FEATURE: SCOTT PYE – THE PYE WAY
In the eyes of some Scott Pye has taken a step back in his career, from DJR Team Penske to HSV Racing. But he certainly does not see it that way…
By PHIL BRANAGAN
It’s a story as familiar as any, to those who have been following motorsport for any length of time.
A team changes its ownership structure and rebuild for the future. As a part of that process it signs the up-and-coming star driver which, through necessity, means that one of the existing men – perhaps one that got the team through some rocky times – is cast aside.
Often that will mean that while the Big Team starts to impress, the second driver’s new home – where wins have not been commonplace in recent times – starts to make an impression.
That will often mean that one of the drivers is happy and one of them is not.
Scott Pye is far from unhappy. It’s hard to wipe the smile off his face.
He shows up for the interview with the body language of someone who is right at home. DJR Team Penske may be going from strength to strength by Pye is happy – thrilled, maybe – to be at the Mobil 1 HSV Racing Team.
His namesake Scott McLaughlin hogged many of the headlines pre-season in his move to DJRTP. That meant no room in the Ford team for Pye.
Pursuing that subject, one might expect Pye to choose his words carefully. If he is, it is not showing.
“I think that coming here with a new team, and something that has made me really comfortable, and to help to get to know the guys, is the fact that they’ve being here for so long,” he says. “
They are here because management believe in them, and it’s the same with myself.
“Adrian [Burgess, team MD] and Ryan [Walkinshaw, owner] have being given me the opportunity with a three-year deal. That gives you the faith that they trust you and they put you in the job for a reason, and it allows you to relax and do your job. All the mechanics have really good relationships, because they’ve worked together for a long time.
“For me, this place is just as organised and the presentation is as good, if not better, than anyone in the pitlane. The guys are happier than any team I’ve worked here before and they have great mateship.
“So I am not entirely sure what ‘The Penske Way’ is. Here it is the ‘Mobil 1 HSV Racing Way’ and certainly I’m impressed by that.”
‘The Penske Way’ is something that is talked about a lot.
“I have a lot of respect for Roger Penske,” Pye continues, “and so I won’t focus too much on what it was like there. I think there’s cloudiness over what ‘The Penske Way’ is. I feel people have their own interpretation of it but I think that some of the things…
“There’s no doubt about what Roger has achieved. I feel like the way things have being done in the last couple of years with the team I was at, it probably is taking longer than should have or could have, given the right people back in start.”
If Penske has been in the headlines and his new team has not, it appears to be of little concern to Pye – but again the hint might be in whom he talks about, and whom he does not.
“Like I said I have a massive amount of respect for Roger. Those guys are going to be huge competitors this year but you got to the point where I feel like I probably got the most out of what I could. The best opportunity presented itself.
“There is no point rehashing what has happened. I am sure happy to he where I am at.
“I wasn’t happy were I was and I’m much happier where I am, so there’s no doubt that I’ve made the right decision,” he says.
“There’s guys here that think want to win more than anyone in the pitlane. I speak to Ryan and Adrian and it’s pretty clear what their intentions are, what they want to get out of this championship in the next few years.
“My goals are in line with theirs. So when the opportunity came up just to do a more multiple deal, I jumped in with no hesitation.
“From a driver’s point of view, it allows me to work on those relationships. There’s no second destination. You’ve got a bond over a long period of time, and that’s how you face the championships.”
And he stops. Clearly there are things within his old team that did not impress him, but he does not want to dwell on them. Quickly, it comes out, that the car was not one of them.
“I was completely comfortable,” he says.
“It was something I had driven for three years and it was a car that was a forgiving car, it tended to understeer a lot, so as a driver, the risk is not as high, I believe. You kind of work with to get a lap time out of it but you never felt like you were going to put in in the fence. I don’t feel it was the fastest car on track .
“You look at last year [in Adelaide] and the results were no really different. I was in the top 10 in every session. I think my worst qualifying was sixth over the weekend of three races, and one of them was a pole.
“The only differences this year is that they’ve got two cars in front, instead just myself – and Fabian, on Sunday last year, was good but before that he was 18th. The car there was good but I think it was one that was easy to get away with.
“I feel like the car is something that is going to take some time to get my head around but once I do I think it will be a fast package.”
When pressed, he opens up…
“Outside the car inaudible it’s a political world – and often, you shouldn’t really say [what you think],” he says.
“I think it depends on the environment and I learnt how to handle certain environments, I think, better. Coming into this environment, into Mobil 1 HSV Racing, I feel like every one is abIe to be themselves a little more. I think that is where you can get the most out of people, allowing them to be themselves, comfort in their job.
“But like I said, commenting on what I learnt at Penske outside the car, it’s not really something I will apply here but it’s a much different environment. It needs to be dealt with in a very different way.
“Inside the car, I had three years of developing a package which, at the start, was not overly-competitive so it was more important to work on our relationships with the engineers and the mechanics and make sure we got a package together which was pretty good.
“I feel that my feedback developed a lot. My first year at DJR, before Penske, was only my second year in the category and my third year ever in a Touring Car. It was a massive learning curve and the car was at a point where it was not really a front-running car. There was a lot of work to be done and I feel I learned a lot. I worked on my feedback and trusted that the engineers could set the car up.
“You learn a lot in this category over a race weekend; when to pick your battles, when not to pick your battles and some weekends, when you don’t have the car, you just maximise it. Watching Jamie Whincup, that is what he does and that is why he has won so many championships in the past.
