Spotlight: Can Tickford continue its recovery?

  • 21/02/2018
  • By Mitchell Adam
  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship

What was Ford Performance Racing until the end of 2014 and then Prodrive Racing Australia becomes Tickford Racing this year.

But while the name changes, the focus within the team is stability as it looks to continue an upward trajectory from the second half of 2017.

Continuing with the FG X Falcon for a fourth year, Tickford has also kept its key driver/engineer combinations untouched.

Changes to its pairings last year – most notably reuniting Chaz Mostert with Adam De Borre proved a key part in turning around its fortunes after a rough ’16.

When Mark Winterbottom won the 2015 drivers’ championship, the team won 16 of the year’s 36 races.

It drifted somewhat since then, to win only two of 29 in 2016 and one of the first 15 last year.

Mostert took his and the team’s 2017 tally to two at Queensland Raceway, then won again on the Gold Coast, claimed the PIRTEK Enduro Cup with Steve Owen and remained in title contention until the Newcastle finale.

Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway, meanwhile, emerged on top at Sandown, with Winterbottom and second-year driver Waters finishing sixth and seventh in the points.

The team could, perhaps should, have won at Bathurst as well, after dominating the running in the rain.

“The car’s a hell of a lot better than it was 12 months ago,” team principal Tim Edwards told Supercars.com after the Gold Coast event.

“Undoubtedly our car, we’ve made huge improvements to it over the last three or four months in particular.”

-SMP Test Day-18-01614 (1)
Sandown winners Waters and Stanaway ran interim liveries in the pre-season test

That takes the team back to mid-season, and “a bit of a shocker” at Hidden Valley, even though Mostert had already won in 2017 at Phillip Island.

By its own admission, the team had taken too big a swing at development as it chased early-season pace-setters Shell V-Power Racing and Triple Eight.

“We’re always putting new bits on the car, but we kind of overcooked it a bit there and put too many new bits on the car and it didn’t work,” Edwards surmised of the Darwin trip.

An engine upgrade introduced on two of its Falcons at Sandown, including the race winner, got plenty of people talking, although Edwards was keen to downplay its impact.

Edwards left that weekend vowing that the team would continue to be “super-aggressive” with its development, even if Hidden Valley showed a balance had to be struck.

All four Falcons then made the Top 10 Shootout at Bathurst, and while PRA ultimately left Mount Panorama empty-handed it claimed a one-two in the wet Gold Coast race, a podium each day at Pukekohe and a provisional pole for Winterbottom in Newcastle.

While it had a muted finish to the season on the street circuit, the team had arguably gone from trailing the Red Bull and Shell teams to being right in the fight for wins.

Mostert and Owen took out the PEC in 2017

Up to and including the Darwin weekend, the team’s average top qualifying and finishing positions were 4.0 and 5.2 across 12 races.

In the 14 races through to the end of the season, those numbers improved to 3.2 and 3.6. If anything, the end of the season came at a bad time as the team built momentum.

Edwards rated the year as “OK” rather than great, but could take its progress over the second half of 2017 as a positive.

Asked if there was any one focus to find that next chunk of time, Edwards said: “Absolutely not.

“There's different things all over the car. There is no silver bullet in this category. I wish there was and you'd find and keep it in your holster.

“What makes you quick in this category is a multitude of things. And so you've just got to do all the one percenters right and you'll have success on track.”

The team also counts as positives the return to form of Mostert, who took his fitness to new levels after returning from injury in 2016, and Waters’ progress to rise 11 places in the championship order in his sophomore campaign.

Winterbottom’s season was his first without a win for the team he joined as FPR back in 2006, but he started to look comfortable and fast again on the run home.

-SMP Test Day-18-02051

At 36, the 2015 champion is now an elder statesman in Supercars and especially within Tickford, alongside Mostert (25), Waters (23) and Stanaway (26), the latter returning from Europe to replace Jason Bright and make his full-time debut.

With that line-up, the team won’t have any question marks over its drivers, and it has even recruited shrewdly on the co-driver front to add the extra experience of James Moffat and David Russell.

Waters in 10th led the way for the Tickford entries in the Sydney Motorsport Park pre-season test.

Down in 25th, Mostert’s view that it “was an uneventful day for us, and the car still feels like a Supercar” kind of encapsulated the team’s outing.

In 2015, Winterbottom’s title bid was set up by nine wins between Races 7 and 24 of the season. Victories for Mostert and Reynolds in that block meant the team was only beaten three times in 18 races across four months.

That sort of dominance would be tougher to achieve now, with the rise of the Shell Fords, while the new ZB casts a big unknown over the 2018 form guide.

But if Tickford Racing can carry its late-2017 form into the new season, and avoid a repeat of last year’s sluggish start, it’ll go some way towards being a regular winner again.

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