FEATURE: PAUL DUMBRELL – ALL BUSINESS
Paul Dumbrell was once the Alex Rullo of V8 Supercars – the sport’s youngest driver. Now the veteran has won Bathurst and two titles – and sees his role in the sport as a much different one
By PHIL BRANAGAN
ONE OF my clear memories of Paul Dumbrell was of him flying back from the V8 Supercars round.
He had had an up-and-down weekend with Ford Performance Racing, a good result in one race and not-so-good in another. We were in the same row on a flight back to Melbourne (separated by the aisle) and, as soon as the seatbelt light went off, we both got out our laptops.
There was something that happened in the race I needed to check something so we chatted for a bit before we got back to work.
When the descent started, we put out computers away.
“What were you working on?” he asked me.
“Race report,” I answered. “You?”
“Wholesale figures. We are not selling as many GPS Units as I would like.”
At 9pm on Sunday night, after a long weekend, Dumbrell was back to his ‘day job’, as CEO of Automotive Brands’ large retail chain.
And it still does. Yes, he has won the Bathurst 1000, and two Development Series titles. But motor racing is far from the only thing in Paul Dumbrell’s life, which now includes wife Rosie and their baby son Lenny.
Here’s the thing about Dumbrell. He seems to have a clear, and conservative, view of his abilities as a racing driver.
“I think that when I look at my 10 years or so driving in the Main Game series, there were a lot of years there where I was going to struggle, no matter what car or team I was in,” he says frankly.
“I was not in the right mindset, or I was not fit enough or I did not have the right approach. In the last two or three years with FPR, I was fit enough and I had the right levels of dedication, and the car was at the right level as well. I had some good results; there was no doubt about that.
“But at the end of the day I was, at best, probably a 10th-to-15th place driver – that was on a consistent basis. My championship positions probably reflect that.
“I look back at that time and I see that there was a lot going on. The business side of things needed my focus and it was not like I have been at that level for five minutes. It had been nearly 10 years.
“It was time. The rules had just changed, so far as co-drivers were concerned. I nearly pulled the pin at the end of 2010 to take a co-driving gig for 2011, but I decided to go one more year. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have done that [gone on].”
That was an interesting time. He was on top of his game; he brought good form, after a fourth and a second at Symmons Plains, to Sandown. After a red-flag gave him a fortunate restart (after he had run off the track on Lap 1) he won, beating Jamie Whincup in a straight fight.
And yet, his next thought was to stop driving.
“I probably should have gone then [after Sandown],” he explains.
“I had spoken with Roland around that time – actually, it was at the Gold Coast – about the change of [co-driver] rule. They could not pair up Craig and Jamie. I had a contract with Rod Nash and the team at that time but Rod and I had a fairly open relationship. So I went again, in 2011 I had an up and down season, I had a pole in Tasmania and some good results.”
But was he better than he thought he was? Beating Whincup, in nearly equal cars, is no mean feat.
“I would love to have taken that view,” he says.
“I finished eighth or ninth in the championship one year and there are moments in which I have cost myself five championship positions in one race meeting. I have plenty of those. I try to be honest with everyone that I deal with, and honestly, that is where I think I was.
“If I finished sixth or eighth, in the same equipment that my teammates had and they finished second or third – and Frosty [Mark Winterbottom] and Will [Davison] managed to do that – that is relative to your teammates. In similar equipment, that is where I judge myself.”
So Dumbrell stepped down – but he does not see it like that.
“I am probably the most experienced Dunlop Super2 driver. The flipside of that is, my 10-year average is 10th to 20th in the Main series. It’s not like I was battling for championships; I could be in the fight for a top 10, even top five. So the perception that I am the most experienced driver in the Super2 series, most of that would have been since I have been driving with Jamie in the endurance races.
“Roland [Dane] and I have a deal, and it’s my decision that unless I can race in something relevant, and that means Super2, I will not drive in the enduros with Jamie – or anyone, for that matter. If there were an alternative that would let me race something else, then I would look at that. Currently there is nothing like that.”
So for the last five seasons Dumbrell has been a member of Triple Eight – and for a part of that time, a stakeholder in the team. As a part of that business deal he has been very careful that his stake in the team would in no way impact on his performance as a driver.
“Roland and I spoke about it before I invested in the team,” he says.
“At that point, if I thought that I was worried about having to put a new bumper on the car, I would never have done it. It’s a minority investment.
“I love Roland’s business model and I have admired what he has done, not just in Australia but over his business career. I want, even in my small part, to help contribute to the legacy of Triple Eight living on.
