THE NEARLY-MEN OF SUPERCARS STARTS

James Small took the wheel of Russell Ingall's Commodore for the first 'additional driver' practice at Eastern Creek in 2008. He's gone on to be a huge hit in NASCAR racing as an engineer. Photo: an1images.com / Justin Deeley.

THE ability for Supercars Championship teams to give extra drivers some laps during practice at an actual championship round was introduced back in 2008 and, since then, a range of drivers have taken up the opportunity.

Introduced to give endurance drivers some more seat time prior to the big races later in the year and rookies a first taste of V8 Supercar action, the sessions have given a range of drivers their first taste of a championship-level event.

In most of those cases, the ‘practice pilots’ had either already made their championship debuts or went on to make it a short time after.

But there are four drivers in the unique position in Supercars history to have driven in the additional driver practice session at a championship round without going on to make an actual championship round or race start.

One of them is now a NASCAR Cup Series race-winning engineer: James Small.

Prior to moving to the United States to work in NASCAR, Small spent time engineering in the Supercars paddock for teams including Garry Rogers Motorsport, Paul Morris Motorsports, Kelly Racing and Ford Performance Racing.

He engineered Russell Ingall at PMM in 2008 and 2009 and jumped behind the wheel of Ingall’s car for the Eastern Creek practice session in ’08 – the very first time the format was used.

Small was a long-time racer himself, most notably in Formula Ford and V8 Utes, so the team elected to take advantage of its race-experienced engineer and put him onto to the track to increase its track time with the #39 Supercheap Auto Commodore.

Drivers who had finished inside the top 15 in the championship in the previous year (which Ingall had done so) weren’t eligible for the session, hence the play by PMM to put its engineer behind the wheel.

The three other drivers in the unique group of four have all run as additional practice drivers in recent years.

Matt Chahda (2017 Queensland Raceway), Adam Marjoram (2018 Winton) and Joel Heinrich (2019 Winton) have all sampled main game Supercar equipment at a Supercars Championship event via the additional driver practice session, though not ended up going further.

Matt Chahda drove the #3 LDM Commodore at Queensland Raceway in 2017 in the Friday practice session. Photo: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith.

Chahda did indeed try to – he was to make his ‘main game’ debut with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport in 2017, however did not qualify for a CAMS Superlicence and did not receive special dispensation. He’s since remained in the Dunlop Super2 Series.

Chahda’s practice drive at Queensland Raceway in 2017 in the additional driver practice session came at the wheel of LDM’s #3 Commodore that was being raced that weekend by Alex Davison.

Super2 regular Adam Marjoram scored a Friday call up for Brad Jones Racing at Winton in 2018. Photo: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith.

Marjoram drove the #21 CoolDrive Commodore of Tim Blanchard at Winton in 2018 due to Blanchard’s endurance partner, Dale Wood, being unavailable due to a clashing commitment at Phillip Island.

Marjoram made a total of 28 Super2 round starts between 2016 and 2019, however never was able to score a ‘main game’ race opportunity.

Todd Hazelwood handed over his regular ride to Joel Heinrich at Winton in 2019. Photo: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith.

Heinrich drove Todd Hazelwood’s #35 Matt Stone Racing ZB Commodore at Winton in 2019. The 2018 Aussie Racing Cars Champion was driving an MSR-run Falcon at the time in the Dunlop Super2 Series and his drive of the ZB was stated by team boss Matt Stone at the time as a development opportunity.

V8 Sleuth’s AN1 Data stats department doesn’t count a championship round start in the career tallies for drivers who have driven as a dedicated ‘additional’ pilot in practice at a Supercars Championship round.

On the very rare occasion, Friday practice drivers have been called up to take the wheel of the car they practiced that morning for the rest of the weekend.

Most notable was Jack Perkins for HRT at Sydney Motorsport Park in 2015. Regular pilot James Courtney was injured by garage sign boarding whipped into the air by an overhead helicopter and Perkins, who had driven in the Friday morning session, took over the #22 Commodore for the rest of the event.

With over 20 years in the Australian motorsport industry, Noonan is the head of V8 Sleuth. He’s held a range of roles including working in television with Seven and Ten, print media and public relations. With a specialty in Australian motorsport history, he’s known around racing paddocks as ’the Sleuth’ and started his motorsport media career in 1997.