STAPYLTON, Queensland, Australia – Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship season previews! Today’s subjects are the Fords at Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske.
DJR Team Penske
No. 12 – Fabian Coulthard, Shell V-Power Ford Falcon FGX
No. 17 – Scott McLaughlin, Shell V-Power Ford Falcon FGX
2016 TEAM POINTS FINISH: 5th
2016 HIGHEST RACE FINISH: Scott Pye’s runner-up effort in race three of the ITM Auckland SuperSprint
There is one very large statistic to sum up the 2016 season for Dick Johnson Racing Team Penske: no team on the Supercars grid made a greater improvement over their 2015 season.
Dick Johnson accepted the offer from Roger Penske to buy a 51% stake in the team in 2014, and the rebuild of the entire operation in the “Penske Way” began in advance of 2015.
They ran one car in 2015, and finished 13th in the team standings. For 2016, they brought over Fabian Coulthard from Brad Jones Racing and expanded to two cars.
The result? A fifth-place finish in the team standings, largely behind Coulthard’s strong back half of the season.
It took a while for Fabian to figure out the Fords at the onset of the season. Third-place finishes at Phillip Island and Winton were joined by DNFS at Phillip Island and Darwin. Results were all over the grid.
Then came the second race at Sydney Motorsport Park, where Fabian finished fourth. That was followed by a pair of sixth-place finishes at Sandown and Bathurst (where he led 15 laps late in the going before having to come down pit road for a splash of fuel). Another strong set of runs at Pukekohe were proof that by season’s end, Fabian could be very quick in his No. 12 car.
That was only 2016. With the new season comes a whole host of new expectations, largely based off of the growth DJRTP experienced in the offseason.
More personnel have come into the shop, and a massive increase in sponsorship dollars have come from Shell. The Dutch oil giant will sponsor both DJRTP cars as a primary sponsor this season.
But there was no addition greater to the team than Scott McLaughlin.
McLaughlin comes over from Garry Rogers Motorsport after four years behind the wheel of their Holdens and Volvos. His story seems almost like the thing of fairytales: he started in 2010 as the then-youngest driver to ever compete in what is now the Dunlop Super2 Series at 16 years of age, then won the title in 2012 while working in the fabrication shop at Garry Rogers Motorsport.
His Super2 title prompted Rogers to give him a seat in the main game for 2013, and he wasted no time taking advantage of it, winning two races in his rookie season.
The next year would be even more massive, as McLaughlin came out of the gate on the very first race day and firmly planted himself into the consciousness of the entire Supercars world with a legendary battle. He fought Jamie Whincup tooth-and-nail in the second race at the Clipsal 500 in a performance that amazed all who were watching.
McLaughlin was so excited to speak in the post-race interview that he uttered an expletive on live television, but that expletive brought a massive roar from the crowd and endeared him to Supercars fans everywhere. It was the moment in which McLaughlin formally arrived.
What has followed over the next three seasons are six wins and 23 podiums. Last season, he climbed all the way up to finish third in the final drivers’ standings, trailing only the Holden Red Bulls of Jamie Whincup and Series Champion Shane van Gisbergen.
McLaughlin did all this while GRM was in a long and protracted legal battle over the rights to run Volvos in 2017, after the Swedish manufacturer announced that it would be leaving the series. It was that legal battle that in part convinced Scott to make the move to DJRTP.
Scott has made the jump to his new team, and both parties should be better off for it. In DJRTP, McLaughlin should find more stability and resources than what are available at GRM.
But this is undoubtedly a more massive signing for DJRTP. It was Simona de Silvestro who made more headlines when she announced her entry into the series for 2017, but make no mistake: there is no one with more upside and potential in the series than Scott McLaughlin.
A cheerful and grateful nature, combined with a very evident ability to hang the car right out on the edge in a way that few people can, have made him the definitive young star of the series. This is a man who will unquestionably take over Craig Lowndes’ status as “Most Popular Driver” once the No. 888 driver retires.
Never mind the fact that he has already accomplished so much in the series and is only 23 years old! His list of accolades is already astounding and it is amazing to think that he has barely begun his Supercars career. If ever there were a driver to build around for the future, McLaughlin is it.
Then again, given Roger Penske’s eye for talent and penchant for signing those kinds of drivers (see: Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in NASCAR, who fall under the same exact category), should we really be surprised that he made it a very big point to bring McLaughlin in?
If that isn’t enough, DJRTP has also brought over Craig Lowndes’ engineer from Triple Eight, Ludo Lacroix, to the same position on McLaughlin’s car for 2017. That is a pairing that is clearly designed with multiple series championships in mind.
Overall, expectations should be very high for DJRTP in 2017. The combination of Dick Johnson’s experience and Roger Penske’s ways of building championship teams are beginning to form something special here. Fabian Coulthard is quick in his own right, and now will be joined by the best teammate he has ever had in McLaughlin.
This is not a powerhouse team yet, but it won’t be very long until they are at the rate they continue to grow. It would be a bit ahead of schedule if things really come together in 2017, but if they do, it shouldn’t shock anyone.
For more information on DJR Team Penske, visit www.djrteampenske.com.au.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit www.supercars.com.
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas. He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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