Q&A: Tander on his GRM exit and full-time career

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 12/01/2019
  • By Mitchell Adam

The new year started with massive Supercars news – that Garth Tander has been replaced by Richie Stanaway at Garry Rogers Motorsport, effective immediately.

Having been preparing for his 21st season as recently as a fortnight ago, Tander's full-time career has now come to a close.

The three-time Bathurst winner and 2007 champion was due to take Craig Lowndes' mantle as the oldest and most-experienced driver this year.

Instead, his focus will be on a PIRTEK Enduro Cup campaign alongside Shane van Gisbergen at the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.

As the dust settled on Wednesday's shock news, Tander spoke to Supercars.com about his GRM exit and his decorated career.

Tander raced for GRM from 1998-2004, and then in 2017 and '18

So, the last month. We spoke in early-December and it was full-steam ahead for 2019, and there was a nice anecdote you mentioned about Garry in Townsville, saying 'Lowndesy's retiring but don't get any ideas'. What's happened since then, how did it all unfold?

All I can talk about is from my end, and my end is exactly what you said.

Everything was on-track for next season, clearly with the loss of Wilson as a team sponsor there was a need for the team to try and procure a new major backer but all of the discussions I'd had prior to me going away on holidays in December was that everything was progressing as discussed.

There were multiple reassurances from the team that I'd be driving in 2019 and I went on holidays safe in that knowledge.

Obviously all of the Boost stuff has taken place, completely without my knowledge and while I was away on holidays, just after Christmas, Garry texted me and said 'when are you back, we need to have a meeting'.

I was like, 'yeah, no problems, back beginning of January, happy to meet', thinking full well it was discussing plans for this year and all of the rest of it.

I walked into a meeting and was given the news about Boost and that I'd no longer be driving full-time.

Obviously at that point you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Once Garry gave me the news, it was a pretty quick meeting, I just said 'OK, I need a bit of time to take this in and see what it all means'.

I had a couple of nights to think about it and both Garry and I decided it was probably best that we end the arrangement amicably, which we have, and move forward to new opportunities, which we have.

New opportunities have presented themselves rather rapidly.

Were you overseas when that initial message came through?

The initial one, yes, I was overseas, in Singapore. He forgot that he'd sent me a text and sent me another one while I was in Perth for Christmas with my family.

That was all very-late December when he first reached out to me, to initiate that meeting.

There was no information about what the meeting was about, I thought it was about plans ahead for 2019.

What's the over-riding emotion as it stands, a week or so on from that initial chat with Garry?

First things first, I completely understand the commercial aspect of where GRM is coming from. Obviously they didn't have a major backer, they needed a major backer.

The sport's not a cheap sport, there are 35 staff that need to be thought of, when it comes to their livelihoods, so I completely understand that.

But for me, as a professional racecar driver in the series for 20-plus years, having my career ended like that, not on my own terms was... I don't know what the right word is – disappointing, frustrating, I felt quite helpless in the whole situation.

I know I'm not Craig Lowndes, I know I'm not Mark Skaife or Peter Brock and I think they're the three biggest send-offs we've seen in the sport and rightly so.

But not being given the opportunity to have friends and family at my final event, people that have been close to me through my whole career, that's where I felt quite helpless and quite disappointed by it all.

My kids weren't even at Newcastle because we weren't expecting this was going to be the last one.

It's been an interesting week of emotions, but it is what it is, nothing can be changed now. All we do is look forward to new opportunities.

The Kelly family owned the HSV Dealer Team Tander won the title with in 2007

Did you instantly close the door on being a full-time driver? Pretty much all of the seats are accounted for, but there are potentially a couple in Nissans at Kelly Racing...

Yeah. I'd already come to the conclusion that '19 was going to be my last full-time season anyhow.

To go around again somewhere else for one year, maybe two years I think is doing everyone involved a disservice.

I knew there were vacancies at Kellys, but I'd imagine there are some commercial implications around that as well.

And given the late nature of all of this news and the timing that the announcement was delivered to me personally, there wasn't a lot of time to do anything.

I think, in reality, going again full-time is not the right thing to do.

Now I've been given this opportunity with Triple Eight, to drive with Shane and go and do the endurance races for at least the next two years, I think that's a fantastic opportunity to go and win some races.

If this discussion with Garry was in, say, June, July or August, do you think you would have had a look at a full-time drive somewhere else for 2019?

Honestly, I don't know, because that discussion never took place.

As you said, when we were in Townsville and Craig made his announcement – which was in July – Garry came to me and said 'don't get any ideas about doing something silly like that'.

