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Team 18’s raw mastermind ‘the real deal’

OF all Team 18’s off-season recruits, there was one name which stood out less than the rest: Som Sharma.

Bathurst 1000 winner David Reynolds joined as a driver, ex-Supercars head of motorsport Adrian Burgess signed on as team principal, and guru engineer Geoff Slater was named technical director.

Sharma is relatively unknown compared to that trio, having previously worked in a category technical-type role in Supercars and international categories such as Formula 2 – but never before as a race engineer.

It hasn’t taken long for him to taste success taking the lead on the #18 side of the garage, with Mark Winterbottom placing second in Race 2 of the recent Melbourne SuperSprint.

It’s just the second podium in five-plus seasons at Team 18 for Winterbottom, whose long-time engineer Manuel Sanchez departed after the 2023 Bathurst 1000, leading Matt Saunders to fill in at the final two rounds.

Sharma – a trusted ally of Burgess’ – was subsequently drafted in on a full-time basis (while Saunders has taken up a role with the Blanchard Racing Team).

“He’s the real deal,” Team 18 owner Charlie Schwerkolt told V8 Sleuth of Sharma.

Geoff Slater, Som Sharma and Charlie Schwerkolt. Pic: Supplied

“He’s a talent. Very raw with some stuff obviously and we have just got to build and build and empower our people as we always do.

“It’s a big commitment for him, being overseas to come onboard over here.”

Winterbottom noted the challenge of finding engineers as being down to luring one away from a rival team with big money, or taking a punt on “someone who is raw with a lot of potential”. Sharma fits into the latter category.

“Som is really good… he is very clever, very technical-driven,” said Winterbottom.

“His biggest thing he’s struggling with at the moment is just radio comms and stuff like that, because it’s not natural.

“All of the spreadsheet stuff and data is pretty easy for him to understand but just chatting to him after Bathurst, he chatted to me from literally the startline to the last corner… so just basic stuff is not natural to him at the moment.

“But I think someone like him, he’s very calm, he understands the cars regardless.

“When we won Darwin (last year), we didn’t understand why we won, we just won a race and that was it.

“Now we’re starting to understand through data what the car is doing, which sounds stupid that we were in that position, but now we understand and he is very clever in that part, so it’s helping us to understand the car.

“He has been really good, so I’m lucky that he came onboard and obviously Geoff Slater too is a great guy as well, so we have just got calm people in the garage that are clever and have got a lot of potential, so let’s hope that no one offers them heaps of money and tries to poach them!”

Winterbottom is ninth in the championship heading into Round 3 at Taupō.

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