THE plum vacant seat on the Repco Supercars Championship grid has been filled, but plenty of questions remain in the wake of Triple Eight’s recruitment of Broc Feeney to replace Jamie Whincup for 2022.
Triple Eight announced Feeney’s recruitment on the Gold Coast on Tuesday, confirming that a 19-year-old rookie will fill the shoes of the outgoing seven-time series champion.
These are the burning questions raised by Triple Eight’s latest announcement.
WHEN DID TRIPLE EIGHT MAKE THE DECISION?
Speculation on who would replace Whincup has been bubbling away since his retirement announcement in February.
Despite suggesting it was casting its net both locally and internationally for their new recruit, the logical front-runner was already driving for them in Super2.
Even Feeney conceded amid Tuesday’s announcement that, from the start of the year, he knew there was an opportunity to take the drive and it depended on his results in the early rounds.
Although we don’t know exactly when Triple Eight pulled the trigger, Feeney told media on Tuesday that he got the call around four weeks ago.
That places the decision sometime around late July, in the wake of Feeney’s romp to three poles and three wins across the four Super2 races in Townsville.
“I got a text message from Roland at about eight o’clock in the morning and told me to come and visit him,” Feeney said.
“I rang him straight away and told him: ‘hey mate, I’ve got a PT session during the day, is it alright if I come up in the afternoon?’
“He had one of those tones where I wasn’t sure if it was a good meeting or a bad meeting, so I was nervous all day driving up to Brisbane – I was pretty scared to be honest.
“When he told me, I was in shock. He explained everything to me, and he basically said, ‘how’s that sound?’ – I said it sounded bloody awesome!”
WHAT NUMBER WILL BROC FEENEY USE?
Feeney’s arrival could mark the return of Triple Eight’s signature number to a full-time ‘main game’ role.
After initially retaining Briggs Motorsport’s existing #65 and #66 upon its arrival in Supercars in mid-2003, Triple Eight adopted the numbers #88 and #888 for its first full season in 2004.
While Craig Lowndes became synonymous with #888, Whincup made #88 his own.
However, just because Feeney’s taking over Whincup’s seat, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will take over the #88.
“I’m looking forward to giving Broc the keys to whatever number he decides to run next year,” Whincup said in the announcement.
The #888 disappeared from full-time use with Lowndes’ retirement at the end of 2018 but still reappears at the endurance races.
Tellingly, Feeney’s Super2 entry carries the #888…
HOW WILL FEENEY FARE IN HIS ROOKIE SEASON?
Very few drivers have made the step up from Super2 to the Supercars Championship and shone immediately.
Feeney, in particular, faces a particularly tough ask given how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Supercars and Super2 calendars.
Currently, he only has six Super2 rounds starts and a single main game co-drive to his name and, while he should have more experience by the time 2022 gets underway, he’ll still be far less travelled than his rivals.
However, few rookies before him have stepped into the quality of seat that Feeney will.
Triple Eight’s cars are genuine championship-winning material but, while outsiders may consider that extra pressure, Whincup is aiming to create an environment where Feeney feels comfortable to focus on his own performance rather than others’ expectations.
“The key for me is creating an environment to swing freely and have a go,” Whincup said.
“I don’t want somebody in the car thinking ‘I don’t want to crash this thing’ or ‘I don’t want to take any risks’ – I want the complete opposite.
“I want someone to just have a crack and see what happens.
“If that happens and we create that environment that Broc’s empowered to go out there and go his hardest, that’s a tick for me.”
In all likelihood, Feeney’s pedigree and the quality of the equipment under him should mean that there will be weekends next year where he is a podium contender, and others where his relative inexperience will mire him in the midfield scrum.
And if he does sink more than swim, he will have a wealth of experienced heads around him for counsel – and a multi-year deal to ensure he has plenty of time to deliver on his potential.
WILL JAMIE WHINCUP CO-DRIVE IN 2022?
Now that Whincup’s replacement is squared away, this becomes the new elephant in the room.
The team said straight off the bat in February that Whincup “will evaluate co-driving in 2022 with Red Bull Ampol Racing.”
Nothing was said about it in the team’s announcement on Tuesday, which is unsurprising given the day’s focus was on Feeney’s official arrival.
It would be easy to read into Lowndes’ appearance with Feeney, Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen in the team’s announcement video on social media – but keep in mind that Garth Tander is in Victoria, to which Queensland has had its border closed for several weeks.
Roland Dane recently said that he hopes Whincup will take up co-driver duties in 2022, while the man himself’s most recent public comments on the topic have only ventured as far as needing to make the call in the next couple of months.
Lowndes, 47, and Tander, 44, represent two of the strongest co-drivers in the field, and both have been racing in other categories as possible to remain match fit.
Whincup will likely not have that luxury in his new management roles at Triple Eight next year, and has previously spoken of his concerns at just how much time, effort and mental bandwidth he’d be able to devote to driving in 2022.