Q&A: Garry Rogers on GRM, 300 events young

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 24/08/2018
  • By Mitchell Adam

Garry Rogers Motorsport is contesting its 300th Supercars Championship event this weekend, in the maiden OTR SuperSprint at Tailem Bend.

The team made its debut as a single-car outfit at Eastern Creek in the 1996 season opener with Steven Richards, then running alongside its Super Touring efforts.

It has been a two-car outfit since 1998 and won Bathurst with Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna in 2000, the year Tander finished second in the standings.

GRM has won a total of 23 Supercars Championship races and taken 68 podiums, with this year's trip to Mount Panorama also looming as its 700th race.

Throughout the last two decades, the category has changed markedly, but Rogers and his eponymous outfit has been a constant.

Rogers, 73, has prided himself on giving young drivers a chance in Supercars, with Tander, Scott McLaughlin, Jamie Whincup, Michael Caruso and Lee Holdsworth all examples of that.

On the eve of his team's 300th event, with Tander in a second GRM stint and another rookie in James Golding in the other Wilson Security Commodore, Rogers took a walk down memory lane with Supercars.com.

Supercars.com: We've got a big milestone for the team this weekend, its 300th championship Supercars round. How does that feel?

Garry Rogers: It certainly doesn't feel like it to me, but I'm probably pretty fortunate that God looked after me and kept me in reasonable shape. I've given myself a fair abusing over the years!

Looking back at that Eastern Creek 1996 field, of the teams that were in the game then, it's really only yourself, Dick Johnson with Team Penske and Walkinshaw through its various guises still there. That's a decent innings.

It is. Dick and I used to race together before we even had the team situation, so Dick and I go back a long way.

He used to stay with me at my house in Glen Waverley when he was racing at Sandown. He and I, while we're not bosom buddies, we're reasonably close friends.


What do you remember of that first weekend at Eastern Creek with Steven Richards in January 1996?

I suppose when you trigger memories, you start to think of a few things.

We thought we were pretty professional and knew what we were doing. It turns out we probably did, but we were a little bit green. Business-wise, I thought I myself had the skills to be able to organise things.

It was more a racing event amongst people that were just racers rather than a business venture. And I think we looked at it in that light. Today, you still go there wanting to do the very best you can for a result, but the professionalism and organisation now associated with Supercars is a totally different deal.

Really, that was a lot of fun. Today we still have a fair amount of fun, but there's probably too much official bullshit for my liking, I'm not into all of that.

That's the way I think it is, but obviously you need rules and regulations for any system to work and progress. Back then, to me it was a great race, I sort of half-remember the events that surrounded it and Steven's progress, and then all of the replacements that came after him.

It was great. It's all been a big adventure.

One of your current drivers, James Golding, would've been about a week old that weekend. How does that sit with you?

(Laughs) That's amazing when you equate it to that sort of thing. In fairness, that's probably a good sign.

It shows that what started off as a pretty amateurish series in the early days – it was going absolutely nowhere – then when SEL got involved and TEGA formed their association and got into bed with SEL, things grew from there. If it had've been left to CAMS and co., it wouldn't be like it is today.

We've literally had a whole new generation of drivers come into the championship in the time GRM has been in the series...

Yeah. I look at the ones we've had, but there's also been a whole lot [in Supercars] that we haven't had come through there.

There's been a hell of a lot of certainly very good drivers, and the occasional great driver that's come out of the category and is still in the category.

I suppose when we say that, we look at [Craig] Lowndes' recent retirement announcement. He's probably the one that's been around longest of all, but there's certainly some good, fresh, young talent roaring into fill those voids.

I appreciate it's probably hard to name one favourite driver from those you've had at GRM, but do you have favourites?

Do you talk about personalities or do you talk about skill or about playing with the team? My view is, GRM is about the team.

It's not about the driver or about me, it's about the whole team and certainly the sponsor group that have followed us that have been very loyal to us - Valvoline in particular, we've had those people for near on 30 years.

It's really important to have the right drivers, but I think we've got to remember the drivers will only be the right ones if they've got the support of the team.

I'm really proud of the fact that's probably one thing I've been able to do; get a really good workforce around me and keep a lot of them on. Some come and go, obviously some have got quite old, a bit like me and probably don't want to be going to the races every day!

In terms of drivers, you've probably got to talk about Bargs and Tander. They were the first big Bathurst win, and you can't help but have that in your memory.

But then of course going away from Supercars a bit, you go to the [Bathurst] 24 Hour race (with a factory-backed Holden Monaro) and the two occasions we went in that there was drivers that only drove for us on a temporary basis, i.e. [Greg] Murphy.

Do I have a special driver? No, I do not. I have a lot of fond memories of all the drivers. I don't want to marry any of them, I just want to have a good working and sporting relationship with them. I don't really have a special one.

You've played that with a very straight bat.

Well that's the facts, though. It's funny. When Tander left, he came and spoke to me and the opportunity he got at Walkinshaws – back in those days it was the Holden Racing Team - I couldn't offer him those sorts of opportunities. I suggested he go and do it.

We've always been really good friends, there was never any angst there. When I had a chance to get him back, that was absolutely great, but it doesn't still make him the greatest driver that we've had.

And the same could be said with McLaughlin. When he got that chance to go to Penskes, he came and saw me. Our contracts are that they can't go and talk to anyone if you're under contract to us, but I'd given him the exemption to go and do that.

