WHAT started with a ground-breaking result for a female driver in V8 Supercars racing ended with Leanne Tander contemplating quitting motorsport for good.
Tander is the guest of this week’s edition of the V8 Sleuth Podcast powered by Repco, with the first of a wide-ranging, two-part chat touching on her season in the development series with Garry Rogers Motorsport in 2001.
A strong run in the 2000 Australian Formula Ford Championship, headlined by a dominant round win in the season-opener at Phillip Island, led to an opportunity to race a third GRM-run Holden in what was then known as the Konica V8 Supercar Series.
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“I think Garry started the conversation,” Tander told the V8 Sleuth Podcast, with her mum effectively serving as her manager in the negotiations with Rogers.
“Like anyone who’s a mum knows, you’re pretty protective and defensive of your kids. Mum had quite a good level of insight into what I was ready for at the time; I felt I was ready for Supercars and she didn’t.
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“She had the conversation with Garry, when they decided they were going to do it, she said: ‘You know she’s going to need more than one year; she’s not going to just go out in the first year and win, it’s going to take longer than that to get up to speed.’”
“(There was) no contract – Garry said ‘I’ve given you my word, we don’t need to put it on paper’ – but I was promised a three-year opportunity.”
Despite limited testing compared to the other major contenders, the then 20-year-old impressed at Wakefield Park’s first round by snagging a pair of top-three race finishes to secure second overall for the round.
In fact, Tander came close to winning the final race of the weekend; she led the first 15 laps before handing the win to eventual champion Simon Wills with two laps to go.
“I outbraked myself into the Fish Hook,” she recalled.
“I was frustrated with myself but I was also really happy because it was my first race and we hadn’t done a lot of testing, maybe a couple of days.
“To do that … yeah, I was pretty happy. I did come away from that round feeling pretty good and it was going to be a good year.
“It just sort of went downhill from there.”
Tander took another podium finish at Phillip Island a couple of rounds later and a string of fourth-place race finishes earnt her fifth place in the final series standings.
However, with GRM about to embark on a program to build and develop a Nations Cup-spec Holden Monaro, Tander was notified at the end of the year that there would be no second or third year for her at GRM.
“Maybe because the start was so positive, maybe then the rest of it couldn’t live up to that,” Tander said.
“We barely did any testing, and Garry was quite – understandably, because he’s paying for it – but you make a mistake and damage something, you kind of get a lecture about how much money that’s cost.
“I knew about all that; my parents had funded most of my racing up until that point, so I’m not like a rich-kid driver who crashes and bashes and doesn’t care because someone’s going to fix it up.
“I knew the cost of things and that yes, that’s not what we want, but you also can’t go out and race worrying about the cost of things because then you can’t race properly.
“It was more of a mental thing that happened over that year that got me to a point where I probably wasn’t racing as hard as I could have and should have.
“I’d been hearing from the other guys in the team that we weren’t going to be running a third (Supercar) next year.
“I asked Garry straight up; ‘Oh no, I would tell you if that was the case.’
“And then very late in the year I got told ‘no, we’re not going to be running you next year.’
“It was very late to find another drive, but also by then my confidence had been pretty much shattered.
“I nearly gave up motorsport altogether.”