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INTERVIEW: ROLAND DANE – EIGHT, THE HARD WAY

Roland Dane hunting for eighth title for his team - Photo: LAT

Roland Dane hunting for eighth title for his team – Photo: LAT

Red Bull HRT is facing a huge challenge from DJR Team Penske in the first for this year’s Supercars titles. After six Jamie Whincup titles and one for Shane van Gisbergen last year the fight for number eight is turning into a monumental battle.

PAUL GOVER sat down with team boss Roland Dane to discuss the present fight and what is on the team’s horizon

Roland Dane's Red Bull Holden Racing Team - Photo: Dirk Klynsmith

Roland Dane’s Red Bull Holden Racing Team – Photo: Dirk Klynsmith

LIFE HAS changed this year for the chess master of Supercars racing.

Roland Dane has dominated the game for close to a decade, moving his pawns and knights – and the occasional queen – around the board to scoop up six titles with Jamie Whincup and another with Shane van Gisbergen, as well as dominating at Bathurst with Craig Lowndes and the crew.

But now Dane, who also wins at everything from yachting and manufacturing to cars and art, is being forced to play someone else’s game.

That someone is Roger Penske, whose giant reach in global motorsport means Dr Ryan Story, wizardly Ludo Lacroix and speedsters Scott McLaughlan and Fabian Coulthard, are now lined up across the chess board from Triple Eight.

Not just that but, together with Chaz Mostert from PRA, they have gone on the offensive against the Triple Eight juggernaut. And they are winning and turning this year’s series into much more than a steamroller ride for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.

“Great competition is great for Supercars regardless of where it comes from,” Dane told Auto action as he looked at the results through to the Winton leg of this year’s Supercars championship.

“There is no doubt that DJR Team Penske have stepped up and come to the party at the front. I expected more competition from them in 2016, but I always knew it was coming.

“Prodrive, and particularly Chas Mostert, has also shown that it remains a force to be reckoned with and we ignore them at our peril.”

If this year’s early skirmishes continue them it could become a new golden era for Touring Car racing, with the magic ingredients – Ford against Holden, The Giz and J-Dub against Scotty Mac and Fabs, Roland against Roger – to equal the days of Brock-versus-Johnson.

“Only a maniac would try and second-guess where it is going. So it’s at least a three headed team rivalry, and maybe more as time goes by,” says Dane.

While he is enjoying the competition, up to a point, Dane says Winton shows how Triple Eight can turn things around and keep the pressure on Penske and the rest of its rivals.

It’s typical for a man who is so committed to Supercars that he even became a bona-fide Aussie in 2016, taking on citizenship, as well as moving to a new house in Brisbane.

“Winning has always been part of the core DNA of this business and I hope that it always will be,” Dane says.

“I have led the way over the last 14 years in having a united group of teams in the paddock wherever possible whilst fighting as hard as we can on track. We live or die together as a category.”

Roland Dane on the Penske challenge - Photo: LAT

Roland Dane on the Penske challenge – Photo: LAT

So, what’s the difference between Triple Eight and Penske?

“The difference is that Roger is older, wiser, richer and more successful than I am. We both speak a version of English, we both sell cars and we both have a deep knowledge of racing – but RP does it all with more noughts, a lot more.”

“For me, to be able to compete against the Penske organisation is fun and it helps to push us to raise the bar on all fronts, on and off track. But any win against great opposition is extremely satisfying and we’ve had great satisfaction here over the years from a range of particular battles against a number of great teams and drivers.

“When we won the first two races of the year it was no less or more satisfying than numerous others wins in Adelaide – there have been some superb battles.

“At Winton, we maximised our performance, on and off the track, on Sunday. And there have been several occasions recently where we haven’t done that. We showed we don’t give up.”

Triple Eight is heading into a test day in June and Dane has plenty planned, although it’s more evolution than revolution.

“As you know, the championship limits you heavily to what you can do. So the days when used to be able to turn up, seven or eight years ago, with 100 things different from the previous race weekend are long gone. But absolutely we’re trying to refine the areas we can work on. And we’ll continue to do that throughout the rest of this year.”

This work effort has fuelled the chess master throughout his career and there are some people who regard him as the most powerful man in Supercars, thanks to the success of his team and his behind-the-scenes work across the category.

“That’s your tagline. No, I don’t think I am that person. Clearly I would say that the teams collectively have a pretty good say in what goes on. So in so much as Brad Jones and I represent them at the board, we have a certain amount of clout.

“But I don’t think there is any one individual at the moment who warrants that title. Maybe that wasn’t the case in the past, but at the moment it’s the truth of the matter. Much as it doesn’t suit you in terms of headlines.”

Even so, Dane has a clear view of Supercars and how it’s going.

“So, Supercars the business has done a pretty good job of rebuilding over the last three years after we got hammered with a very poor media rights deal. The recovery from that has gone pretty well and certainly, if we deliver what we expect to at Newcastle, we will have turned around a poor financial situation at Homebush around. As well as going to our heartland supporter base. That’s a big positive.

“As a sport, in terms of what we deliver on track and action-wise, personally I think we’re as good as we’ve ever been. Some of the action has been fantastic this year.

