Richie Stanaway targets title with Penrite Racing
Stanaway replaced David Reynolds at Grove squad
Kiwi won last year's Great Race with Shane van Gisbergen
Make no mistake — Richie Stanaway has come back to win a championship.
Of all the silly season stories of the last six months, few have generated as much intrigue as the return of Stanaway, who returns to the full-time fold with Penrite Racing.
Stanaway has hailed his road to signing with the Groves as the “pinnacle” of his career — a lofty statement given he has won at the likes of Monaco, Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps.
Oh, and he is the Bathurst 1000 champion, no less.
Stanaway’s rise through the ranks, which included wins in Formula 2, generated plenty of attention when he opted to chase a Supercars career. Anticipation grew when he won the 2017 Sandown 500 with Cam Waters.
However, two tough full-time seasons at Tickford Racing and Garry Rogers Motorsport saw Stanaway not only walk away from Supercars, but motorsport in general.
Back then, Stanaway was thrust into the latter stages of the Car of the Future era, where cars had been developed to the point where the dominant teams were further up the road.
Now, Stanaway has more experience in Supercars, and rival drivers only have a year of the new Gen3 cars under their belt — almost a moot point anyway, given the cars have evolved through various parity changes.
This time, Stanaway is determined to land his punches, having had to wait several months to get into it since his Penrite Racing deal was announced six months ago.
"There’s been a lot of anticipation since I signed the deal back in August, it feels like quite a long time ago now,” the Tauranga-born driver told Supercars.com.
"I’ve been counting down the months to get the season underway, which we’re finally close to now. It was very inspiring to see their form at the end of last year.
"For me, getting the chance for an organisation like this full-time in an elite category like Supercars, marks a pinnacle in my career.
"I feel like everything in my career has been leading to a moment like this. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to drive for this team, and I can’t wait for the season to start.
"It’s a superstar team of people. I feel like the only thing standing between myself and success is myself. As a driver, that’s all you can ever ask for.”
What makes Stanaway’s return so tantalising is that he is determined to reach the top immediately.
The Sandown win validated Stanaway’s standing as an elite talent, and his stints in driving rain at Mount Panorama just weeks later proved he is one of ’those’ drivers that don’t come around all that often.
However, where there was talent, there was potential. He didn’t get the tools required to deliver with Tickford in 2018, and his season with GRM was punctuated by a neck injury suffered in an accident at Winton.
In 2024, he has a brand-new car at his disposal for the very first time, has a Bathurst-winning engineer in his corner in Alistair McVean, and critically, has the experience to make it all count.
"The goal is definitely to fight for the title. There’s no reason we can’t put ourselves in that position,” he said.
"When I first came into the series in 2018, they in were different circumstances. It was halfway through the cycle of the previous generation of car, and there were big differences between teams.
"I was also very inexperienced, both in general career experience and Supercars experience, relative to the other drivers. The landscape has since changed more than I could have predicted.
"Now I am more experienced, I’m with a top team, and this is only the second season of the new cars. So, anything less than a title fight would be a disappointment.”
Penrite Racing is clearly heading places, going on a big recruitment drive and ending the 2023 season bathed in trophies and champagne.
The team arrives in 2024 as the most recent victors, with rookie Matt Payne dominating the VAILO Adelaide 500 — an achievement not lost on countryman Stanaway.
Stanaway got an early look at Payne’s craft when he joined Penrite Racing at a rookie day late in the year. With Payne now a Supercars race winner, Stanaway is excited to benchmark himself against his compatriot.
"It’s helpful that Matt won the last race of last year. I was at his rookie day last year and got to do 10 laps. At that time, he wasn’t a race winner,” said Stanaway, who is completing his move to Melbourne.
“Now, knowing he’s a race winner, it proves he’s a very valuable benchmark for me, knowing that all of his data is there to analyse.
"There aren’t many similarities between us — I didn’t get to his level until I was a bit older. I can’t imagine what it would be like to come into a top-tier series at his age, and win.
"Given he’s capable of winning races, it’s very important for me and the team. It’ll be great to have him as a teammate — he’s not an unproven rookie, he’s a winner.”
While he often doesn’t give too much away, Stanaway was reduced to tears when Shane van Gisbergen crossed the line to win the Great Race last October, embracing father Neville amid the chaos in pit lane.
Stanaway was quick to recognise the moment — when he greeted van Gisbergen in victory lane, he was itching to get on the roof of the car and celebrate with his mate and the near-record crowd.
The scenes offered so much about this version of Stanaway and his confidence. Supercars legend Greg Murphy was taken aback by the reaction, saying at the time: "I love seeing the emotion. I'm so proud.
"It's more than motorsport. It's his life. It's created a new pathway for him, a new vision, new thinking. It's turned him around.
"It was in a pretty sad state of affairs when the sport really just pushed him away and said, 'We don't care'. Dumped him on the side and carried on.
"Here he was struggling – it's more about the person and the human and that whole mental side of things and the struggle. That's the achievement that he's shown here, it's just staggering.”
Having basked in the glory of his first Great Race win, Stanaway quickly turned his attention to the next chapter, which begins at the Thrifty Bathurst 500 on February 23-25.
There, Stanaway is armed with the chance to prove to himself that he not only belongs in the full-time caper, but take it to them, out-race them — and win.
"Winning Bathurst was an incredible career achievement. Now, I have an opportunity to prove to myself that I can win sprint races as a full-time driver against the best guys,” Stanaway said.
“Bathurst helped me compare my performance to others. Looking at stint averages, I know I have the speed to be racing with the top guys when I’m in the right place at the right time.
"The Bathurst victory was pretty soon in the rear-vision mirror, because I had already signed on to race full-time and my focus moved to winning sprint races.
"I’ve had a good run as a co-driver, winning Sandown and Bathurst, but I really want to win races. I want to be in the fight, and be the one in the car at the end.”
Penrite Racing will reveal its 2024 livery on Saturday February 3.
Stanaway and Payne will hit the track for pre-season testing at Winton Motor Raceway on Wednesday February 7, before the season-opening Thrifty Bathurst 500 kicks off the new Supercars season on February 23-25. Tickets for the event can be purchased via Supercars.com and Ticketek. Live coverage is on the Seven and Foxtel family of networks.