CAMPBELLFIELD, Victoria, Australia — Team Preview by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — Robert Cianflone/ Getty Images AsiaPac photo –
Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s previews for the 2015 V8 Supercars Championship! We now look at the top Ford organization in the series, Prodrive Racing Australia.
Prodrive Racing Australia (formerly Ford Performance Racing)
No. 5 – Mark Winterbottom, Pepsi Max Ford Falcon FGX
No. 6 – Chaz Mostert, Pepsi Max Ford Falcon FGX
2014 TEAM POINTS FINISH: 2nd
2014 HIGHLIGHT MOMENT: Chaz’s epic victory in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000
If anything, Prodrive Racing Australia lost even more ground to Red Bull Racing Australia in a largely disappointing 2014 season.
Hoever, in fairness, there were some bright spots — none brighter than Chaz Mostert’s victory in an incredible running of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
In the highest-rated broadcast of the Great Race in nearly a quarter century, Mostert came charging through the field after his codriver, Paul Morris, put the No. 6 Falcon in the wall at Griffins Bend a third of the way through the race. As the attrition rates wildly escalated and the race drew to a close, Mostert found himself hounding Jamie Whincup over the final handful of laps as Whincup desperately tried to conserve his fuel en route to the victory. Whincup ran out on the final lap, and Mostert got around him to become the youngest ever winner of the most prestigious event in Australian motorsport (at 22 years, 6 months, and 2 days).
That being said, it was a difficult season for FPR for the most part — especially in the second half. Mark Winterbottom had led the series points for a majority of the season heading into the round at Hidden Valley. It was at Hidden Valley that the bottom began to fall out of Winterbottom’s title hopes; though he posted finishes of sixth, sixth and third, Red Bull Racing Australia archrival Jamie Whincup won two of those same races and placed third in the other one.
From that round on, the championship momentum shifted in Whincup’s favor; Winterbottom only found the podium twice more in the entire season (via two thirds at Phillip Island) as Whincup’s fortunes (which had been relatively poor by his standards leading up to Hidden Valley) turned upwards and propelled the No. 1 to a record sixth V8 Supercars title. By the time the PIRTEK Enduro Cup had rolled around, the championship had been effectively settled — even though Winterbottom was only 135 points off of Whincup heading into Sandown.
Winterbottom’s fall can not be explained by any DNFs — he actually finished every single race in the 2014 championship (a feat shared by Whincup and runner-up in points Shane van Gisbergen). Instead, Winterbottom was simply slow on the track — very slow in the final portion of the season, actually — he finished outside of the top 10 in eight of the final 14 races and recorded four finishes of 20th or worse.
While Frosty faded in the second half of the season, his young teammate Mostert began to find his footing. Though the Bathurst victory is the clear crowning achievement from the No. 6’s 2014 season, Mostert doubled the number of podiums that Winterbottom posted in the same time period (with 4) and finished inside the top ten 11 times. In the process, Mostert established himself as one of the three primary stars of the “next generation” of V8 Supercars (alongside Wilson Security Racing GRM’s Scott McLaughlin and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport’s Nick Percat).
For 2015, there are major changes afoot at Prodrive Racing Australia. The first is the change in the team name. Last December, Ford announced that they would cease factory support for V8 Supercars at the end of the 2015 season. That process begins with a significant decrease in factory funds for 2015 before the “money pipe” shuts off altogether. As this team is not getting the funding at a level equivalent of a true factory operation, they have changed their team name from “Ford Performance Racing” back to their original “Prodrive Racing Australia”.
The second major change at Prodrive involves the new body style that the Fords will be competing with in 2015. For this season, the Ford teams of V8 Supercars will campaign with the all-new Ford Falcon FGX, the latest iteration of the classic saloon (sedan in the states) that Ford only sells in Australia.
However, this new body comes somewhat still-born, as Ford also announced last year that they would cease all local production of cars in Australia citing costs that were too high to justify continued operations under their current business model. This means that the Falcon will cease production at the end of the 2016 model year — and combined with Ford’s impending exit from V8 Supercars casts shadows of doubt over all of their programs currently running in the series.
Such is the major long-term storyline for Prodrive — there are currently more questions over an uncertain future than anything else. As this team has been Ford’s factory team, this team will also be the bellwether for any and all of the problems that may befall the new Falcons this year. Prodrive is in the unfortunate position of not only trying to make sure that their new Falcons run as smoothly as possible and avoid mechanical malfunctions, but also trying to stay as competitive as possible when they have absolutely no clue as to whether or not they will be running this brand new body style in a year’s time.
The entire organization will be under a microscope in 2015, both from the fans (who will be praying that Ford’s Australian arm sees enough in this team to reverse course and reintroduce factory support for 2016) and the media (who will be quick to pile on pressure if this team, whose future is already uncertain, fails to withhold the lofty standards that they have created for themselves with performances of seasons past).
Yet for all of the doubts that this team enters 2015 with, it should not be forgotten that Prodrive still contains scores of talent within their organization. Mark Winterbottom has been one of the most consistent and quick drivers over the past decade, Chaz Mostert is one of the fastest-rising stars in the series, and the equipment here is still above and beyond what can be found in over 85% of the rest of the series.
If Prodrive can succeed on track and keep pace with Red Bull Racing Australia in 2015, it will be quite the feat — a proverbial silver lining above the clouds of doubt that currently linger in Campbellfield.
For more information on Prodrive Racing Australia, visit http://www.prodriveracing.com.au/.
For more information on V8 Supercars, visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.