“It’s a high performing team. A lot of businesses can be successful but they might not be a high performing team. If you look at a lot of sports teams, like Hawthorn in the AFL, they are a high performing team with an honest culture. That is what Triple Eight is. Even being in the team for three or four years, I have learned a lot. I still thought that I could add value and learn from Roland and the team.”
So what effect does that role have on his relationship with Whincup?
“None. We work the same way as we always have. Jamie and Will and I have been friends for almost 20 years. We are honest with each other and I think that is why we have been successful in the endurance races. I am not take his seat, or to prove anything to anyone. I am there to help him win a championship.
“If we look at what makes an endurance campaign successful, if that means that we finish fourth in all of the races that we do together, and that means that Jamie wins the championship, I would take that over winning Bathurst. I know that sounds odd – and I would love to win Bathurst again – but a co-driver can lose a championship for the Main guy. They can’t win if for them.
“We are there for, what, four races out of 30-something races. We can’t win the championship but what we can do is lose points and put people behind the eight ball.”
There is an elephant in the room. Whincup and Dumbrell won Bathurst together in 2012 but there have been wins at The Mountain that have gone begging – like last year, when Whincup crossed the line first but was penalised for a driving infringement.
How do those ‘lost wins’ impact on the PD-JDub friendship?
“It’s fine,” Dumbrell says.
“We drove home together after the race, on Sunday night, sometimes Monday morning. Whatever happens, we can talk through it and – and this might sound like it is easy to be sitting here now, saying this – generally, I would not have made any different decisions to the ones he made. You have to remember, these are plenty of split-second decisions made in races up to seven hours. In hindsight, a decision made in one second, in a couple of cases, could be wrong.
“No one talks about 2012, when Roland came to me when we were battling with David Reynolds, and he told me that we would have to pit. We couldn’t run out of fuel before Mountain Straight on the very last lap, and we needed to stop for fuel. That would have thrown Jamie’s championship away.
“But no one talks about how well he drove to save the fuel we needed to finish that race – which we won. People usually only talk about the negative side of things.
“Would I love to have won one, two or more of those Bathursts? Absolutely! But if things had been different in 2012, we might not have even won one.
“Bathurst is an emotional race. Jamie and I set out six years ago now, with a plan to, if not win, then with a plan to do enough in all of the endurance races that we were in, to get the points needed for the championship. And if that meant that we finished fourth, then we finished fourth.
“We have probably been in the frame to win all the races we have been in together over the last five years bar, maybe, three or four. That’s 15 or 16 races. Apart from those three or four races, all you can do is to put yourself into a position to win. It’s the old cliché; all you can do is to buy yourself a ticket to the last 30 laps. We have done that successfully more often than not. I am proud of that.
“I would like to have a few more trophies but this sport is not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.”
It would be easy to say that the flipside of that would be Dumbrell’s error at Sandown last year, slipping off a shoulder harness before he brought the car tgo a halt in the pitlane and in doing so, getting a drive-through penalty that cost the duo a near-certain win.
But to Dumbrell, it is no different to what Whincup has done at Bathurst. They rise and fall as a team.
“After Sandown I will be honest; I was distraught,” Dumbrell says.
“I cost Jamie 100-plus points and most of the buffer he brought into the race. He works so hard in those 20-odd races to get a 140-point lead and most of that withered away by, fundamentally, one error.
“If you asked me about that Sandown drive five seconds before I got out of the car, that would have been one of my finest drives. In the changeable there was the opportunity to throw it off the road; everyone did some of that, I did as well! But we put it back behind the eight ball and we ended up in the lead.
“What that proved to me is that the job is not completely done until you are changed and in your road car. But I have to live with that. I could only apologise to the team, because I let the team down. That is a tough thing; when someone lets the team down and puts his hand up, that is something you need to live with.
“If you can’t deal with those emotions, you shouldn’t be in the sport. The one thing that motorsport can guarantee is that you will have the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.”
His view of their partnership and friendship is particularly clear.
“Going back to that, this is Jamie’s career – this is his life. He does other things but he is a six-time champion, and that is something I have to be mindful about.
“It was not as black and white about, ‘OK, let’s go again’. There was a lot of discussion with Jamie and Roland, and Dutto, with my wife Rosie and with other people, about should I go on? Was that mistake an undercurrent of a lack of focus, or bad preparation or anything like that? I don’t think it was a preparation issue. I think it was, unfortunately, clicking off one second early, before the job was done.
“I think that I can still do it. I think that I can add value and that is why Roland and I have only ever done one-year deals. Even if he wanted a three-year deal and we both signed it, and if I decided at the end of the first year that I could not do a good enough job, I would have walked away. I do this to help Jamie and the team do the best job they can in the championship. If I can’t do that – or even if I am doing a good job and there is someone else there who can do a better job than me – I will put my hand up and walk away.
