Words - Geoffrey Harris
Bit by bit the story of the HRT ownership fuss is unfolding ahead of the second round of the V8 Supercar Championship in Perth this weekend, there's talk of another touring car series for smaller, imported machines, and grand prix costs and benefits are

Midweek motorsport report
March 21, 2007

Fine may be $300,000
The details of what the Holden Racing Team ownership row was all about are starting to seep out, with the revelation today of what was suspected -- that Tom Walkinshaw (pictured) is a half-owner of HRT.

Today's editions of Auto Action and Motorsport News have comprehensive coverage of the issue again, following last Friday night's announcement of a fine -- or "financial settlement" between HRT and the Touring Car Entrants Group -- which Auto Action says is "in the $250,000-$300,000 range".

Rival Motorsport News publishes a memo from TEGA to V8 Supercar teams which confirms Walkinshaw Performance, the company through which the Scottish entrepreneur resurfaced in Australian motorsport a year ago, is a 50 per cent owner of Mark Skaife's Skaife Sports, which holds the two V8 Supercar licences under which HRT competes.

"TEGA has not approved Tom Walkinshaw as a person suitable to hold a controlling interest in a licence nor hold a licence in his own right," the memo says.

"Should Walkinshaw seek to acquire more than a 50 per cent interest in Skaife Sports at any time in the future he will be required to seek formal approval from the (TEGA) board at that time.

"Skaife Sports has agreed to a stringent monitoring regime and a level of co-operation with TEGA (over and above that in the Teams Licence Agreement, or TLA) with regard to compliance issues."

Motorsport News quotes an "industry source" suggesting that Walkinshaw got the half-share of Skaife Sports "in lieu of payment for additional costs (reputedly in excess of $2 million) incurred by Walkinshaw, over and above those covered by HRT's incoming sponsorship, in supplying the services he does to the HRT team -- i.e. the preparation and running of the race cars".

TEGA says the commercial settlement agreed at the end of last week "is in the best interests of the sport, the shareholders and the stakeholders".

We echo those sentiments and are pleasantly surprised to see that it has been generally well accepted.

As part of that settlement, Mark Skaife is no longer on the boards of TEGA or V8 Supercar Australia.

A replacement Holden representative will join the TEGA board, and Larry Perkins appears to be in the running -- which could ensure some fireworks.

Other changes are afoot at TEGA, with Kelvin O'Reilly to step down from the chairmanship but remain general manager, while John Hewson -- the former Liberal politician who came close to being prime minister -- is set to become chairman at a special meeting in April.

Another upshot of the situation is that a new TLA is being prepared to take effect from next year.

The "financial settlement" in the HRT case includes the team forfeiting about $200,000 in prizemoney from the Clipsal 500, according to Auto Action.

Now, at least, HRT can concentrate on going racing again, provided the formal deed of release is agreed and signed this week.

Skaife has a phenomenal record of seven pole positions at Perth's Barbagallo track, where the second round of the championship will be held this weekend, and teammate Todd Kelly, winner of the Clipsal 500 but feeling the ownership row has been a distraction to the team and bad for the sport, wants to focus on taking the title his brother won last season.

Hat-trick hopes for Richards
Steven Richards is aiming for a hat-trick at Barbagallo Raceway.

Richards won the last two rounds at the Perth circuit driving for Larry Perkins and Holden, but won just one race -- the second in 2005 -- from the six held over those two rounds.

This time Richards goes to Barbagallo with Ford Performance Racing for three 120km races -- one on Saturday and two on Sunday.

The only driver to have scored a hat-trick of rounds in Perth is Craig Lowndes, from 1998 to 2000 -- when he was with HRT.

Lowndes also won in 1996, also with HRT.

After his big switch to Ford it took Lowndes six starts before he stood on the Perth podium again, finishing third last year.

Garth Tander is the only Western Australian in the field but has never won at his home circuit in a V8 Supercar.