“It’s being a few years now [in Supercars] and I think it is showing. In Adelaide, it was not a great result but we cam away with what we could get out of the weekend. The car was straight and we come [to Albert Park] with a lot of learning in the back pocket, and trying to get better results.”
Differences between teams are a lot smaller than was once the case but they count for a lot and Pye is adapting, again, to a change of brand, this time from Ford to Holden.
“At the moment solely being based around driving this car and adapting to the differences between the different manufacturers.
“The two cars… As much as every one else probably thinks, a Supercar is a Supercar to drive, but it’s really much different. Even something like comparing different Commodores, whether it is a Triple Eight one or a Mobil HSV one, they are all different. The traits to this car, and the style you need to drive with, it is different I think probably to another Holden down the road, let alone the Ford I’ve being in the last three years.
“So for me it’s just a matter of looking at what Garth has done and what James has being doing over the past few years. I mean, Garth last year found some big improvement for himself, so there’s few things there that I will be looking at and then adding my own style to it and eventually once I’m feeling I’m getting most of the car we can then swing at it and bring it my way a little bit more.”
There is a lot more to come from the car, and the driver is still getting used to it, but there are good signs.
“At Clipsal we improved massively – and we just missed out on the top 10. But at the same time I’m not going to say that puts me at 90 percent already. I think there’s a long way to go.
“It’s the the same with setting goals. I don’t really go on a weekend without the idea what I’m expecting, but making sure that I’m prepared and improving every time we hit the track.
“Over the Clipsal weekend – six sessions, or whatever it was in total – the gap reduced to the guys in front. We had a pitstop drama and that aside, we should have been in the top 10, which is not a bad day.
“It is always the case that the last few percent are the hard ones. But I’ll like to think that 70 or 80 percent now and that last 10 percent puts you on the top 10, top five, our last 10 percent again is the hardest bit to find.”
With a new team comes a new teammate, and so far Pye and James Courtney appear to be working well.
“I think that in public he does a remarkable job,” Pye says. “I think he deals with the fans very well and the sponsors extremely well and that obviously is something I’m sure he’s learnt over a period of time.
“I’ve being fortunate enough to have people like Dick Johnson and Roger, and all those guys, to learn from. And now coming here to join with a driver who is on top of his game, and it’s a different kind of thing.
“At the moment, in terms of having a driver as a benchmark, this is what every body wants. You want to come in and have a driver who is on top of his game. He’s a proven product when you match and beat him, you know what you’re doing, one of the best jobs in the pitlane.
“So having someone like James is finally good to have a team mate who is really recognised as one of best you can have in pitlane, because you can bench match mark yourself against your teammate.
The perception in the pitlane is, you are always ranked against your teammate. So for me, to come into the team and to have someone like that to learn from, that’s great. And I can imagine that the next idea is to bring the next generation underneath me, when I’m in his point of my career.
“I think that James has the exact same goal as me; we both want to win the championship.
For me this year I want to win races – and then the championship comes after that. My engineer Alex Somerset, he is keen and ready to win one, and this team has shown, over the last 12 months especially, with the progress that they have made, that they are contenders.
“It’s crazy to think they aren’t estimated after finishing second in the championship. So outside of the guys down the road [Red Bull HRT] this is the best team and the best place for me. This is my opportunity to win the championship.”
One difference this season has been the change in the team’s branding, with the HRT moniker moving to Red Bull Racing Australia. So far the response from the fans, Pye says, has been positive, if a little frustrating.
“The fact that everyone keeps asking when our merchandising is coming has being a really good sign because we have limited merchandise. The fans have being very forward in asking when is all this is going to be happening!
“I think not many people will switch. I think they know the heart of the team is still here. The brand itself might have moved elsewhere but even some of the people that are running that brand, you didn’t hear from. The heart of what was HRT and is Walkinshaw is still in this team.
“That was one of my first questions. Coming in, I wanted to know, from Ryan, what was the intention? There was no difference to that their impressions and goals were, so there was no hesitation from my point of view.
“Nothing has changed from their point of view. Like I said all the mechanics and engineers are the same people. The fans see that. I think the team needed that fresh face to come in and in James and I are both pretty motivated and I think fans are excited as well.”
With Walkinshaw Racing having an involvement with Porsche’s GT program there is a chance that may feature in Pye’s future but not for now.
“I’d like to do some GT racing in future. Right now, I have such a turbulent career in Supercars, I’m pretty satisfied to be in the position I’m in so I’m not really looking to do something else yet.
“I want to do what I’m doing, but at the same time as a driver, it is pretty appealing to drive some of those cars. I’ve said to Adrian I’d love to do the 12 Hour next year. It’s a big thing and that I want to tick.
“Obviously coming from racing in Europe those car are the things I’d like to drive cars – to have that downforce again! But at the same time, I need to kick some goals here before I do anything else, because that is a distraction and I don’t want to be distracted from being solely focused on what I am doing here.”
A Championship or a Bathurst 1000 win?
“I think a championship shows that you’re being consistently the best over the entire year and Bathurst is a place that can break your heart pretty quickly. Not everyone has the same goal and expectations of trying to win that event, but I think that Bathurst is an event that can hurt you.
“It’s a race, for sure, that every driver wants to win. But to win the championship means that you were the best driver over the entire season. And that is something no on will ever take away from you.”
Date posted: August 12, 2017