Stanaway looking at all the options, as he turns his back on open wheelers
The "trio at the top" label was famous in New Zealand throughout the 70s, coined as the title for our three-pronged attack on Formula 1 consisting of Chris Amon, Denny Hulme, and the late Bruce McLaren.
Now the term has been dusted off by local pundits and applied to the trio of Richie Stanaway and Mitch Evans, with the third character often portrayed by either Brendon Hartley, Nick Cassidy, or reigning 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Earl Bamber.
But, at least for Stanaway, the dream of Formula 1 has passed — his career now more likely to divert towards a future in either sports cars or touring cars.
"Formula 1's a bit of a joke at the moment. There's not enough manufacturer funding, and it's very far removed from being a sport in my opinion," Stanaway told Driven. "So, at the forefront of my vision of the future it's either continuing in the World Endurance Championship for a manufacturer, Aston Martin, or maybe something could arise in DTM or LMP1 or V8 Supercars in the long term."
Last year saw Stanaway balance a factory drive for Aston Martin in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) with a season in the GP2 Series in the Canadian-based Status Grand Prix squad. As the top open-wheel series supporting the Formula 1 calendar, the GP2 Series is seen as one of the leading classes for finding and developing talent for Formula 1.
Having come through the second-tier GP3 Series with Status Grand Prix, Stanaway had a mixed GP2 season with the team in 2015 -- his two race wins balanced out by a lack of speed at several meetings. He elected to pull the pin on competing in the series for 2016.
Stanaway raced to third place at Spa earlier this year, for his WEC Aston Martin squad. Photo / Nick Dungan, Drew Gibson Photography
"Before I even raced in GP2, I was adamant that I never wanted to do it unless I was in one of those two top teams [in the series]. But then when the opportunity did present itself I couldn't turn it down -- [though] I always knew the team I had been with in GP3 and GP2 were never going to be able to provide a championship- winning car. But I was still grateful that they gave me a go.
"I was never in a position to bring budget to a team in GP2, and unfortunately in that situation you end up in sub-par equipment. There was no point in me continuing unless I could get into one of the championship-winning or potentially championship-winning teams. [GP2] wasn't an option, so there was no point in doing it again, to be honest."
In GP2's place for 2016 is a recently announced drive for Kiwi Virgin Australia Supercars Championship team Super Black Racing, with Chris Pither, at this year's Pirtek Enduro Cup.
And Stanaway is treating it as far more than just a holiday detour from his European calendar -- confirming to Driven that he would like to pursue a regular drive in the series.
"I think it's kind of like an audition process. It's a chance for me to showcase whether or not I can cut it, basically," he said.
The Ice Break Coffee entry Stanaway will share with Chris Pither at this year's Pirtek Enduro Cup. Photo / Super Black Racing
Stanaway's link to the V8 series started at an early age, with one particular driver's success throughout the early years of this century helping fuel the 24-year-old's desire to chase a professional career in motorsport -- as well as develop a fixation for Bathurst.
"Greg Murphy was the guy who inspired me originally, just from watching the V8s as a kid. It's definitely a dream-come-true to be racing in the V8s, and to be doing the Bathurst 1000 later in the year. In terms of how I would rank the races, I would put Bathurst at the top over any other race in the world.
"I'm used to doing very long races, for six, 12, or 24 hours, so I think my experience in the WEC will help a lot going into Bathurst. The only thing for me is the car and track knowledge -- that will probably be my weakness. But I'm much better prepared than I would be, say, if I came straight from GP2 having never done an endurance race before."
At his first test with the team at the weekend's Woodstock Winton SuperSprint, Stanaway impressed, finishing 13th in the order in what was only his third test in one of the big Australian brutes.
"Yeah, I really enjoyed it. [It was my] first time driving a V8 Supercar competitively, just trying to get up to speed and getting my head around the car," said Stanaway following his 30-minute test in the Ice Break Falcon.
"The car is a lot different to anything I'm used to ... this feels a lot heavier and a lot softer. Hopefully I can get up to a respectable level before it counts later in the year. I didn't want to try and be a hero and fire it off or anything, but I really enjoyed it. I'll get a lot more laps next week on Tuesday.
"I think there's no reason why we can't get a good result. We're a pretty good pairing."