Matthew Hansen reflects on Scott McLaughlin's Supercars Championship big-money team switch
Has the V8 fan matured?
When Craig Lowndes switched from his coveted spot at the Holden Racing Team in late 2000 to a lead driver role at Ford outfit Gibson Motorsport, the V8 Supercars Championship fan base turned on its head.
It was one of the most shocking moves in the history of the sport; Lowndes moving from the team that had recruited him as a pimply 20-year-old in 1994, and stepping out from the shadow of former team-mate, protege and Holden hero Peter Brock.
The late Brock was, and still is, held up as a glowing example of sporting loyalty, having stuck with Holden race cars over the full distance of his four-decade stint in the sport (save for his fleeting domestic affairs with Ford Sierras and BMW M3s to name a few).
Lowndes' move was particularly shocking because of how the sport's populace had considered him Brock's modern equivalent -- a charming, talented, humble racer who was scripted to stay with the HRT until the bitter end. There was a subsequent revolt, fuelled by a perception of being cheated on by someone who, up to that point, could do no wrong.
Steve Richards, Jason Bright, and Shane van Gisbergen are among those to have made a similar switch in the years since, with varying degrees of bite back from fans. Even Lowndes eventually swapped back to Holden in 2010 when his Triple Eight Engineering squad struck a deal with the manufacturer.
Scott McLaughlin is the latest member of the club, having confirmed his switch from Garry Rogers Motorsport to DJR Team Penske on Tuesday this week.
With reports that the Kiwi will be receiving about $1 million a year, some have wound back the clock to Lowndes' break-up with HRT and have applied similar labels to McLaughlin — a driver they could've previously worshipped.
But the number of those responding to the switch in this adverse manner has shrunk. Perhaps some of that is down to McLaughlin's popular personality, or perhaps the idea that the carrot of driving for a team that's won the Supercars championship, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500 — to name but a fraction of their wealth of accolades — is worth pursuing.
But I'd like to think most of that comes down to the fact fans are finally getting that motorsport doesn't have to be all about loyalty and traditional values.
It's as much a business as a sport, and a driver like McLaughlin has every right to seek out a seat that gives him a better opportunity to succeed and more chance to open doors internationally.