LUKE YOULDEN’S 21-YEAR WAIT FOR SOLO SUPERCARS CALL-UP

Luke Youlden made his Supercars debut in 2000. Pics: Supplied and an1images.com

THE extraordinary saga that has sidelined David Reynolds for the next three Supercars events has created another incredible story: a maiden sprint round for Luke Youlden.

Youlden’s first single driver round start this weekend will come more than 21 years after his first appearance as an endurance co-driver, recorded with Perkins Engineering at the 2000 Queensland 500.

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At that stage he was a 22-year-old recently crowned Australian Formula Ford Champion who looked set to be the latest in a long line of the open-wheel category’s graduates to star on the Supercars stage.

But his total 48 career Supercars Championship round starts have all come at two-driver endurance events as a full-time seat eluded him.

He has contested solo driver races previously at the Phillip Island 500 and Sandown 500 (including one in 2019 which counted as a championship race), but those were all part of co-driver endurance events.

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At 43 he’s now set to become the oldest driver to make their first single-driver Supercars Championship round start since David Thexton in 2003.

While KGR has not confirmed who will replace Reynolds at the following two Sydney events, Youlden’s role as a co-driver at Bathurst in December means he’s set to make it to 50 round starts.

That marker seemed unlikely given he’d missed out on a co-drive in 2020, before Kelly Grove Racing gave him a lifeline to return to Bathurst this year alongside his ’17 Great Race winning partner Reynolds.

Luke Youlden. Pic: Supplied / Kelly Grove Racing

Youlden’s list of starts as a co-driver reads like a who’s who of Supercars teams from the last two decades.

There were those first two years at Perkins Engineering (2000-01), followed by three at the Ellery family-run Supercheap Auto Racing (2002-2004), and then a stint at Stone Brothers Racing (2005-07).

Next came Ford Performance Racing (2008-11), SBR again (2012), Brad Jones Racing (2013-15), DJR Team Penske (2016) and then Erebus Motorsport (2017-19).

Youlden on the 2003 Bathurst podium with Steven Ellery. Pic: an1images.com

The closest Youlden got to a full-time drive throughout his career though was with a team he never ended up racing for; Craig Gore’s WPS Racing.

Youlden’s stocks were arguably at their highest at the end of 2004, when he’d finished second in the Development Series (losing the crown on a count-back to Andrew Jones) with the Ellery team.

After hopes that he’d end up in a second main game Ellery entry for 2005 were dashed by the withdrawal of backer Supercheap Auto, Youlden thought he’d landed his dream opportunity.

Craig Gore and V8 Supercars boss Tony Cochrane in 2004. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

“(I) met him (Gore) in a hotel in Melbourne, he liked me, and a contract was on my doorstep a week later,” Youlden recalled to the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2020.

“It was actually two contracts: one for driving, one for PR stuff, both thick. It wasn’t a lot of money; I was just doing it for the opportunity.

“Part of that big contract was an out-clause or a cooling-off period and about a day before the cooling-off period was due to expire they said, ‘you’re out’.

David Besnard and Craig Baird drove the two WPS Racing Falcons in 2005. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

“Disappointingly I didn’t get a phone call from Craig, it was his PA or someone like that within the company, saying ‘we’re exercising our option to not take you’.

“That was devastating. I’d actually moved back to Melbourne and I would have been going back to Queensland for WPS, so it was another huge life change and the commitment for that was pretty huge.

“It was like having the rug pulled out from under me.”

Youlden ended up co-driving with Russell Ingall at SBR in 2005, helping ‘the Enforcer’ to that year’s Supercars Championship title.

LISTEN: Luke Youlden on the V8 Sleuth Podcast