In a regular feature, Supercars identities open up to our probing pundit in a rapid-fire format.
The latest is Team Penske president Tim Cindric, who oversees the iconic American organisation’s NASCAR, IndyCar and Supercars programs.
Ahead of Roger Penske’s latest visit to gauge DJR Team Penske’s progress at this weekend’s Perth SuperSprint, Cindric provides a trans-Pacific perspective on the Australian sporting institution that is Supercars.
MF: What does an American racing person make of V8 Supercars? How different is it and what impresses you about it?
TC: I think there are more things in common for the motor sports fan than maybe what people think. When you see the passion and almost the tribal rivalries that have existed over time, and the amount of history that’s in the Supercars series, I think is right up there with every other series that we experience. And when you see the events, I’m very much impressed. Some of the events are world-class, but what’s really impressive is the amount of support series independent of the main game. There’s constantly something happening on the racetrack, so the promoters really understand how to keep the attention of the fans. And the television production is exceptional. When you see the way the races are produced and the fact that every car has an in-car camera, there’s a lot to be learned by some of the overseas series.
Does Supercars resonate with Americans?
It does. The overall competitiveness of the series is attractive and like any real successful series, it has an iconic race and the Bathurst 1000 continues to grow in its stature. When you talk to motor sports people in America about Bathurst, for many of them it’s on their bucket list to at least attend, depending on which side of the pit wall they sit on, and a lot of the drivers want to compete in the Bathurst 1000. But they also want to be prepared to drive it and that’s the challenge. How do you prepare yourself because these cars are so unique? They’re not GT3 cars, they’re not cars in which you can have some experience overseas. You have to get your experience here somehow, regardless of the level of driver you are.
Before you became involved in Supercars, how much did you know about the series?
The extent to which we knew about the series was the experience that we had of all the years that we raced on the Gold Coast with the Indycars (1992-2001), when the V8s were the support series. We saw the enthusiasm that the fans had for the V8s and you almost felt like we were the supporting act for them. You weren’t used to going to an event where there was such an enthusiasm for what in our minds was a support category that rivalled the Indycars – and this was in the mid-1990s, when the Indycar series was at its peak (in the CART era). When we went to Surfers Paradise, it really opened our eyes to the loyalty that the fans had to the V8 Supercars. There were times when it actually felt like the V8s were the main attraction.
You have an all-star line-up of IndyCar drivers (Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud) who would all love to race at Bathurst. Would you like to give some of those guys a run out here?
I’d love to, but honestly, there’s no good way to prepare for it. The testing rules don’t allow it. So until the rules change to where there’s more accessibility in a convenient way, I think the international drivers will be a sideshow for that event. Montoya, for example, doesn’t want to come here and run in the middle of the pack. He doesn’t want to come here and just be part of an adventure. He wants to come here and win – and I don’t think that’s realistic with the way things are now. Until these cars and the overall concept is more accessible, if you see those kind of guys here, it’s going to be a visit. It’s not going to really be a competitive process.
So you’re ruling out a wild card entry for, say, Power and Montoya?
I think that would be a real long shot for us. I think we need to focus on how we get ourselves competitive in the championship and any wild card, again, it’s a sideshow because there’s really not a big benefit to our team to run a wild card. I’d love to see those guys here, too, but I only want to see them here if I feel like they can be competitive or if they feel like they can be competitive. So I don’t see that as a realistic thing.
How frustrating is it that you can’t get Ford re-engaged here?
We’re going to race with or without ’em. The difficulty is understanding why they’re not involved. Having built the following and loyalty that exists with the Ford brand, it’s hard to perceive why there’s no value in keeping that going. But I’m not their marketing department; I don’t know what they’re objectives are. To build the type of brand loyalty that exists right now between the blue and the red, you just hate as a traditionalist to see it go away. And it wouldn’t matter if we were sitting in a different camp – I would say that just from a motor sports fan perspective. You hate to see a legacy end and I think we’re on the verge of seeing a legacy end, one that was created over decades, and that’s always difficult to watch in any sport.
Award-winning journalist Mark Fogarty is Fairfax Media’s motor sport writer. ‘Foges’ is famous for his incisive interviews.