Penske looking beyond Ford as Mustang hopes fade

  • 18/01/2018
  • By Bruce Newton
  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship

Shell V-Power Racing could abandon Ford for another manufacturer for the 2019 Supercars season.

The shock move was outlined to Supercars.com by team owner Roger Penske in an interview at the Detroit motor show this week.

Penske is clearly frustrated that a licensing deal with Ford Australia to race the Mustang in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship hasn’t been done.

He confirmed there were other potential manufacturers the winner of the 2017 teams’ championship could consider swapping to for 2019.

It will again race the Falcon FG X in 2018, despite the end of road-car production in October 2016, when Ford’s Campbellfield assembly plant closed.

“We have had lots of conversations [with Ford], but I see nothing on the drawing board right now that we will be running a Mustang in 2019,” Penske told Supercars.com.

“It would almost be impossible.

“I think we have to look at what manufacturer we go to, because we have had other manufacturers talk to us.

“If we can’t get the support we need from Ford in Australia – they have been very sensitive to their situation there and to me we have to manage through that – we will look at what other manufacturers might have interest with us.”

Which manufacturers that might be is a mystery, although BMW did confirm discussions with Penske in 2015.

Ford hasn’t been involved in Supercars racing since the end of that 2015 season, but its Mustang has subsequently become a massive sales success in Australia.

The Shell Ford squad broke through to be a Supercars force in 2017, in its third full season since Penske bought a majority stake in the team from icon Dick Johnson.

It won the most races, took the most poles and and ended Triple Eight’s dominance of the teams’ championship.

In his first year with the team, Kiwi star Scott McLaughlin only missed out on winning the championship after he was penalised on the last lap of the last race of the year.

Instead he finished second in the drivers’ championship to the Red Bull Holden Racing Team’s Jamie Whincup, while his team-mate Fabian Coulthard was third.

Penske’s NASCAR outfit runs Fords - including the Mustang in the second-tier Nationwide Series - and he also has successful IndyCar team and will enter IMSA SportsCar Championship with Honda’s Acura division in 2018.

He is clearly impressed by McLaughlin and confirmed he would consider the 24-year-old for drives beyond Australia in the future.

“He has the job to do, he has to win the championship and we have got to have more success,” he said.

“But we would certainly like to get him over [to North America] and put him in something at some point.

“The disappointment was obviously the last race from the standpoint that he didn’t win the championship personally, but the team did.

“We are all on the same team and he knows that. He has been a real pro about that.”

2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship

Despite his disappointment at being unable to find a replacement for the FG X, Penske said he expected the Falcon to again be competitive in 2018.

But he also also warned the new Holden Commodore ZB would pose a strong threat.

The ZB has been developed by Roland Dane’s Triple Eight, which releases its factory Red Bull HRT colours on Friday.

“Going into 2018 it’s going to be more competitive we have more experience and I think it’s going to be great racing,” Penske added. “We are looking forward to it.

“I am assuming Roland will be competitive and it will be interesting to see.

“We are going to try and come back and be a competitive set in 2018.”

Penske was philosophical about the way the 2017 championship finished, acknowledging the improvement new engineering chief Ludo Lacroix brought from Triple Eight.

It’s been a rapid climb to success for a program that started with the shock departure of prized-recruit Marcos Ambrose just two races into the 2015 season.

“For us, [2017] was a break-though year,” said Penske.

“I am not sure anyone expected us to have the success we had. But it was a combination of getting the right people.

“We started out with Marcos and then he decided it wasn’t how he wanted his career to end, so we were kind of in a little bit of a difficult position.

“But over time we were able to build a strong team on the floor, our engine team did a great job and of course Ludo coming in was a great asset for us because he was up to speed on the things to do and things not to do.”

Stay In The Know
Sign up to the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship Newsletter