“I would still cheer as loud as I ever have if Jamie or Shane, or any other Triple Eight driver, won.”
One thing is clear; regardless of his stake in the team, Triple Eight will be Dumbrell’s final destination.
“I have no desire to drive anywhere else,” he smiles.
“If Penske, for instance, came up to me and asked me to drive for them… what do I have to prove? The only person I have to prove anything to is myself. I have formed a lot of relationships where I am, regardless of whether I hold a shareholding in the team or not. That certainly complicates things, but if you take that out of it…
“I think it has been three years in a row now that teams, and frontline teams at that, have called me up and asked if I would consider driving for them – even drive full-time. It is a five-minute conversation about small talk and a five-second conversation about business. Most of the people say that they generally do not have people say no before they get into the detail of what they want to talk about.
“I have zero interest. I think that is one of the main reasons that Jamie and I have a strong partnership, because I am not there to prove anything to anyone else. If the team asked me to drive a second a lap slower – to save fuel, or whatever reason, even if it is not about trying to win that race, but to do what we need to do in that race – and even if that makes me look silly on the track, I have no qualms about that. My job is not to win the race, the goal is to get to the point where I have done my minimum laps and do a job.
“If you look at it like that, you can look at the races I have done for Triple Eight and there are instances where you can challenge my thinking. Maybe I have tried to do too much, and that is the balance you need to have, to come through in the heat of battle. For Jamie and Dutto [Mark Dutton] and now [David] Cauchi, they know how to get the message across to me about what I need to do and not to do in the car.”
Back to the story we started with. The plane comes to a halt and we open our overhead locked to retrieve our computer bags.
“Smartphones have GPS now,” explained Dumbrell.
“I think that is going to keep the numbers low. But if you want one, I reckon we might have some on sale in a few weeks’ time…”
BACK TO THE START
DUMBRELL HAS two Development Supercars titles to his name, the first in 2002 and the most recent in 2014.
Some might see that his participation in this year’s championship is a retrograde step – but he doesn’t.
“I think this year is the best in my time back in the Dunlop Series,” he says.
“It was very strong in 2012 and ’13, but now there are more people who can win races and challenge for the championship. There have been a couple of tough years, and to have Nathan [Morcom] and Will [Brown] this year, winning a championship would be a great tick. To see those guys progress and to make inroads, that would be nearly as good as winning a championship.”
That is a refreshing attitude. Clearly Dumbrell sees his role as being a mentor to the younger drivers in the series, not just to his own teammates but to other drivers coming through the system.
“What is the Dunlop Series about?” he says.
“It is about getting drivers prepared, and equipping them with the tools they need to get to the Main series, in a better state than if they didn’t do the Dunlop Series. So the tyres, we had three sets of tyres at Symmons Plains, for four races. You don’t see a Supercars team using 30 or 40-lap old tyres. Maybe once, but very rarely that will be the case. You have Super Soft tyres and there is a limited number of those.
“In the better teams, who have more information, or a link with a Main series team, and they can tap into that. That puts them at an advantage over everyone else – and that is not what the Dunlop series is about. Decisions like the ban on twin springs, and so on, proved that it was not all about technical advantages.
“They have done 90 percent of the work but there is more to do. At Symmons Plains, one 40-minute [Practice] session, that was probably OK. But at Phillip Island, that is not so much. That would be three runs of three laps, with four or five minutes of changes in between. That is not fair for young guys who have not been there very much, in my opinion.
“I think is it a matter of unintended consequences. Let’s do four races – that’s great. I think that the Friday race is really good. Two on Saturday, and Sunday is great. But you want quality racing.
“You do not want someone going into the race at Phillip Island who has done 13 laps – and you can’t go testing there. If testing was more relaxed, at Phillip Island and other tracks, fine. But you can’t. What we are fundamentally saying is that young drivers – like Will Brown, who has never raced there in a Supercar – goes into the race with less than 15 laps under his belt. He could do 20 laps if he pounds and pounds around but you can’t pound and pound around, because you have three sets of tyres.
“In the end you will be sitting in the pits because you have one set of Practice tyres. They can get 90 percent of it right, but it’s the last 10 percent. I hope that is something that they consider and review for next year.
“The competition is the best it has been in the five years I have been in the series. There are four, five, maybe six drivers who can win, to me, some excellent young talent coming through, who I can see on the grid in the Main Series in the next few years.”
Date posted: July 2, 2017