Pither in, Heimgartner out at Philip Island, as V8 Supercar's musical chairs unfold
Kiwi V8 Supercar squad Super Black Racing (SBR) have announced that they will be shuffling their driver line-up for the penultimate round of the series at Philip Island this weekend — temporarily replacing regular driver André Heimgartner for current Dunlop Development Series driver Chris Pither.
“I’d like to thank Tony and the team at Super Black Racing for giving me the opportunity to race at Phillip Island,” Pither told v8supercars.com.au.
“It is a genuine opportunity for me to show what I can do and to learn about the team as we look at the potential to work together in 2016."
While Heimgartner has been able to produce several impressive results in his debut season of V8 Supercar competition, the team are understood to be looking for a driver that can bring a larger budget to the team.
Heimgartner pictured on the grid at this year's Bathurst 1000. Photo / Velocity NZ
Over the course of the 2015 season, the Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) – prepared Super Black Racing Ford Falcon FG-X has only sported a naming-rights sponsor for two rounds — via the Only Domains brand at Barbagallo Raceway and Winton Raceway respectively. They also had tool company Makita come aboard for the recent ITM 500 event at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
Pither is one of several racers to emerge as a potential driver for SBR in 2016, as the team seek financial viability — his established connection to the Ice Break Coffee brand, who have backed him for several years in the V8 Ute and Development Series categories, making him an attractive proposition. Endurance co-driver Ant Pedersen is rumoured to also be an option.
In a statement released this morning, team owner Tony Lentino said that the driver swap would be used to "evaluate" Pither as a potential replacement for 2016.
“[Pither] has experience, is passionate, and understands the V8 Supercars landscape well. Plus he is a Kiwi too which is obviously an important factor when selecting a driver for New Zealand’s only V8 Supercars team," Lentino explained in the statement.
“André Heimgartner will sit out this weekend, and, while we understand that this has been a difficult situation for him, he has accepted it and both parties agree this change is in the team’s best interest.
“It’s hard being a rookie in this game, and being with a rookie team has added to [André's] challenge this year. This isn’t necessarily the end of our partnership, but we’ll get through Phillip Island and evaluate things from there.”
Pither has been impressive in this year's Dunlop Development Series. His drive at Bathurst from last to the podium during their main race is one of his 2015 highlights. Photo / Velocity NZ
As well as being a Development Series race winner and an V8 ute champion on both sides of the Tasman, Pither has established himself as a sought-after V8 Supercar co-driver. His career includes stints with Brad Jones Racing, Team Kiwi Racing, and most recently in a Volvo S60 with Garry Rogers Motorsport.
“To get a drive in the V8 Supercars Championship is special and as a Kiwi, to do so with New Zealand’s only team makes it even better," Pither exclaimed.
With just two rounds remaining in the 2015 championship, fellow PRA drivers Mark Winterbottom and David Reynolds lead the series, with Red Bull Racing Australia's Craig Lowndes in third.
Shane van Gisbergen is the top Kiwi, poised in fifth position. Fellow Kiwis Fabian Coulthard, Scott McLaughlin, and Heimgartner hold down 6th, 10th, and 23rd respectively in the standings.