The Supercars super fan on TCR Australia
I’ll admit it and put it out there into the open for clarity; I was sceptical of the new TCR series down under right up until the inaugural race on Australian shores.
The pie of Australian motorsports has been divided up into too many slices in recent years, leaving no clear path for young drivers to follow and fans to enjoy.
With three divisions of Supercars, two different Porsche Carrera Cup series plus the plethora of production-based racing in the country, it’s hard enough already to pick where to turn your attention to throughout a month in motorsport.
The announcement of TCR’s Australian arrival was a surprise to me last year, especially given at the time there was no idea of when the series would be racing or who would be involved in that crucial first year.
Then everything started to gain momentum; some of Australia’s most established racing teams like Garry Rogers Motorsport joined up, a bunch of young drivers such as Andre Heimgartner and Will Brown got drives and the calendar was released, featuring some of the best tracks in the country.
Everything looked good on paper in the lead up but there were still lingering memories of the old Super Touring days, when the Europeans came to Australia to challenge the rising Group 3A (now Supercars) formula in its own backyard.
History shows that particular venture was not particularly fruitful but I irrationally feared that TCR would come over and expect to rival Supercars in terms of popularity.
The format of rapid-fire 30-minute races is appealing for fans, as is the ability to watch races on free-to-air TV which has been a gripe of many on social media since Supercars went over to pay-TV at the start of the 2015 season.
As someone who has been fortunate enough to watch Supercars on Foxtel since it switched over to the service, I had forgotten what a mid-race ad-break looked like and was surprised to see my face on the TV promoting an Australian hardware chain.
With Sydney Motorsport Park hosting the first round, it was hard to tell on the TV whether a crowd had showed up to witness the birth of a new series thanks to the venue having the atmosphere of a wake on the best of days.
Race one seemed to go relatively smoothly, almost as if the drivers had been told on the grid that the back-to-back races the next day might be worth focusing on, not the opening 16 lap sprint in relatively unknown cars.
Jason Bright, the 1998 Bathurst 1000 winner and Australian racing veteran, ended up showing the field of young guns that the old dog still has a few tricks up his sleeve, winning a very composed first race for TCR Australia.
Sunday set itself up as a somewhat more jam-packed affair with two hours of TV time to accommodate the two half hour races, broken up by a short pause under parc ferme in the middle to allow teams to tweak up their cars if there was any contact in the first hit-out.
The battle of the young blokes was great to watch in Sunday’s first race with Will Brown breaking through for the race win, only weeks after getting his first victory in Super2, after battling with Dylan O’Keefe in the latter part of the race.
What was interesting to watch was seeing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the cars at play; O’Keefe’s Alfa Romeo had the legs on the long SMP main straight but Brown reeled him in going into corners in the Hyundai i30 N TCR.
Perhaps one of the biggest moments and best saves of the weekend was when Bright went wide at turn one and was pushed out into the marbles. With his Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR wanting to swap ends, it was a minor miracle that he saved it before ending up on the grass.
The round’s final race was a cracker with another tussle between Brown and O’Keefe being broken up by the hard-charging Heimgartner, the full-time Supercars driver getting up into second and challenging for the lead when a control arm decided to give up the ghost only a few laps in.
Perhaps the only blight on the weekend was Nathan Morcom getting handed a minute worth of penalties at the end of race three, the biggest of them being a 30 second addition to his finish time after contact with John Martin sent the Wall Racing car into the concrete and out of the race.
It was a solid opening weekend for TCR, with universal approval from motorsports fans in Australia, both those who want to have another slice of the pie and those who have become disillusioned with Supercars.
If TCR keeps building on the momentum it’s been gaining lately, it will soon establish itself as a part of the Australian motorsports landscape, something which will see it boom in the next few years as uncertainty in other categories around the country leave drivers and teams looking for an alternative.