THERE have been many instances in Australian Touring Car/Supercars Championship history where a team has had to recruit a substitute driver for a weekend.
It’s rare, however, that a team has had to make a substitution on the eve of a race weekend or during it.
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Here are five instances from the recent past where a driver has stepped into another’s seat at the last minute.
JACK PERKINS at the HOLDEN RACING TEAM
Sydney Motorsport Park, 2015
Jack Perkins’ only commitments for HRT at Sydney Motorsport Park consisted of driving its #22 Commodore in the Additional Drivers Practice session on Friday morning, but that all changed quickly after a bizarre incident befell James Courtney in the afternoon.
Courtney was standing in pit lane when he was hit in the chest by debris kicked up by the downdraught of a low-flying helicopter and sustained injuries that ruled him out of the remainder of the weekend – he’d also end up missing the Sandown and Bathurst enduros.
Perkins returned to the cockpit for Friday’s second practice session as the team waited for news on Courtney’s condition.
By Saturday morning Perkins’ name was being put on the car, and he went on to finish 19th in both that day’s races and 11th in Sunday’s wet 50-lap finale.
Incidentally, Perkins now owns the car he drove that weekend, which was the same chassis he and Courtney guided to victory on the Gold Coast in the latter’s comeback event.
PAUL DUMBRELL at LUCAS DUMBRELL MOTORSPORT
Phillip Island, 2015
Nick Percat was a sudden withdrawal on the Saturday morning of the Phillip Island round as he battled a severe infection in his right foot, the legacy of a bad burn he received during the preceding Gold Coast 600.
Percat had taken part in Friday practice but pulled up unwell the following morning, prompting team owner Lucas Dumbrell to put out an SOS call to his older brother.
“I went to the gym this morning and then I got a call from Lucas,” Paul Dumbrell told News Corp Australia at the time.
“Preparation? I had a muffin and a coffee on the way down from Melbourne, so it’s not ideal.”
Dumbrell arrived in the LDM garage just in time to take part in the morning’s practice session and had to pit during the session to sign a CAMS indemnity form before being allowed to continue.
PD finished 21st in all three of the weekend’s races, an admirable result given the late call-up.
SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN at GARRY ROGERS MOTORSPORT
Sydney Olympic Park, 2012
It was unusual that a series winner would be MIA at his own press conference, but Scott McLaughlin had good reason to miss his date with the media after clinching the 2012 Dunlop Series title.
Instead, he was down at the Garry Rogers Motorsport garage confirming an unexpected solo debut in the Supercars championship for the final race of the year, scheduled to begin just over an hour later.
Regular driver Alex Premat had driven his best race of the season in the Saturday race, held on a scorching afternoon, until the French rookie was overcome by heat stroke and was ruled unfit to take part in Sunday’s race.
With no practice or qualifying time in the car, McLaughlin started from pit lane and finished a creditable 17th.
TONY LONGHURST at the HOLDEN RACING TEAM
Sandown 500, 2007
The 2006 season was meant to be Tony Longhurst’s swansong in V8 Supercars, but 2007 delivered an unexpected postscript to his touring car career.
He answered an SOS call from the Holden Racing Team on the Thursday of the Sandown 500 when his 2001 Bathurst co-winner Mark Skaife suddenly came down with appendicitis and had to undergo surgery.
A quick flight down from the Gold Coast to Melbourne got him to the circuit in time for Friday practice, where he almost literally stepped into Skaife’s shoes – Longhurst drove Skaife’s #2 VE Commodore, and even had to wear Skaife’s race suit due to the short-notice appointment!
Skaife had been scheduled to drive with teammate Todd Kelly and his withdrawal prompted a reshuffle across HRT’s cars, with Kelly (who’d also come down with a stomach bug) moving back into his usual #22 with Nathan Pretty and Glenn Seton moving across to join Longhurst in the team’s flagship #2 car.
From 20th on the grid, the pair ran comfortably in the mid-field throughout the race on their way to 13th at the chequered flag.
CAMERON McCONVILLE at BRAD JONES RACING
Symmons Plains, 2011
Cameron McConville was at Symmons Plains in 2011 as the Driving Standards Observer for Formula Ford, but instead found himself racing a Holden Commodore in the final Supercars race of the weekend.
Regular BJR driver Jason Bright had aggravated a rib injury in the Saturday race; he drove in Sunday morning’s qualifying session, but the pain forced him to withdraw from the rest of the event.
McConville started the #8 BOC Commodore off the back of the grid and came home 17th.
In a twist of fate, it was actually the second time McConville had found himself in a substitute role at the Tasmanian circuit – although he had a bit more notice the first time around.
McConville got the call-up from the Holden Racing Team for the 1999 round to replace Craig Lowndes, who was still recovering from a knee injury sustained in his spectacular rollover at the preceding Calder Park round.