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Ranked: Biggest bombshells of season 2023

V8 Sleuth recounts the moments that shocked the Australian motorsport landscape in the dramatic year that 2023 was.

10. PremiAir sacks team principal

For the second year in a row, a key member of PremiAir Racing departed post-Darwin. In 2022 it was driver Garry Jacobson; this time, it was team principal Matt Cook.

Rumours lingered for some time before the news was finally confirmed on the morning of the Townsville 500 getting underway.

Adding to the shock was it had by no means been a slow start to the season for PremiAir, with 10 top 10 results on the board by that point. But there had been a falling out of sorts, and a split became inevitable.

Matt Cook and Peter Xiberras at the 2022 Adelaide 500. Pic: Nathan Wong

9. Adrian Burgess’ resignation and new gig

It was a year filled with pressure for Adrian Burgess, who as Supercars’ head of motorsport copped the brunt of the parity debate and other Gen3 issues.

Burgess eventually resigned in November – on his own terms, by all accounts. At that point in time, he was still in line to oversee the category’s Windshear wind tunnel venture and work through until early 2024, but those plans were dashed amid the fallout of his impending move to Team 18.

Adrian Burgess and Shane Howard. Pic: Ross Gibb

8. Joey Mawson

This was one that seemingly no one saw coming.

The open-wheel star had been locked in a battle to secure a Supercars debut co-driving with PremiAir, but his year suddenly fell apart when he was banned in relation to a supplement use investigation.

That was Mawson done for the year, not only in Supercars but S5000, and the case has been shrouded in secrecy ever since.

Joey Mawson. Pic: Supplied

7. Ford threatens to leave

Part of the highly political backdrop of the Supercars parity war were fears that Ford might pull the pin given its obvious displeasure regarding the situation.

That nightmare became a potential reality when Ford Performance motorsports global director Mark Rushbrook indicated a pullout could indeed be on the cards.

Thankfully, it never came to that.

Mark Rushbrook (left) with Andrew Birkic. Pic: Ross Gibb

6. Whincup opens door for SVG

Shane van Gisbergen’s remarkable Chicago win on NASCAR Cup Series debut immediately triggered questions about whether he could end up in America as soon as next year.

The problem? He had only recently signed a one-year contract extension with Triple Eight… only for T8 boss Jamie Whincup to set the rumour mill alight by declaring he wouldn’t stand in the three-time Supercars champion’s way.

Jamie Whincup. Pic: Ross Gibb

5. Albert Park fires and emergency meetings

With the pinnacle of motorsport in town, there was an eerie feeling in the Supercars paddock on the Saturday night of the 2023 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix.

Nick Percat’s Ford Mustang had burst into flames on the Friday, and then James Courtney’s did so a day later.

With the safety of the new Gen3 cars called into question, emergency meetings ran late into the night and led to a raft of risk mitigation measures being put in place ahead of the final race of the weekend (including the elimination of a standing start).

James Courtney escapes the fire which engulfed his Mustang. Pic: Connor McKenzie

4. Erebus supports Ford’s Bathurst parity push

The year-long saga boiled over in Bathurst, in a drama that somewhat overshadowed the Great Race.

Having been thrashed in the Sandown 500, Ford and its teams pleaded for aero upgrades despite the in-season parity review process not being triggered.

A bitter couple of days ensued with Chinese whispers in full swing, before the formal process was upheld.

What only emerged later was that Erebus Motorsport CEO Barry Ryan had been advocating for Ford to get its way on the eve of the sport’s biggest race…

Barry Ryan. Pic: Ross Gibb

3. Supercars’ TRC buyback campaign

It seemed so crazy that it simply couldn’t be: Supercars offering to pay big bucks to take a car off the grid.

But it did happen, with one of the worst-kept secrets being that Tickford Racing would sell two Teams Racing Charters – one of which would be redirected to the Blanchard Racing Team, and the other shelved.

Streamlining international freighting was believed to be a key motivator; next year, Supercars will return to New Zealand but otherwise remain wholly in Australia.

Barclay Nettlefold. Pic: Ross Gibb

2. Newcastle disqualifications

The biggest drama of the inaugural Gen3 race came in the hours after the chequered flag flew.

Triple Eight had soared to a Saturday one-two in Newcastle, but by that night, it became clear something was amiss.

A protest was lodged against Triple Eight’s placement of a dry ice box within its Camaros, and the next morning both Shane van Gisbergen and Broc Feeney were disqualified.

A war of words unfolded. Triple Eight appealed but the disqualifications stood.

The Red Bull Ampol Camaros of Shane van Gisbergen and Broc Feeney in Newcastle. Pic: Ross Gibb

1. Will Brown to Triple Eight

This was all-time.

Triple Eight was in need of a replacement for Shane van Gisbergen, who by now was clearly going to be racing in NASCAR in 2024.

Their solution? Pinching championship-contending and 2024-contracted Will Brown from archrivals Erebus Motorsport…

Shane van Gisbergen (middle) with Scott Pye and Will Brown. Pic: Ross Gibb
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