Holden Racing Team boss Adrian Burgess admits facing the 2016 V8 Supercars championship fight fielding just two cars is like a weight lifted off his shoulders.
Reducing from running four cars last year, Walkinshaw Racing – which runs the HRT – has transformed over the off-season, shedding two cars and gearing up to mount a title fight that goes further than threatening at street circuits.
While key competitor Triple Eight adds a car, WR has sold two and looks forward with a renewed confidence in its Holden Commodores and drivers Garth Tander and James Courtney.
Burgess is well aware of the criticisms the team has faced in the past but believes there’s less pressure this year with focus on the “core business” – the red cars.
“There will be pressure on us [to perform], but the same pressure as every other team,” Burgess told v8supercars.com.au.
“There’s pressure on everybody to win – no one goes racing to be second or third – so it’ll be easier to focus on those cars. We know we won’t be stretching our resources to try and find the parts and the manpower across four cars, it’ll be easier to focus now on the two.
“You do feel like you’ve got a bit of weight lifted off your shoulders.
“And as much as you can jut solely focus on them now and not be distracted, you're trying to make sure you’re doing the right thing.
“Years ago Walkinshaw was criticised as fielding two good cars and then two cars no one cared about… but that isn’t how we’ve approached these last couple of years, that wasn’t how we did it.”
The licence backed by Supercheap Auto and raced by Tim Slade was sold to Super Black Racing, while Charlie Schwerkolt has branched out to start his own single car team for 2016, leaving the two HRT cars under Burgess’ care.
While both entries achieved top 10 results last year, there was just the single podium finish for Slade in Darwin.
Tander earned three podiums, but Courtney was the only one of the four to win races, with the Sunday races at the Clipsal 500 and Gold Coast 600 to his name.
“Now I’m quite energised by the fact we can just look at these two cars, put all our best people towards that – we’ve got a very strong race team,” Burgess said.
“I’m really happy with the group of guys coming to the track and equally as happy with the depth of talent and knowledge that will be at the factory working behind the scenes, making sure we’re better prepared for every race and doing some of the R&D sides of the racing we weren’t doing before because we were probably stretched a bit too thin.”
Burgess told v8supercars.com.au much of the break has been sorting the restructure – including helping some former staff find employment.
“They haven’t left because they’re no good at their job, there just isn’t space for everybody,” Burgess said.
“We’re still undecided [on this year’s structure]. I have an idea but we haven’t rolled out the plan internally yet – we just need to get a little bit closer to the first test. But as a group the majority of the key people are still here.
“There are a few changes but not to the point we’re going to announce our structure yet … I’m really happy with the team that’s still here, they’re strong, and we should be able to focus on the core business, which is HRT – so very excited about the year in front of us.”
While Burgess is willing to cop the criticism on the chin, he reminds fans Courtney had been challenging for the title before an unusual accident at Sydney Motorsport Park – that saw him hit by debris in the pit lane – sidelined him for three events.
“We’ve copped a lot of criticism for HRT because we’ve underperformed – we know that, we don’t need to be told that,” Burgess said.
“You look at our year last year and the way we were disappointed – we still went into Homebush challenging for the team’s title, we still had Garth in sixth.
“James was taken out, but was challenging for P2 or P3 before he had his accident at Sydney Motorsport Park. So if we had him available for the full year I’d like to have thought he could’ve been aiming for the podium in the championship at least.
“Although we look at it overall not happy with the results … we know we’ve just got to improve our car a little bit, especially in qualifying trim.
“And we know … two cars is going to be a good thing for us as a group, just focussed on the red cars.”
Kicking off the season at the Clipsal 500 should mean a positive start for HRT, given Courtney has come away with top honours for the last two years, with Tander not far behind on the podium in 2015.
He believes they have learnt from last year and understood a “fundamental issue with our car” with some key parts redesigned over the break.
“The problem is – as people are saying – we’ve gone out that weekend leading the championship but three weekends later you’re not leading it,” he said of the Clipsal 500.
“The target this year is, yes, to come out of that weekend leading as we did last year, but coming out … knowing your car feels different and better than last year, taking that confidence into the next few events and making sure when you get to Darwin or something you’re still in with a fight.
“Last year, by the time we got to Darwin we realised we were struggling … street circuits have never been a worry – but we need to fix the other places. That’s where we need to turn it around and I believe we can.
“It’s easy to talk about it, I just want to get out there and let the results do the talking.”