If they don't want to be there, it's no good trying to tie people to that contractural crap. You'll just end up with an unhappy group.

I'm happy that it's all worked out for all of them, and particularly the fact Tander was keen to come back, that makes him sort of special in that light.

It says a lot about the team that those relationships, such as with Garth, can stay strong when he spent more than a decade elsewhere.

When Garth first came to us, he was mad. He crashed and did all sorts of things, but I knew he had the skill to get the job done and clearly his path through motorsport has shown that.

When I told a couple of the blokes that have been with me forever that I was thinking of getting him back, they weren't so sure! But he's come back in and fitted in really well, so that's worked out really.

Garth was actually talking earlier this year about some initial chats with you and Barry about on taking an off-track role with the team, when he finishes driving. That would be a nice little full-circle moment.

Absolutely. We're involved in a lot of other things as well as motor racing. Garth's very mature, he's a great driver and the beauty of Garth is he understands where it all started.

It's not like all of a sudden we fell into the big pot of gold, he knows how we got to where we got. I would see him as being a really strong attribute to our team and certainly we would look to involve him in our other business activities.

He speaks well, he's got a very good presence about him. We'd love that, so long as I'm alive and kicking, I might be in a big hole and no one would want to do anything!

Garth was obviously part of one of those big days you mentioned earlier, winning Bathurst in 2000. Has that been GRM's biggest and best day so far?

I suppose everyone looks at Bathurst, and that year we were so close to winning the championship as well, because Tander finished second.

It was only a mechanical mishap in Canberra that let the team down. He'd driven very well, he was considered an amateur in the big scheme of things, but he'd proven he was very competitive.

We had the mechanical axle issue and didn't finish there, and that of course buggered the championship up.

Bathurst is always special, but I don't know. There are other, smaller races that you see the crowds getting involved and that's probably not as important to everyone.

In terms of what's important to me, Bathurst is important, but I don't discount some of those other days. I love going to Symmons Plains where the locals are there – I'm a Tassie boy – and they're screaming and yelling over the fence.

That sort of emotion is lacking a little bit these days, but I think those things are very, very important in the big scheme of things.

We need to be professional, but we also need to realise where it all started and where it can go with the right management of both the professionalism and the regulatory matters.

It's been Commodores for GRM over the years, other than the Volvo era, do you have a favourite car?

I'd probably have our Bathurst-winning Commodore as my favourite car. To win it, it was such a shocking day, and of course Bargs and Tander were fairly rank outsiders.

Bargs is four-foot-nothing and Tander's eight-foot-10, no one could work out how we could fit them in! That really proves today, all this crap that goes on about the length of the driver and the height, it's doesn't matter. Dicky seats, they work, all sorts of things work.

To say 'do I have a special car?', yes, that Commodore would be my most-special car. I've still got that car. I didn't keep much, I've kept that and the yellow [2002 Bathurst 24 Hour-winning] Monaro. You had to sell one to get one, you didn't have any money back then.

And also, you mention the Volvo. Volvo has certainly been a great part of our history, but is it my favourite racing car? Certainly not. That 2000 Bathurst car is without a doubt my favourite car.

Even if it wasn't your favourite car, where does developing that as not just a Supercars package but a winning Supercars package sit as an achievement for the team?

I think what I said before about the team is a vital part. When that Volvo opportunity came up, Cowboy (Dean Cowling) was running the team, he's now working with an engineering company in Bendigo.

I spoke to Cowboy and we got our main people together and I said to them, 'look we can get this opportunity to do this, and I know you guys are good enough, but I don't want to do it unless you all want to do it with me, because it won't work otherwise'.

Most of those same blokes are still there and had been there for a long time, but they said 'yeah, that's a great challenge, I think we can do it', and we did. The engine situation was Polestar's, which is a real credit to them.

They built that engine but we did all of the maintenance and we designed the whole car, all of the aero, did all of the testing, got all of the homologation done and no doubt it was an enormous achievement for the team.

And unless the team had've agreed, there's no way I could've got it done just by my emotion wanting to do it. Really, it worked out for the best.

Is running a manufacturer program again the sort of thing you'd like to do?

Of course. It's no secret, we've been out there talking to several parties and we definitely need to get aligned with a manufacturer again, somewhere, somehow.

Unless we do, I won't be doing this forever, because you can't afford to do it properly. I love going racing and I enjoy the people and everything, but unless I know you can get in there with a chance to win, then I really don't want to go and do it all the time.

As we look ahead to that 300th event, how do you sum up the journey so far?

It's been an absolutely magnificent time in my life. You wouldn't say we've been the best team, but you wouldn't say we've been that far from the best most of the time.

We've been able to achieve some great results. If you're talking numbers out of 100, we're not far short of a 100-mark in my opinion. What happens, you always look at your best.

But then you've also got to look at your worst and try to balance it out. We've also had some bummer events, but I think we've knuckled down and got on with it and because of that we're certainly on the high side of bloody good.

At the end of the day, there aren't many teams that have won a Bathurst and had drivers like Garth and Scott as regular front-runners...

That's right. That gives me, personally, an enormous amount of satisfaction, when I look at what we've been able to achieve with those guys.

I've had a couple of failures too, there's been a few I've had to tip out along the way, but that's just how it is.

I think when I look at the overall team results, both racing and how people have ended up after they've left my place, I think that's a big positive. That makes me extremely proud.

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