Holden Racing Team star and former champion Garth Tander says his team must be more versatile if it is to challenge for the V8 Supercars Championship this season.
Labelling the factory Holden team "street circuit specialists", Tander believes HRT must perform consistently at more tracks on the calendar if it hopes to challenge defending champions from 2015 and ’14, Prodrive and Red Bull Racing Australia.
Tander, with endurance driver Warren Luff, won the Pirtek Enduro Cup, earning the most points of any entry across the three prestigious long-distance races in the second half of 2015. His teammate James Courtney won races at the Clipsal 500 and Gold Coast 600 – both street events.
HRT finished third in the teams’ championship behind RBRA and PRA, with Tander sixth overall and Courtney tenth after being sidelined from injury and missing three rounds.
“We’re spending a lot of time on [our weaknesses] to make sure we can be a more rounded outfit, not just a street circuit specialist team we proved to be last year,” Tander said today in Sydney.
Tander believes a drive in the Bathurst 12 Hour next month will assist his preparation for this year’s V8 Supercars season.
Before testing his right-hand drive Holden Commodore, he’ll take to a left-hand drive Audi and experience the spectacular Mount Panorama circuit in a new light across the February 5 to 7 weekend.
Then, it’ll be all systems go as he dons his red shirt and battles to reclaim the lion’s pride at the Clipsal 500.
“Having the opportunity to do the [12 hour] race is great – any chance you get to drive at Bathurst you grab it and in a GT car it is very different to a V8 Supercar,” Tander said.
“Learning to position the car, in a left hand drive car, will be a challenge, so I’m just challenging myself with those sorts of things.
“Obviously you’ll get plenty of miles before we go to Clipsal in early March for the start of the Supercars Championship. So it’s a race that’s cool to do but also helps with the preparation for the V8 Supercars Championship.”
Tander was set to drive with usual competitor Craig Lowndes, who was ruled out yesterday and is set for surgery on a broken collarbone. At today’s media call in Sydney, Tander announced LMP1 factory driver Rene Rast would step in.
The Walkinshaw Racing operation downsizes to run just the HRT cars in 2016, which Tander believes is a positive shift.
“I’m really looking forward to it – it’s a big change for us at Walkinshaw Racing with the shrinking from four cars down to two cars … so quite a difference in the way the team operates,” he said.
“James and myself are really looking forward to the year ahead.
“We’ve put a lot of work in during the off season, spent a considerable amount of money investing in what we need to – as far as personnel and infrastructure – to improve where we feel we need to improve the car.
“It showed last year we had some strengths, but we also have some weaknesses we need to work on.”
While Tander is not one to talk up his chances, he believes he can be a contender this year, though all eyes will be on Prodrive and Triple Eight after a battle to the finale between Mark Winterbottom and Craig Lowndes for last year’s title.
“We know there’s probably some teams who feel they’re ahead of us as favourites for the championship,” Tander said.
“If we can rectify some of the weaknesses we feel we have with our car – and I think we are on the right track to do that – we showed that when we have a competitive package our team executes incredibly well.
“We’ve got great strategy, great pit work, a great work ethic within the garage – we just have to improve the cars that little bit.
“We feel we could be there but PRA will be favourites, they’re defending champions, Triple Eight will be strong as they always are, but we feel we’ll be amongst the mix.”