Behind the scenes, there’s a war brewing between the Repco Supercars Championship and Turtle Wax Trans Am organisers.
It’s been festering for more than two years and now it’s finally come to a head.
To understand what’s driving a wedge between two custodians of the sport, you only have to look as far as the cars themselves.
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Trans Am is a low-cost, high-entertainment racing series with noisy NASCAR-style machines and plenty of door-to-door action. With grids consistently around 30 cars, it’s got plenty of appeal.
Like Supercars, it has the Ford Mustang. It also has the Chevrolet Camaro, a car soon set to join the Supercars grid in 2023 under the new-look Gen3 regulations. A point of difference for Trans Am over Supercars is the Dodge Challenger.
Recently, the Trans Am series caught the attention of Bathurst 1000 winner Shane van Gisbergen.
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Earlier this year, the two-time Supercars champion sought to make his Trans Am debut at Mount Panorama, only to contract COVID-19 just days out.
Although those plans were scuppered, there was talk of van Gisbergen being muzzled and told not to speak with the media about his Trans Am activities that weekend.
A calendar clash with the 24 Hours of Le Mans would preclude him from competing at Sydney Motorsport Park, but the plans remained intact for the second half of 2022.
After a test at Queensland Raceway, his long-awaited competitive cameo at the same circuit was suddenly scratched amid “political pressures” from an unnamed source.
While his team Triple Eight Race Engineering claimed there was no outside influence, it’s widely understood Supercars management put pressure on the team to axe the outing.
Put simply, Supercars didn’t think it was a good look for their championship leader to race in the de-facto rival series.
Bear in mind also that van Gisbergen has been swanning around the world racing sports cars and rally cars without any opposition.
Another Supercars star Brodie Kostecki is poised to fill that Trans Am vacancy at the forthcoming SpeedSeries round. However, there are whispers even that might not happen for the same reason.
Boost Mobile owner Peter Adderton, who sponsors Kostecki and his teammate Will Brown in Supercars, has publicly said he’ll back the entry – though that hinges on approval from Erebus Motorsport.
The latest saga isn’t the first feud between Supercars and Trans Am, however.
The first public act of hostility from Supercars happened two years ago at the Adelaide 500 when a photoshoot with two brothers, Brett and Lee Holdsworth, and their Trans Am Chevrolet Camaro and Supercars-spec Ford Mustang was kiboshed.
Although Supercars shut it down, a mobile phone photo (pictured top of story) was snuck in while Trans Am organisers argued their case.
“For the local paper and the TV news, we got Lee’s Ford Mustang out and [Brett’s] Chevrolet Camaro Trans Am car, placed them on the front grid down near the Adelaide bridge and went to take a photo,” Parked Up podcast host and Australian Racing Group media manager Grant Rowley explained.
“The photoshoot got stopped abruptly by someone from Supercars, who said ‘You guys cannot be having these two cars next to each other!’
“Because at the time there was a lot of controversy about Trans Am. Even just being at that event, the fact that these cars looked very similar.
“I don’t think Gen3 had launched at that point. We knew that Gen3 was coming or some variant of Mustangs and Camaros, or whatever it might be.
“At that time, there were a lot of sensitivities about Trans Am and that class and how it could be seen as a rival for Supercars. My grand plan of a photoshoot got railroaded.”
Brett Holdsworth added, “You do know what happened after that, don’t you? Because I said to my team, ‘mate, there’s no effing way I’m letting this go without getting a photo’.
“That little bloke from Supercars, I don’t know who it was, but he was going off. He was off talking with you and someone else and I grabbed [my crew member] and I said to Lee, ‘Get back on the bonnet just quickly, we’re got to get this photo!’ Mate, it’s the most epic photo.”
It wouldn’t be until the 2021 Bathurst 1000, more than a year later, that Trans Am would feature on the Supercars support card again.
Even that was only by force majeure when the Australian Racing Group, which had just bought a stake in Supercars, needed to close out the calendar for its categories – effectively merging the Bathurst 1000 and ill-fated Bathurst International events.
Via its ownership stake of Racing Australia Consolidated Enterprises Ltd (RACE), the Australian Racing Group had hoped to have Trans Am and its other categories play a bigger part of the Supercars support roster.
Ultimately, RACE co-owner Barry Rogers wants a holistic approach that is more inclusive of the Australian Racing Group categories, but he alleges his fellow co-owners are only interested in Supercars.
Whether Kostecki will race in the fourth round of Turtle Wax Trans Am as part of the SpeedSeries program remains unclear, and if he doesn’t, it’ll only reaffirm suspicions Supercars sees the other V8 category as competition.
In any case, a bumper grid of Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Camaros and Dodge Challengers are set to take to Queensland Raceway for round five of the season across August 5-7.
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