CO-DRIVERS ADD TO ENDURO SERIES’ INTRIGUE, WRITES COLIN SMITH
One of the most anticipated aspects of the build-up to the three races comprising the Pirtek Enduro Cup segment of the V8 Supercars Championship is the announcement of the co-driver assignments.
The weekend’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 grid continues three familiar themes for sourcing co-driver talent — a mix of former V8 Supercar “main game” players, rising stars from the V8 Development Series and a sprinkling of internationals.
The ranks of experienced drivers with a solid history of top-level V8 Supercar form have thinned this year.
Greg Murphy, Paul Morris and Steven Johnson are missing.
Another familiar name without a 2015 enduro drive is Kiwi Craig Baird.
But Steven Richards, Paul Dumbrell, Warren Luff, Luke Youlden, Dean Canto and Steve Owen have retained key co-driving roles.
And the Holden Racing Team has reached out for experience by calling up two-time race winner Russell Ingall as replacement for the injured James Courtney.
There’s only one partnership change among the top 10 finishers from Bathurst 2014 — Cameron Waters joins defending champion Chaz Mostert.
The co-driver can play a crucial role in the race outcome with rules stating drivers can’t exceed two-thirds of the scheduled distance. It means the co-drivers are in the cars for a minimum of 54 laps on Sunday.
This year six of the top-10 drivers in the V8 Development Series are set to take part in the Great Race. Series leader Waters gets the prime assignment with Prodrive Racing Australia as co-driver for Mostert in the Pepsi Max Falcon FG/X.
Paul Dumbrell — currently second — again teams with Jamie Whincup at Red Bull Racing Australia while third-placed Jack Le Brocq gets a chance with the Erebus Motorsport team alongside Ashley Walsh.
Kiwi Chris Pither, fourth in the second-tier series, landed a Volvo opportunity alongside David Wall.
Young Kiwi racer Ant Pedersen (seventh in the Development standings) again teams with Andre Heimgartner in the Super Black Racing Falcon.
The international roster comprises two British drivers (Nissan GT factory driver Alex Buncombe and five-time Le Mans GT winner Oliver Gavin), two Frenchmen and a highly rated Swiss woman.
Frenchman Alexandre Premat’s varied career includes a Macau Formula 3 GP victory, Team France A1 GP duties and Le Mans 24 Hours outings as a factory Audi driver.
Premat also drove for Garry Rogers Motorsport in the 2012 and 2013 V8 Supercar Series and returns for the endurance races to share the Volvo S60 with young Kiwi star Scott McLaughlin.
Another driver with Le Mans, F1 and IndyCar experience is US-based Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais. He makes his Bathurst debut with Walkinshaw Racing, partnering Lee Holdsworth. Bourdais won two IndyCar races this year and also won the Sebring 12 Hours endurance race.
Swiss racer Simona de Silvestro, 27, is a high-profile star alongside young Australian racer Renee Gracie.
A seat in the Prodrive Racing Australia Ford Falcon FG/X is a new career move after making her name in Formula Atlantic and IndyCar Racing.
She has a second placing in IndyCars and started five times in the Indianapolis 500.