All the indicators were that we were pushing forward from there.

Certainly the scenario and the scenery's changed since then but I can't answer that because I honestly don't know.

Newcastle ended up being the farewell. There's been a lot going on in the last week or so, but do you look back at that and take much from the fact that you made the Shootout, qualified fourth and had a really strong day there to finish that chapter?

From a personal performance point of view, that's the only thing I can look back at, and say 'that's probably as good as we could've done with the equipment we had'.

Getting into the Shootout and the Shootout run that I had to be fourth in Newcastle, at least I can hang my helmet on that a little bit.

Whilst we slipped back a little bit and finished in the back half of the 10 in the race, it was obviously quite a strong run for the team compared to how we'd been running prior to that.

That's probably the only thing from that weekend that I can take out of it, being my last full-time weekend.

Everyone's sort of been on my case for a while about qualifying, so at least my last full-time qualifying was a strong one.

Tander made his debut at Phillip Island in 1998, standing in for Steven Richards

More broadly, looking at your career as a whole, when you think back through the last 20 seasons in Supercars, what comes to mind as highlights?

Well, for me, the fact I had a career at all was a highlight.

We got there all the way on talent, buying a seat or financing my way in was never an option because it was simple, we didn't have any money.

The fact that I was able to get that opportunity, which Garry first gave me back in 1998, is a highlight, and the fact that I've been able to race Supercars through its massive growth period.

If you look where the sport was in 1998 to where the sport is today, the growth over that period of time – to be racing and to experience that... When I first started there was no Adelaide 500.

To see where the sport's grown to today and to have been a part of that has genuinely been a highlight.

You can look at the races, and clearly the championship and the three Bathurst wins, it's easy to point to those highlights, which they clearly are.

But there's hundreds of races along the way where you may have finished third, fourth, fifth, sixth that you had a really great battle and really enjoyed it. They're highlights as well.

Those little performances within a season that you take satisfaction from...

Yeah. You learn as you go on and spend more than five minutes in this series that not every car's capable of winning on every day.

It's all about maximising the potential that vehicle has at any given time.

Sometimes when you punch above your weight a little bit in that car, you lay your head on the pillow at the end of the night and say, 'geez, as a team we did a pretty good job with what we had today', and those are highlights for sure.

Tander's most-recent win came with the Walkinshaw-run Holden Racing Team, at Sandown in 2016

In terms of teams, it was just the two with GRM bookending your career and HSV Dealer Team and the Holden Racing Team in the middle. Are there special people and special times that stand out?

There's a lot going on between GRM, myself and Garry at the moment but it's easy to lose sight of the fact that he gave me my opportunity in '98 and stood by me through that first year. Obviously he has had a huge part to play.

The day that I received an email from John Crennan asking me to come to Clayton, I thought was pretty cool.

And obviously driving for Tom [Walkinshaw] and getting to know Tom very well through the period I was driving at HRT, it was really good to see how he operated.

There's been plenty of people along the way and I think I'd be doing a disservice if I started naming too many people.

Are there any cars from that run you've got a particular attachment to, something you might like to get back in for a skid or even own?

I think the championship winner, the 2007 car, which was recently on the market, I don't know if it sold yet.

That would be a nice one to have in the shed, but it's been restored and I know what those cars go for on the market these days, there's no way I can afford to do that.

Certainly if we won the Powerball, I'd be looking to see if we could get that one.

We won a lot of races in that car, and the way the championship played out, coming down to the last race battling Jamie, it was a pretty cool thing.

It was the first year for the VE as well. If I could, I'd have that one in the shed for sure.

It's almost a double-edged sword. If you drove that car and finished fifth or sixth in the championship it wouldn't be worth as much, but you've bumped the price up!

That's true, but if it was a fifth or sixth car I probably wouldn't be interested in it either!

Any regrets, frustrations or anything you look back on and want to have a certain day or decision again?

Realistically, when you race cars hard and fast for 20-odd years, there's going to be plenty of situations you look back on and think 'geez, if I had my time again, I would have done that a little bit differently'.

I don't think it's right to single any one thing out.

But I've said in the past if I had my time again on the Gold Coast in 2016 with Fabian [Coulthard], I'd love to relive 30 seconds of my life there and do things a little differently, but that can't be changed.

That's probably the big one that stands out for me. But we're going over old ground when we start talking about that stuff.

Part 2 of Supercars.com's chat with Tander – looking towards the future including his new Supercars home – will be published on Sunday morning.

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