While the V8 Supercars ‘silly season’ is often likened to musical chairs, to driver manager David Segal it’s more like a hard-fought game of chess.
He admits to never having been much good as a young bloke on the chequered board, but in the world of V8 Supercars he has placed all four of the drivers he currently manages – including Craig Lowndes – in improved positions for the 2016 season.
Given the 2015-16 silly season was one of the longest and most public in history – with a huge number of movements – his efforts don’t go unnoticed.
From helping place category heavyweight Lowndes in a newly created Triple Eight entry to extracting former Bathurst winner Will Davison from Erebus to steer TEKNO’s entry, Segal has had a big year. He also manages James Moffat, who shifted from Nissan to Volvo and rising star Jack Le Brocq, who takes over a key Dunlop Series seat with Prodrive Racing Australia.
Segal explained the ins and outs of being a manager and negotiating silly season chaos to v8supercars.com.au.
“It’s management of a drivers’ career end to end,” he explained.
“It’s about looking for and negotiating the drives with teams – setting a strategic direction on where the driver wants to go, what stage of the career they are at, and therefore, what is the next step for them.”
From finding and servicing sponsors to doing up the contract, helping manage the relationship with teams and being a sounding board for future direction, Segal ultimately makes ‘contract year’ easier for drivers by allowing them to focus on the racing.
“It has been probably the busiest year I’ve ever had,” he said of 2015.
“It’s been quite challenging and people often liken the driver market to a game of musical chairs, where the objective from my perspective is to make sure when the music stops, my driver isn’t standing up.
“I think a better analogy in some ways is like a game of chess. You need to understand who’s playing, where the relationships lie, where the money is – because so many of the drives at the moment are reliant on drivers bringing money – and you need to understand who’s making what move and making, if you like, a counter move … I feel like I was playing chess a lot of times last year!”
With a background in media – having been the youngest editor at Auto Action at just 19 – Segal officially began managing drivers 15 years ago when his first client happened to be Lowndes. From there he has developed Advantis Sports Management, and continues to help steer the ship for the category’s biggest name.
“We have a long term vision for Craig,” he explained.
“Roland [Dane, Triple Eight boss] and I probably had the first discussion about the three car model two, possibly three years ago, because I could see a time Triple Eight would need to have two guys absolutely competitive at the front. Whilst Craig is certainly that now, that’s not to say later in his career he’ll always be that way. I could see a time when there’d be a bit of a crossover where it was Craig wanting to continue and the team being unsure.
“I’m determined that when Craig retires, he does it on his own terms – he doesn’t get retired like Michael Schumacher did at Ferrari, Mark Skaife did at HRT. I don’t think that’s fair and Craig doesn’t deserve that. So I’ll claim credit for the three car model, Roland will claim credit for the three car model, it doesn’t matter.
“When Roland and I had the discussion in January last year about wanting to work towards the three car model, while I think that call was early, I understood at the end of the day it’s his call.
“We began working towards that, and that’s when the vision about Craig’s future sort of kicks in … there were some alternatives – there was a lot of interest from a factory team, another major team, there were discussions – but at the end of the day the best option to achieve our longer term vision for Craig was with Triple Eight. For that reason it was a relatively simple decision and when we were able to do that it was just the usual negotiation with Roland.”
Davison was a more unusual case, with no expectation at the start of the season he would be moving on, while Moffat was what you would expect.
“In the case of Will … by the time we’d made a decision that perhaps we would look at alternatives to Erebus, the alternatives were actually quite small.
“We would’ve only considered a drive in one, two, three teams anyway – and it just happened one of them didn’t have a driver. So that worked out well for us.
“In the case of James, we’d been talking to four teams for months and months, and various opportunities still existed – but no question, the Volvo opportunity was tremendous and it opened up in a sense that Garry [Rogers] post Bathurst made a decision to finalise his other driver and that’s when he was on the phone.
“If you know Garry, he does things very quickly – once he makes up his mind it’s away we go, and that’s how it unfolded.”
With 2016 just kicking off, Segal thinks there will be a settling in period, with more than half the field in new teams or cars.
He’s already thinking about Le Brocq as a possible player this year for a 2017 seat, and with big names off-contract like Scott McLaughlin, both Holden Racing Team drivers and Bathurst winner Nick Percat, it’s shaping up to be intense once again.
“Movement equals opportunity, so although I’m only going to have one guy who’s potentially in the market at the end of this year, I’m really keen on understanding who’s doing what – you get back to the chess game, who goes where,” Segal said.
What’s the trick to getting it right?
“I think the secret is simply being honest and transparent with the people you’re dealing with … I’ll be straight up with them and I guess it’s a matter of listening to what people are saying and understanding what they’re doing.
“It gets back to the chess game – what they are telling you is fine but what are they not telling you, who else are they talking to, how does it all fit together?”
His view of 2016, after more than half the field has moved homes?
“I think it’s shaping up as one of the most exciting seasons ever.”