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Analysis: The shifting sands at Tickford Racing

TIM Edwards’ impending departure from Tickford Racing marks more than the end of an era for the Blue Oval squad, as the team resets and reloads for 2024.

Edwards’ tenure as boss has spanned 19 of the team’s 21 seasons in the Supercars Championship. It’s carried through changes of ownership and team names, as well as a succession of drivers, car models, sponsors, technical staff and more. He’s been the ultimate Supercars survivor in a team that has faced its share of rocky times, and critics.

NEWS: Tickford Racing confirms Edwards exit

Making the longevity all the more remarkable is the fact Edwards had returned to Australia in 2004 following a 15-year career in Formula 1, intending to get out of motorsport entirely. He took a role with the organising committee for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, only to be convinced by Prodrive boss David Richards to sort out his troubled Supercars outfit.

Then known as Ford Performance Racing and under the ownership of UK powerhouse Prodrive, the team had spent its first two seasons lurching from one disaster to the next, squandering its significant Ford funding and resources, and scaring away foundation driver Craig Lowndes. Even a restructure midway through 2004 failed to turn the ship.

Within two years, though, Edwards had spearheaded the team’s rise from laughing stock to heavyweight contender. FPR became regular winners from mid-2006 onwards and was one of only two teams to win races in 2012. Unfortunately for Edwards, it was Triple Eight that won the biggest prizes and FPR carried a reputation for fumbling the key moments.

The storm clouds of Ford’s impending withdrawal from manufacturing in Australia loomed in late 2012 and triggered Prodrive to sell the team to Rod Nash and Rusty French. Perhaps unexpectedly, big success followed; there were Bathurst wins in 2013 and ’14, and a long-awaited championship in ’15, when the new FG X Falcon proved a dominant force. With champion Mark Winterbottom and young gun Chaz Mostert in its quarters, the team had reached the Supercars summit.

Tim Edwards on the 2014 Bathurst podium with Paul Morris and Chaz Mostert. Pic: an1images.com / Scott Wensley

But then began the descent. Triple Eight got back on top in 2016, after which DJR Team Penske hit its straps and took over as Ford’s top dog. Tickford, meanwhile, started to feel the effects of the end of the Ford money – the kind of big dollars for minimal on-car signage that is impossible to replace. It was geared to be a factory team and a four-car model had to be maintained to keep the wheels turning.

Tickford’s form bottomed out in 2018 before rising again after the Gen2 Mustang arrived the following year. Cam Waters has been its recent spearhead, finishing in the top-five of the championship and scoring a trio of Bathurst podiums in the last three years, but with only a handful of race wins and no championships to show for it. The Gen3 Mustang’s struggles have not helped.

While the team was derided in its early seasons for doing little with a lot, Edwards has faced an increasingly tough role managing a four-car team in which there’s forever a driver to re-sign, a sponsor to chase, a broken car to fix, a cheque to write. Keeping everyone performing and believing in such an environment can only continue for so long if ultimate success isn’t there, star driver Waters included.

Many have suggested, fairly or not, that in the pressure-cooker world of AFL or NRL football, a change at the top would have come before now.

Three of the Tickford Racing Mustangs at Sandown. Pic: Supplied

Edwards’ own frustrations have been evident too. Television commentators joke of the existence of ‘Grumpy Tim’ and ‘Happy Tim’, pending how an event is unfolding. It’s all laughed off, but through most good humour runs an undercurrent of truth. Edwards is at heart an old-school racer operating in a world of corporate pressure.

It’s against this backdrop that the winds of change have blown. A recent announcement that the team will scale back to two cars for 2024 had been some time in the making and the result of significant thought and analysis at Tickford HQ. It’s a process that Edwards himself has been very much a part of.

The arguments for the two-car restructure are sound on paper. The team has unlocked capital by selling two Teams Racing Charters and associated assets, and will now be able to rationalise its engineering and commercial resources around two cars, and two drivers it believes are winners.

It’s not all about contraction. This year Tickford expanded its Super2 team to two cars, created its own young driver academy, launched a new engineering arm to redeploy resources not required under Gen3 into other fields, and started scoping out a possible future GT3 program. For each of those elements to flourish, the Tickford brand needs to be a winner, not an also-ran.

Tickford Racing star Cam Waters. Pic: Supplied

And what of Edwards? News of his exit has been overshadowed by a touch of the bizarre, in the form of an expletive-laden denial by the man himself over the weekend at Sandown, published elsewhere. The reasons behind that stance and sudden turn have not been explained. Perhaps it was the frustration of the news leaking prior to an announcement. Perhaps it was just ‘Grumpy Tim’.

Where and when Edwards pops up next is unclear. He’s been linked to other roles, but has indicated he may take time away after completing the season with Tickford to assess his next move. Regardless, his immense contribution not only to Tickford Racing, but to the Supercars category through roles on its Board and Commission over the years, should be recognised.

A key part of his legacy are the young drivers Tickford has brought through under Edwards’ reign, turning Winterbottom into a champion, and nurturing Mostert from Super2 rookie into a Bathurst-winner. Two of its other star pupils, Waters and Thomas Randle, are yet to taste ultimate Supercars success, but with change comes renewed focus and optimism that they can in Tickford’s new era.

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