In nine V8 starts at Barbagallo, Tander's best has been third in 2000.

John Bowe makes his 213th start this weekend to finally take that record from the late Peter Brock.

Crucial fitness test for Radisich
Team Kiwi is at Queensland Raceway trying to decide whether Paul Radisich is fit enough to race at Barbagallo.

Radisich, Adam Macrow who stood in for him at the Clipsal, and possibly New Zealand youngster Chris Pither are being put through their paces in a deregistered V8 Supercar.

Radisich -- the last driver to win the WA round from pole position, when racing for Dick Johnson in 2001 -- has still been having trouble with his left foot that was damaged when he crashed Team Kiwi's Holden Commodore at Bathurst last year.

This year the team is racing an ex-Ford Performance Racing Falcon previously driven by Jason Bright.

Endurance line-ups taking shape
V8 Supercar teams are busy lining up drivers for the Sandown and Bathurst endurance races.

Carrera Cup racers Craig Baird and David Reynolds are line for seats with champion HSV Dealer Team and Mark Noske and New Zealand youngster Andy Booth with Tasman Motorsports.

Champ Car winner ponders V8s
The winner of last year's Gold Coast Champ Car race, Frenchman Nelson Philippe, is interested in getting into V8 Supercar racing.

Philippe, who notched that win with CTE Racing-HVM that has since become Paul Stoddart's Minardi USA, is unable to land a Champ Car drive this year without sponsorship.

He was in Melbourne last weekend at the Australian Grand Prix hoping to get a crack at an F1 test drive, then visited the Gold Coast -- where he and the winner of the Indy's beauty pageant last year declared their love for each other.

Philippe has told Autosport.com: "As much as I want to race in the Champ Car series, I am expected to bring money and I'm not going to do that. I don't have a cent to bring.

"Down in Melbourne I went to the F1 paddock and introduced myself around to people like Flavio Briatore (Renault boss and manager of several F1 drivers, including Mark Webber).

"I'm not prepared to pay for a test drive, and I don't want to move down to GP2 (the F1 support series in Europe).

"But if I got an offer of a test drive or to become one of Renault's development drivers I'd take it.

"I'm looking at every top open-wheel racing series at the moment, but I'm also looking at what my options are in V8 Supercars -- hey, I might even get paid to race in that! -- ALMS (American Le Mans Series), and also the Le Mans 24 Hours.

"I want to be supportive of Champ Cars. I believe it is the best series in the world for racing, but I don't want to be expected to bring money each time.

"And how can you find a sponsor who wants to put $2 million into a series that hasn't had a television profile for the last six years?

"So I decided it's time to take my destiny in my own hands.

"I don't think I'm a superstar or anything like that, but I'm not going to pay to drive. I want to have a drive on merit and talent."

Clipsal trounces F1 for TV viewers
Channel 7 was quick to trumpet this week that its Clipsal 500 telecast on March 3-4 drew more viewers nationally than the grand prix did on Channel 10 last weekend.

7 says its Saturday coverage of Clipsal delivered 200,000 more viewers than 10's Saturday coverage of the GP qualifying, claiming "a whopping 59 per cent audience advantage to V8 Supercars".

7 says its Sunday coverage of Clipsal was up 95,000 viewers on the average audience of 10's entire Sunday coverage of the grand prix for "a 15 per cent audience advantage".

The Clipsal TV audiences were 540,000 Saturday and 710,000 Sunday, versus -- according to 7 -- 340,000 and 615,000 for the GP.
 
GP costs and benefits under scrutiny
It's been a tough time for the GP organisers, despite announcing crowd figures at Albert Park last weekend comparable with last year -- even without the V8 Supercars.

The barrage of negative publicity continues today with the front page lead story in The Age newspaper in Melbourne saying that a report by Victoria's new auditor-general Des Pearson, due to be made public in May, will warning of rising public costs on the event and question its claimed economic benefits of $175 million a year.

