DRIVER contract disputes have erupted across the motorsport world in 2022, with some of Formula 1 and IndyCar’s biggest stars embroiled in controversy.
Two Aussies are at the centre of a major contract storm in F1, with Oscar Piastri and Daniel Ricciardo’s futures currently hot topics.
This year’s Supercars silly season promises to be considerably less dramatic, but the category has seen plenty of contract calamities in its time.
Today V8 Sleuth looks back at five of the most memorable Supercars driver contract sagas, involving some of its biggest names.
Lowndes’ 10-year TWR deal
Craig Lowndes’ move from Holden to Ford ahead of the 2001 season remains the most highly publicised driver defection in Supercars history.
Although out of contract with the Holden Racing Team at the end of 2000, his dramatic switch to Gibson Motorsport was complicated by a 10-year management agreement with Tom Walkinshaw Racing.
The deal had been done during Lowndes’ stunning title-winning rookie 1996 V8 season with HRT and was intended to take the young Aussie all the way to Formula 1.
Lowndes ultimately only spent one season in Europe, racing Formula 3000 in 1997, before returning to HRT and winning the 1998 and ’99 V8 Supercar championships.
In early 2001 the 10-year deal hung over the defecting Lowndes and, according to Fred Gibson, resulted in a hefty last-minute payout deal to ensure the driver was allowed to race at Albert Park.
“Craig still wasn’t free to drive the car because Tom still had him under contract (and) all the gurus were doing their job trying to do this deal,” recalled Gibson on the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2021.
“I bumped into Tom at the Grand Prix on the Thursday. I didn’t know him that well (but) I said ‘Tom, this is bullshit. We’ve got to do something. What do you want to do?’
“He said, ‘well how much money will you give me?’ I forget the number, but it was a good lump of money to pay out the contract. He said, ‘deal’s done’ and shook hands.”
Reynolds’ Kelly-FPR fight
David Reynolds’ sensational third-place qualifying effort aboard Kelly Racing’s unheralded fourth Commodore in Townsville in July 2011 resulted in a phone call that changed his career.
That call was from Ford Performance Racing boss Tim Edwards, who asked Reynolds if he had room to move for the following season. The situation immediately became complicated.
“I had an unsigned two-year deal (with Kelly Racing), it was unsigned on my behalf,” Reynolds reflected on the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2020.
“I think they (KR) maybe trusted me too much! It was pretty silly… you have little regrets in life, I probably should have done it a bit differently.”
Reynolds was instructed by his advisors that he was free to do as he liked, and he signed on to drive FPR’s third entry – the Bottle-O Falcon – from 2012.
Reynolds informed KR of his intentions and relations between driver and team immediately soured, hampering the back half of his 2011 season.
“I had to pay some sort of remuneration to them when I moved, which is not good, but it’s part of doing business,” Reynolds added.
“At the time I wanted to go to a much bigger, better team. FPR was winning a lot of races, going really well. My career was going to blossom, I thought anyway.”
Van Gisbergen’s 2012 ‘retirement’
The Supercars paddock was rocked in November 2012 when Stone Brothers Racing announced Shane van Gisbergen would leave the category at the end of the season.
It was revealed that SVG was being released from a new three-year contract signed earlier in the year and would return to New Zealand “due to personal reasons”.
The statement claimed the decision had “in no way been caused by Ross and Jimmy’s decision to switch manufacturers in 2013 or the team’s partnership with Erebus Motorsport”.
Rival drivers signed a farewell SBR bonnet for van Gisbergen at the 2012 season finale, only for the Kiwi to turn up on the grid the following year with Tekno Autosports – and win the season opening Adelaide 500!
While the dramatic move set him on the path to a stellar career with Triple Eight, it also resulted in a protracted 18-month legal saga that was eventually settled out of court.
“What I should have done differently was to just be honest with the media a lot more and tell them the story rather than the team saying it,” van Gisbergen told this author for Speedcafe in 2016.
“All of that stuff (about retirement and depression) was never from me. I kept pretty quiet and to myself, which is kind of the person I am, and a lot of people heard the wrong story and still believe that.
“You get fans that are still pissed off about it and I should have said something (at the time) but didn’t. I wasn’t in a good place (mentally), but it was portrayed that I was in a worse one.
“The short of all that is if it stayed as Stone Brothers I would have kept racing (for the team), I just didn’t want to be in the new part (Erebus).”
Holdsworth’s Erebus extension
Lee Holdsworth’s 2014 career turmoil was the least controversial of the five on this least, but arguably the most unusual.
Erebus Motorsport announced in August 2014 that Holdsworth had signed a new multi-year deal to stay with the squad, complete with quotes from the driver confirming the deal.
What was unknown at the time was that Holdsworth had a handshake agreement with Erebus on the basis that the Mercedes-AMG customer squad would complete a deal with Volvo for 2015.
Erebus owner Betty Klimenko informed Holdsworth at Bathurst in October that the Volvo deal was not going ahead, triggering the driver to eventually sign with Charlie Schwerkolt’s Team 18.
“She said ‘I’m sorry, but the deal for next year with the manufacturer isn’t looking great. The deal’s basically fallen through. But we’d love to have you’,” recalled Holdsworth on the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2021.
“I questioned what we were going to do to make things better, and it didn’t really add up to me that (continuing with Mercedes with no factory support) was going to be much better.
“I knew it was still going to improve, but it just wasn’t going to be where I needed it to be for the following year.”
In a further twist, Holdsworth signed with Schwerkolt while Team 18’s entry was run by Prodrive Racing Australia, only for a deal to be struck with Walkinshaw Racing for the 2015 season.
One year of Decade Dave
Erebus Motorsport marked a career lifeline for David Reynolds in 2016 after his four-year stint with FPR/Prodrive came to an end.
The combination of two of Supercars’ most eccentric characters – Reynolds and Klimenko – appeared a perfect fit and after a building year the results flowed, including a 2017 Bathurst win.
In September 2019 the parties announced an extraordinary 10-year contract, but the relationship did not last beyond the single, COVID-19 impacted 2020 season.
While the parties have not fully opened up on the drama since, tension within the team was clear throughout the campaign and Reynolds’ form waned.
Speaking on his Below the Bonnet podcast at the end of 2020, Reynolds said: “It’s very, very sad because I’ve poured my heart and soul into that team.
“To end one year into a 10-year deal, it’s not a very good feeling. But I think it’s the best for myself and the best for them as well.
“This year was a very, very difficult year for everyone. It was a very strange year. I don’t really want to go into what happened, because it’s all… it’s all in the past.
“I’m trying to move on with my life and start again.”
Reynolds landed on his feet for 2021 at the very team he’d left in acrimonious circumstances at the end of 2011, Kelly Racing, which was about to begin a transition to its Grove Racing guise.