IT’S that wonderful time of the year… the one where verdicts are cast on the season of motorsport that has been.
The 2023 Repco Supercars Championship proved a mixed bag with no shortage of talking points.
Through it all, how did the stars of the show stack up? After much debate, V8 Sleuth’s Stefan Bartholomaeus and Connor O’Brien have come up with the top 10 drivers of the year, listed below in reverse order.
Of course, these rankings are not supposed to fully reflect the championship standings but rather how drivers performed in the equipment they had, relative to teammates, and with expectations in mind.
10) Thomas Randle (unranked in 2022)
It was a slow start to the Gen3 era for Randle, but he sure shone the further the season wore on – so much so that it’s no wonder he’s going to be sticking around despite Tickford Racing’s off-season downsizing.
Randle finished top 10 in each of the final seven solo races of the season, collecting his first four podiums and a pole position in that stretch.
With confidence flowing and pace to burn, a third-year Randle is set to give Tickford Racing a genuine two-pronged attack in 2024.
9) Andre Heimgartner (ranked 9th in 2022)
The Kiwi’s season is a tricky one to fully comprehend.
Heimgartner delivered strongly, with six podiums an excellent return and the chief reason behind Brad Jones Racing’s five-place gain year-on-year in the teams’ championship.
But at the same time, it was less one-way traffic at BJR than before, with Heimgartner not as dominant relative to an improved Bryce Fullwood.
Nevertheless, Heimgartner’s reputation continues to grow – now, he just needs a slice of luck in the enduros to complete a rounded campaign.
8) David Reynolds (ranked 6th in 2022)
Perhaps a quintessential Reynolds year.
He led Grove Racing well with six podiums including a win, but only just edged rookie teammate Matt Payne 15-13 in the head-to-head qualifying stakes.
There were times of frustration along the way, clear to hear in the radio comms between Reynolds and engineer Alistair McVean when an opportunity or two slipped, but to finish on such a high at a team he’s departing speaks volumes of the 2017 Bathurst 1000 winner.
7) Matt Payne (unranked in 2022)
Is this Supercars’ next Kiwi champion?
Payne enjoyed a sensational rookie year, far better than what 14th in the championship might indicate.
The 21-year-old is very, very fast. He’s admitted himself that there’s room to improve in race trim, but the way he executed from the front in Adelaide to chalk up a maiden victory was a sure sign that there’s plenty more to come.
6) Will Brown (unranked in 2022)
If ever there was a tale of two halves, this was it.
Brown was decent at Newcastle and fast at Albert Park, but it was victory in Race 2 of the Perth SuperSprint that kickstarted his title charge.
From there, he became the driver to beat for several rounds and seized the championship lead at the season’s mid-point.
But the wheels fell off once his shock 2024 defection to Triple Eight became public and he ultimately slipped to fifth in the standings, more than 600 points behind his teammate.
5) Chaz Mostert (ranked 3rd in 2022)
For just the second time in his 11-year main game career, Mostert went winless.
But that itself doesn’t undo all the good work he did throughout the season; yet again carrying Walkinshaw Andretti United, at one stage leading the championship, and ending up as Ford’s highest placed driver in fourth overall.
Contrary to many of his Mustang counterparts, Mostert tended to have better race pace than qualifying.
With long-time engineer Adam DeBorre stepping back next year, it will be fascinating to see how Mostert fares in 2024.
4) Shane van Gisbergen (ranked 1st in 2022)
It was a year of good, bad and ugly for Shane van Gisbergen, who wasn’t his unflappable self as he’d been prior to Gen3’s introduction.
That SVG never seemed comfortable with his new car and still managed to win Bathurst and take the title fight down to the wire should not be underestimated.
His biggest achievement of 2023 came outside of Supercars though: that win on NASCAR Cup Series debut which took the world by storm.
3) Broc Feeney (ranked 5th in 2022)
After a rookie campaign filled with promise, Feeney took the appropriate step forward in year two to show that he indeed is the real deal.
Just 21 years of age, Feeney outperformed van Gisbergen plenty – not something to be scoffed at – and stood tall under immense pressure from Brodie Kostecki to win the Sandown 500.
That was one of five wins for the season that each came at different circuits. All came in Sunday races, underlining the still-improving nature of Feeney’s craft.
A struggle on the Gold Coast for a second year in succession showed there’s still a step to take in 2024, when he’ll be well and truly out of van Gisbergen’s sizeable shadow.
2) Cam Waters (ranked 2nd in 2022)
Mostert might have been the best-placed Blue Oval driver in the championship but Waters was the real Ford hero of 2023.
He is arguably the fastest driver in all of Supercars, and his mix of passion and willingness to fight tooth and nail on track make it hard not to cheer him on.
He won two of the final four races of the season, but arguably his most impressive performances were earlier on when he was the lone Mustang driver qualifying and racing at the pointy end of the field (Symmons Plains and Hidden Valley spring to mind).
If parity becomes a non-factor, might 2024 be his year?
1) Brodie Kostecki (ranked 8th in 2022)
There’s no two ways about it: Brodie Kostecki is officially the driver to beat in Supercars.
It was basically a flawless season for Kostecki, who was the class of the field in both qualifying and race trim.
No matter what was thrown at him, he withstood the pressure and rose to the occasion to smash the field.
Kostecki’s Tailem Bend cleansweep, at a round where Ford otherwise held the upper hand – and at a time where Erebus was at risk of imploding amid Brown’s defection becoming public – was the stuff of legend.
If Erebus can maintain its high standards of 2023, there really doesn’t appear to be any chinks in Kostecki’s armour.