Part 4 in the series of interviews with V8 Supercars outlining who I think will be strong in 2016. GRM should win races but needs to knuckle down to challenge for the championship.
Former V8 Supercars champion and two-time Bathurst winner Russell Ingall places Wilson Security GRM as the team to challenge the ‘big three’ this season.
With Triple Eight, Prodrive and HRT his top contenders, the FOX Sports expert commentator lists the factory Volvo outfit next on the scale of threats this season.
Ingall believes it will take something special for the team to take the title this year, but has no doubt the squad – with young but established star Scott McLaughlin and new recruit and mate James Moffat – will ruffle some feathers.
The Enforcer spoke to v8supercars.com.au for part four of his contenders series this week.
Team boss Garry Rogers is known for injecting some fun into pit lane and last year was inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall of Fame for his contribution to the sport over the years.
Acknowledged for unearthing some of motorsport’s best young talent – including current Kiwi star Scott McLaughlin – Ingall also congratulated the veteran on bringing a new sponsor into the sport with Volvo, earning sensational results in the first year in the championship.
The funny thing was though, the second year was not as fruitful.
“Going on that 2014 performance, everyone was going, ‘man, they’re going to be the team to beat’,” Ingall said.
“Everyone was talking about GRM and Volvo leading into the 2015 year as potential championship winners. Then we go to Adelaide in the first round for 2015 and literally the wheels fell off! Mechanical dramas engine dramas, you name it, all the way through … the reliability really cost them last year and that was a bit of a shock.”
The team managed to shake the issues in the second half of the year, with McLaughlin earning pole positions nad podium finishes – New Zealand particularly impressed Ingall, where the local driver earned a pole position and podium finish across the three races.
“I think the issue for them … I think they were concentrating so heavily last year on getting the car’s reliability sorted out they probably didn’t have enough time to dedicate to finding more speed, when other teams were.
“It’s very hard to sort reliability out and find speed with the car. One comes with the other – if the car’s not going around the track, you’re not going to find speed!”
Ingall warns that being caught up solving problems means less time developing with the front-runners.
“What concerns me a little bit this year is if they roll out with the same speed they did towards the end of last year, I don’t think it’s going to be quick enough,” he said.
“No doubt they’ve cured a lot of their mechanical issues – but have they got enough speed to actually be a challenger for the title? I don’t think so out the gate. I think they’ll do the same as last year, they’ll come on stronger, because they’ll probably start developing now they’ve got the mechanical woes out the way, they’ll start developing as the year goes on.
“So if they get through Adelaide with a reasonable result – unlike last year – and stay around the top five and stay in the hunt then they’ll start working on finding speed in their car.”
A positive start at the gruelling Clipsal 500 is the key.
“As a team, I think if they can just hang in at the start, they’ll be there or thereabouts at the end.
“Will they be up for the championship? The other teams we’ve already covered are strong, they’re going to have to really come up with something special. “They’ll win races, will they win a championship? I’m not so sure. Not this year is my thoughts.”
Ingall knows 22-year old McLaughlin is quick – and always recognises a driver who can qualify well – but questions whether his three seasons in V8 Supercars is enough experience to fight consistently for the title.
“Scotty McLaughlin is like Shane van Gisbergen – he’s definitely come out with the same sort of zest. They’re definitely very talented drivers – I don’t know what they’ve put in the water in New Zealand but they’re producing a lot of reasonable drivers at the moment and he’s definitely one of them,” the FOX Sports expert said.
“The thing Scotty is very good at is one lap. We’ve seen him pull out some one lap qualifying performances that were probably above what the car has been capable of. So he’s probably been driving the car faster than what the car should because when you see it at race pace it tends to drop back a little bit.”
Qualifying up the frnt – which McLaughlin is often able to do – means staying out of trouble. But consistency is the other attribute Ingall is looking for.
“I think as a race driver, he’s still learning … we forget he’s still very young, he still hasn’t got that many race miles up in the category compared to many other drivers he’s got to be going up against,” he said.
“I think he still needs some race miles under him and to learn – I went up to my last year [in V8 Supercars] and was still learning stuff.
“I think he’s still got to learn a little bit more and as far as consistency, where to go and where not to go. So that part of it, if you take the whole picture – yes he’ll be a top five contender, but he’s got to have something special to happen to win the championship though.”
While many top teams have now locked away their co-drivers for 2016, there is a question mark surrounding one seat at GRM. David Wall is set to return for the team and while GRM’s Dunlop Series driver James Golding is an obvious option, Ingall thinks the team needs an all-out assault on the enduros this year.
“I think the endurance races are going to tell a lot for Scotty. That’s been the area they’ve been let down in the last couple of years, the endurance races.
“That’s where Garry has to think very carefully about who they select … because I know he goes on the youth aspect but at the end of the day it’s no good taking a punt if the car is going to come back with bits hanging off it all of the time. No matter how good a driver Scotty is, if it comes to those enduros and he keeps coming back with parts hanging off it, Scotty’s not going to be able to show what he can do … maybe youth won’t be the right call up in those circumstances if they’re going to be serious about winning and finishing top 5 in the championship.”
Is there an experienced co-driver out there, though? Is there a proven winner who has driven all three races recently available?
“Well there you go – funny you say that! I don’t know, I might be too old for Garry. Or I might blow his youth theory out the water!”
Ingall believes Moffat will be able to push McLaughlin and help develop the Volvo S60 further.
“I think James is a great addition, I think he’s got enough experience now, he’s done enough race miles,” Ingall said.
“He’s done a lot of racing – when you look at it, he’s done a lot more racing than Scotty has. And that’s what the teams needs – someone to not only push Scotty along but that they can compare notes and shortcut the process of finding car speed at each individual meeting. That’s the key to getting on top of it at a race meeting.”
Moffat boasts one race win in his Supercars career in a Nissan, but is considered a talented driver by many in pit lane.
“I’m a bit of a closet fan of James, I think this is his time to shine.
“He’s definitely got the speed and he’s got a bit of aggression in him too, which I like. He’s got a bit of his old man in him [the great Allan Moffat], which I like – he won’t get pushed around, he’ll push back again if he does.”
Ingall believes the Volvo will respond to Moffat’s driving style and believes this is the 31-year old’s chance to really make his mark in the category.
“He has to make this year work. He’s going to have the equipment to do it – I think the car will suit him too,” the FOX Sports commentator said.
“I think the whole package will be very, very good, so I’m really hoping James lifts and pushes hard and if he does, he could almost come out as being the lead driver there if it gets it right … I know everyone’s looking at Scotty to be the shining light there but make no mistake, when James starts getting on top of it, gets a bit of confidence he could very well come out with just as good if not better results – so look out on that one.”
Moffat’s previous opportunities have been with developing teams – “the Nissan thing, as good as it was, they were still developing”.
“Now he’s in a car that is developed and very quick – he can actually concentrate.
“In that situation where the equipment is 95 per cent there, he can concentrate on driving techniques and fine tuning all the time. That’s what Triple Eight always has the advantage in and it’s a pleasure for the drivers – they know the car is there or thereabouts and they can concentrate on finding that little bit of speed.
“I think he’s going to be in for a great year – I certainly hope so.”