be a serious championship contender this year.”
Brown enjoyed a competitive year again team-mate Kostecki at Erebus Motorsport
Photo by: Edge Photographics
Like De Pasquale, Will Brown seemed to really hit his straps during the COVID-enforced month-long stay at Sydney Motorsport Park late last year.
Erebus went into the 2021 season with two highly rated rookies – Brown and Brodie Kostecki. There was an expectation that Kostecki, sporting a confidence to get his elbows out fostered during his junior oval career in the United States, would acclimatise to the rough and tumble of the main game faster than Brown.
When Kostecki took the new-look Erebus squad’s first podium at Sandown at just the second round of the year, that prediction looked to be ringing true. But, as the season wore on, Brown matched Kostecki in what became a fascinating intra-team arm wrestle.
The progression of the two rookies was thrust into the spotlight during the Sydney swing. The unique traits of the SMP circuit, with its long, tyre-chewing corners, suited the Erebus Holdens and the team found itself able to take the fight to the likes of DJR and Triple Eight. And, when headline results were up for grabs, Brown was the one who grabbed them. He took a pole, which didn’t yield a win. Then he took a brilliant victory the following week, holding off the squabbling Red Bull pair.
The next test for Brown is building on that, even on tracks not as well suited to the Erebus set-up as SMP.
Larkham’s take: “Will Brown is clearly the business. We saw the way he managed himself in Sydney last year with the Triple Eight guys up his clacker. That was skill and maturity at a level you don’t expect from someone that age. When you find out the guy is a highly competent [aircraft] pilot, and the way he articulates himself, you know he’s an intelligent guy. His internal g-meter sits in exactly the right spot. I think we can expect a lot from him in coming years.
“What will be fascinating to watch is how he’ll be different to an Anton. Anton will be the guy with the cracking pace, a gifted driver. Will Brown will work hard. It’s almost like Craig Lowndes and a Mark Skaife. But park all of that, what a fabulous attribute to our championship this kid is. We love him, he’s infectious. And that demeanour is coupled to a quality race driver. What a package.”
Kostecki and Brown are in battle to be ‘the next big thing’ and a shot at the next title-contending seat
Photo by: Edge Photographics
Kostecki’s situation is, to a large extent, described above. He has supreme confidence, enviable technical understanding and will happily bash doors with anyone in the field, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. He and Brown are currently locked in battle to be ‘the next big thing’ – in other words, the recipient of the next title-contending seat that is up for grabs.
Larkham’s take: “Brodie is a pure race driver. He doesn’t care what name is on the door beside him. Couldn’t give a rat’s. He’s a take-no-prisoners driver. And don’t we love that?
"What he needs to be wary of, with his technical nous, is that it can be too easy to always look for a set-up fix instead of looking inward, and asking, 'What can I do better?'" Mark Larkham
“I gave his engineer George Commins his first job out of university, so I keep tabs on Brodie through George. He has worked all over the world, with drivers that are now in Formula 1, and he tells me Brodie is the strongest driver technically he’s ever seen.
“Brodie has done a lot of racing, a lot of miles in a lot of categories. And he’s got the gift. What he needs to be wary of, with his technical nous, is that it can be too easy to always look for a set-up fix instead of looking inward, and asking, ‘What can I do better?’ Those around him have to make sure that, while he may be able to contribute a high level of feedback on what the car is doing, he keeps focused on what he can do better from the seat.”
Randle battled and beat testicular cancer in 2020
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Thomas Randle, known for his successful junior open-wheel career in Europe, has been knocking on the Supercars door for several years. He went close to a main-game debut in 2020, but just fell short of landing a seat. Thankfully, in a way, as he ended up spending that year battling testicular cancer. He still won the Super2 title, in between treatment and surgery, before going heartbreakingly close to another premier-league shot in 2021 (only for Tickford to be denied an entry for him).
This year he’s finally got his rookie chance. We know he’s clever and we know he’s fast – it’s time to find out if he’s title-winning material.
Larkham’s take: “I’ve followed Tom’s career very closely since Formula Ford. He’s clearly a talent. But we’ve got to wait and see where his pace is at. It’s a hard one. Let’s be frank; right now, he may not be an Anton or Will Brown. But I’ll tell you what he is, he’s a worker.
“He’s a very intelligent guy, he’s the sort of driver I see yielding results from making smart decisions and being a smart, fast driver. Anton will yield his from sheer brilliance. But it ends up being horses for courses. Tom is in that top crop of great young drivers. He deserves to be in the main game.”
Can Feeney live up to expectations in the famous #88 Triple Eight Holden?
Photo by: Mark Horsburgh, Edge Photographics
Teenager Broc Feeney arrives in Supercars as the reigning Super2 champion and as the direct replacement for seven-time champion Jamie Whincup in the famous #88 Triple Eight Holden.
Feeney showed at the Bathurst 1000 last year that he has the pace to make an impact in Supercars. Sure, he crashed out in the latter stages of the race while running in the lead pack, but poise can be taught. Raw ability, not so much. The test for Feeney will be that, while top-10s will be the goal for his rookie season, fans are very conditioned to seeing T8 cars winning. Dealing with that pressure will be key as to whether he sinks or swims.
"What I’ll be watching closely is his ability to control and temper his desire to get to the front. And not get frustrated. Learn, reset, move up a couple of spots. I reckon that’s what his story is going to look like" Mark Larkham
Larkham’s take: “Broc is a classic example of being a product of his environment. We know he has pace, and the environment he lives and breathes will breed expectation, good decision-making, learning and success.
“There will be days when he’s back in the pack. What I’ll be watching closely is his ability to control and temper his desire to get to the front. And not get frustrated. Learn, reset, move up a couple of spots. I reckon that’s what his story is going to look like.
“He won’t be too far back, but it’s a big step up to the main game. And, luckily for us, the game ain’t that easy. But he’s clearly a talent, he’s just got to bide his time.”
This article first appeared in the 3 March issue of Autosport magazine. Want to read an in-depth look into the first Formula 1 test in Barcelona, a preview of the new MotoGP season starting this weekend and an interview with sportscar ace Allan McNish about his sole F1 campaign with Toyota 20 years ago? Subscribe today and never miss your weekly fix of motorsport.
The 2022 Supercars season starts this weekend in Sydney
Photo by: Edge Photographics
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