Crossing the divide: Five dramatic driver deals

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 3 Days ago
  • By Stefan Bartholomaeus

The Supercars driver market provides big news every year, and 2019 is proving no different.

With a raft of drivers off-contract, there promises to be plenty of movement ahead of 2020.

Most of the attention has so far centred around Chaz Mostert, who appears set to make a big leap from Tickford Racing to Walkinshaw Andretti United.

News of Mostert’s expected defection after eight years at Tickford has proven a big talking point on social media in recent weeks.

Mostert has only raced Fords through his time in Super2 and the main game, and gave the Falcon what proved to be its final Bathurst win in 2014.

While the championship has evolved over the last decade, it still seems nothing stirs the blood like a crossing of the Ford/Holden divide.

Supercars.com looks back at the five biggest moves of the modern era, either from Holden to Ford, or Ford to Holden.

5) Mark Winterbottom, 2019
Tickford Racing (Ford) to Team 18 (Holden)

You don’t have to look back very far for the last big Ford-to-Holden mover.

Mark Winterbottom had perhaps been the most brand-loyal driver in the category’s history, until his switch to Charlie Schwerkolt’s Team 18 for 2019.

Winterbottom launched his career in 2001 by winning the Ford Kartstars scholarship, before he moved through Formula Ford, Super2 and into the main game with support from the manufacturer.

Elevated to the factory Ford Performance Racing effort [now Tickford] in 2006, he established himself as a Ford hero, winning Bathurst in '13 and the title two years later.

A lean spell for the driver and team followed and, by the closing stages of 2018, it was clear that a desire for change was brewing.

The timing of the deal only added to the drama, with Winterbottom forgoing a seat in the new and long-awaited Mustang to drive a Commodore built by long-time rival Triple Eight.

4) Shane van Gisbergen, 2013
Stone Brothers Racing (Ford) to Tekno Autosports (Holden)

Shane van Gisbergen’s switch from a Stone Brothers Ford in 2012 to a Tekno Autosports Holden in ’13 was rather complex, and very controversial.

Unlike the others on this list, van Gisbergen was a rising star – five years into his Supercars career - when he shifted marques, rather than a full-blown champion.

His release from an SBR contract at the end of 2012 was publicly portrayed as being for “personal reasons”, with an announcement he was leaving the sport followed by a farewell at the season finale.

In truth, van Gisbergen had not wanted to be part of the squad’s new era as Erebus Motorsport and the switch to unproven Mercedes-AMG equipment.

Van Gisbergen’s return in 2013 with Tekno Autosports triggered an uproar among fans, and legal action from his former team, which was ultimately settled out of court.

He won a race on debut with Tekno and, after three seasons showing flashes of brilliance with the Triple Eight customer squad, won the title on his first attempt with the main squad.

3) James Courtney, 2011
Dick Johnson Racing (Ford) to Holden Racing Team

A star driver moving manufacturers is one thing, but taking the #1 plate to an arch rival squad is quite another.

James Courtney’s triumph with Dick Johnson Racing in a dramatic 2010 season finale came a week after news broke that he’d be off to the Holden Racing Team at year’s end.

The deal came amid a tumultuous period for DJR, with co-owner Schwerkolt splitting from the squad, and its manager Adrian Burgess also departing, jumping ship for Triple Eight.

Courtney had been a Ford man for each of his five full-time Supercars seasons, having been snapped up by SBR following a maiden enduro foray with HRT in 2005.

Team Red got its man back for 2011 and Courtney remains with the team today, now under the Walkinshaw Andretti United guise, albeit without having won the second title he’d hoped the deal would bring.

2) Russell Ingall, 2003
Perkins Engineering (Holden) to Stone Brothers Racing (Ford)

Russell Ingall had been one of the most prominent Holden heroes across a boom period for Supercars in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Earning an army of fans through his aggressive driving style and hard-man persona, Ingall scored Bathurst wins alongside team boss Larry Perkins in 1995 and ’97.

But a championship remained elusive, and amid an era of big-spending from Ford to wrestle supremacy from the General, Ingall was poached to SBR for 2003.

He hit the ground running with a victory on debut at the non-championship Albert Park meeting, which also marked the first outing for the BA model Falcon, and eventually took the title in 2005.

Ingall returned to Holden in 2008, spending his final seven full-time seasons in Commodores, before driving for all three current marques – including Nissan – across two enduro campaigns in ’15 and ’16.

1) Craig Lowndes, 2001
Holden Racing Team to Gibson Motorsport (Ford)

It should be no surprise that Lowndes tops this list. For sheer impact, no driver move in the history of the championship rivals Lowndes’ Holden-to-Ford defection of 2001.

He was HRT’s golden boy in the 1990s, from a sensational Bathurst debut in ’94, to the ’96 title, Sandown and Bathurst treble, to two more titles on return from a one-year sojourn in Europe.

But by 2000, the relationship between the team and Lowndes was breaking down. Team-mate Mark Skaife had the supremacy on-track, and Lowndes was looking to greener pastures.

In the end, he signed a big-money deal with Ford that also included existing Holden squad, Gibson Motorsport, turfing its Holdens and drivers Greg Murphy and Steven Richards for a new era.

Although it, and the Ford Performance Racing years that followed, proved frustrating, by 2005 the road eventually led to Triple Eight; a partnership that delivered Ford a Bathurst three-peat.

Lowndes went back to Holden in 2010, but by then he was just a part of Triple Eight’s move, and the evolving nature of the category meant fans were a little more used to stars crossing the divide.

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