“People need to understand that every race is not going to be blockbuster, just as not every footie game is a blockbuster. But we have some very good racing at a very high standard without knocking people into the boonies all the time. It’s a credit to everyone. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the forest you cannot see wood from trees, but we still have the best circuit-based touring car racing in the world.”

Turning back to the chessboard, how does Dane see the game playing out through the rest of 2017?

“If you can see into the future then please give me a heads-up. There’s some stuff I’d like to get done before popping my clogs,” he says with a laugh.

A DOZEN FOR CL?

Roland Dane thinks Craig Lowndes could end up with dozen Bathurst wins - Photo: LAT

Roland Dane thinks Craig Lowndes could end up with dozen Bathurst wins – Photo: LAT

CRAIG LOWNDES could easily end his career with a dozen wins in the Bathurst 1000 if Dane is right.

He says Lowndes is already on track to match or better Peter Brock’s record of nine victories at Mount Panorama during his final seasons as a full-time Supercars driver, without considering the years when he is expected to continue as a long-distance co-driver.

“Yes. For sure he can break the record, if he’s in the right car with the right driver combination,” Dane says.

“Absolutely, he could double his Bathurst wins. He’s got six at the moment and he could double that if he was in the right position over the next few years.

“But there is more to it and than that. You’ve got to have some luck at Bathurst.”
Dane says that deciding to re-sign Lowndes for another two years, which will bring him to 15 seasons with Triple Eight, was not hard.

“Firstly, Craig has been immensely loyal to 888 over nearly 15 years, and a massive part of this business. So I want to keep him as a part of this business. Secondly, he’s been a really good team player over the years as well.

“And he can also, frankly, help this business I suspect by being in a competitive position at Bathurst for us for many years to come. And Bathurst is very important to me.

“As he reaches the latter part of his career I’d like to feel we can help him to maintain his racing competitiveness as long as possible.”

LOSING LUDO

Roland Dane on Ludo Lacroix's departure - Photo: LAT

Roland Dane on Ludo Lacroix’s departure – Photo: LAT

LOSING TECHNICAL chief Ludo Lacroix was not the body blow that some people believe, according to Dane.

“Ludo had run his course at Triple Eight last year. We both acknowledged that, in early September last year, and I have no problem with that. It was time for other people to be allowed to develop. There was a bit of a glass ceiling there.

“But I was never going to get rid of Ludo myself, it was always going to be his call.

“Literally, the only problem I had with it was the way he did it. He wasn’t truthful with me, and with Mark Dutton, and having known us as long as he has that was an average performance.

“But, honestly, that is history and I’m too old for that to take up any mental capacity now. We made sure we were on talking terms after Adelaide, on the aeroplane back to Brisbane.

“Ludo understands the things that make a difference and the things that are less important. He absolutely has energised that outfit. Of that I have no doubt whatsoever. He’s driven them, and with respect to everyone else, there are only two people in the pit lane who are as committed as that. And that is he and I. I mean that from a leadership point of view.

“So it doesn’t surprise me at all that he has energised the place. But when you set a place on fire you need to be very careful not to use up all the oxygen in the place. When Ludo first worked with 888 in the UK we has some issues around that but we were able to deal with them effectively and carried on for many years.

“I don’t think anyone is the silver bullet. There is a lot of expertise in that team, but he has driven them to understand they have the potential to realise it. And I think there is more potential in more than just 888 and Penske, it just isn’t often realised.

“When I look up and down the pit lane the other team that is realising their potential is GRM, around Garth Tander. Those people are realising their potential.

“It’s just a question of having the methodology and drive for that to surface.”

A NEW CHALLENGE

Holden's new 3.0L Twin Turbo engine - Photo: Supplied

Holden’s new 3.0L Twin Turbo engine – Photo: Supplied

THE HOLDEN Racing team switches to its V6-powered Next Generation Commodore in 2018 but Dane is not yet ready to talk about it.

He steers clear of anything but the vaguest hints about the program, although admitting the car – already underway in the Triple Eight race base at Banyo in Brisbane – is under construction.

It will definitely not run at the team’s scheduled test at Queensland Raceway in June, which is reserved for finding more speed in the race for the 2017 championship.

“The V6 engine has already run, but when we run it ourselves it will be behind closed doors and without any fanfare. It absolutely hasn’t happened yet and we won’t be making a big song and dance until we’re ready to. As we haven’t up to now.”

FOR SALE?

Roland Dane on the possible sale of Supercars - Photo: Dirk Klynsmith

Roland Dane on the possible sale of Supercars – Photo: Dirk Klynsmith

THE SALE of Supercars is a foregone conclusion, says Dane.

“The sale of Supercars is actually the sale of Archer Capital’s 65 per cent shareholding. At some point I’m sure it will be sold. Whether now or in a year or two remains to be seen, but they have publicly said they would like to sell it.”

“Everyone has known from day one they would, sooner later, sell their share. And they are currently conducting a process to see if there is anyone interested in buying.”

How does he feel about a sale and a potential change of ownership?

“Supercars is definitely a business worth buying. But it comes down to who you are and how much you are paying, whether it makes sense to you.”

Would it make sense to Dane, as a potential owner or investor?

“I’m probably not going to tell you that,” he smiles.

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