The Age story quotes a source supposedly close to the government estimating that costs will rise $3 million to $4 million a year until the existing contract expires in 2010.

The source says the cost of this year's race will be "roughly $28 million" and could blow out to as much as $42 million by 2010.

The $28 million in surprisingly low, as reports over the past couple of weeks have put it at up to $35 million.

Subaru boss floats new series idea
There's talk of another touring car series in Australia -- for smaller, primarily foreign cars.

It would be for fuel-efficient four-cylinder cars, perhaps modelled on the Super 2000 concept of the World Touring Car Championship and rallying, and turbo diesels.

Driving the idea is Subaru Australia managing director Nick Senior and it's based on the idea of fielding cars that are proving increasingly popular in the market now, rather than losing sales as Holden's Commodore and Ford's Falcon are.

While the idea has some merit, it faces the problem Super Tourers did some years ago -- the punters may not want it, either as spectators at racetracks or television viewers.

Australians may not be buying Commodores and Falcons in the numbers of yesteryear but they sure still like watching them race.

However, Senior says: "So many car brands have been disenfranchised in Australian motorsport by either the lack of appropriate categories or poor promotion.

"I've flagged an idea for importers and manufacturers to come up with a category that reflects where the market is heading."

"There is a strong will in the industry to find a category to showcase the vehicles that consumers are buying today."

Senior believes up to nine makes would be keen to get involved if an Australian series was well promoted and televised.

Subaru has withdrawn from Australian rallying after a decade of domination and is obviously keen on going circuit racing.

Other obvious candidates would be Alfa Romeo, Honda, Nissan, BMW, and perhaps even Ford and Holden -- depending on their financial health.

Senior's thinking extends to perhaps having one driver in two-car teams being under 25.

All-women team for Bathurst 12-Hour
Four women will share a diesel Holden Astra in the Bathurst 12-Hour at Easter.

The team comprises Leanne Tander, wife of V8 Supercar star Garth, Formula 3 racer Lauren Gray, Formula Ford driver Samantha Reid and New Zealander Christina Orr.

Dyk drive may be short term
Sydney's Ian Dyk will be Australia's driver in the third last round of the A1 Grand Prix series in Mexico City this weekend, but he's not guaranteed to see out the season in the team headed by 1980 F1 world champion Alan Jones.

There is talk that reigning Australian Formula Ford champion John Martin, who is in Britain preparing for a season of Formula 3 with expatriate Aussie Alan Docking, may get the A1 drive for the final round at Brands Hatch in England in late April.

Docking also prepares the Australian A1 entry.

West Australian Karl Reindler, who was much-maligned but scored a podium at the Beijing street race round early in the season, may now bob up in the new International Formula Master series which kicks off in May as a support act to the World Touring Car Championship.

The IFM openwheeler cars are built by Tatuus and powered by 2-litre Honda engines with 250 horsepower.

Young Hunt in Formula Ford
Freddie Hunt, the 19-year-old son of late 1976 F1 world champion James Hunt, is to race in this year's British Formula Ford Championship.

The young Hunt tested the latest Van Diemen chassis at the Snetterton circuit last week.

Formula Ford celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

It was "born" in Britain in 1967 and the next year there were three separate championships in the UK and within two years there were seven.

Formula Ford reached mainland Europe and the US in 1969, quickly came to Australia too, and by 1971 had spread as far as Brazil.

Lots of grand prix drivers came through Formula Ford and the most recent GP winner out of the category is Jenson Button, who won the 1998 British Formula Ford Championship and last year's Hungarian GP.

Green light for Targa night stage
Targa Tasmania is proudly claiming it will be the first tarmac rally in Australia to hold a night stage.

The Glenorchy City Council in suburban Hobart and the Derwent Entertainment Centre have approved a 1.14km stage near the DEC on April 19 starting at 6.30pm.

The news comes three weeks after the Hobart City Council rejected the idea of a night stage on the Queens Domain.

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Published : Wednesday, 21 March 2007
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