ANGER from some long-time Walkinshaw Andretti United fans about the team’s impending switch to Ford for 2023 was expected and understandable, admits co-owner Ryan Walkinshaw.
News that the squad which had operated as the Holden Racing Team from 1990-2016 will run Mustangs next year was announced today, having leaked online earlier this week.
Although Holdens won’t be on track next year following the brand’s closure in 2020, WAU was widely expected to continue its General Motors association via the Chevrolet Camaro.
WAU has long been vocal about wanting to attract a new marque to the championship but, failing that, has done the unthinkable and committed to Ford rather than the Chevrolet.
Asked of the fan response to the move, Walkinshaw said: “You wouldn’t want it any other way to be honest, because if it wasn’t for that passion, what we do wouldn’t really mean anything, right?”
“So, you expect to have some passionate responses, something that’s as big a decision as we’ve had to make and we were expecting it, but to be honest the response has been a lot better than we thought.
“You’re always going to have a small minority of people that are incredibly vocal and admittedly it’s a shock to most of the Australian automotive community.
“If you really thought about it a year ago, we probably would have been one of the teams you’d thought would have been least likely to make a switch like we’ve just made.
“So I fully appreciate and have a lot of understanding of why a lot of the fans would find this shocking and why fans might find it disappointing or even feel some anger towards it.
“But I think the vast majority of our fans follow our team because of who we are, they follow our values, they follow our drivers, they follow the way that we go about business and they share the same passion for wanting to go and win races.
“That’s what we’re really here to do, we’re not here to come second or third.”
Listen to WAU’s Ryan Walkinshaw and Bruce Stewart talk about the announcement on Repco Supercars Weekly!
Walkinshaw had for years championed the possible introduction of the Camaro to Supercars while his Walkinshaw Group business sold right-hand-drive conversions of the muscle car in Australia.
That arrangement however has now ceased and, while Walkinshaw still converts Chevrolet Silverado trucks for GMSV, the deal to bring the Camaro into Supercars was done between Triple Eight and General Motors.
Walkinshaw reasons that Ford’s offer of “factory support” is behind his team’s switch, although the level of support has not been specified.
Dick Johnson Racing remains Ford’s official homologation team, while WAU joins Tickford Racing, Grove Racing and the Blanchard Racing Team in the Mustang stable.
“If you look at Supercars over the last 10 years, I think there’s only one championship winner that wasn’t a factory-supported team, which is a good indication of the importance of being factory supported if you want to go and win championships,” Walkinshaw continued.
“It’s really, really critical to our ambitions to do that. I think the vast majority of people will understand why we made the decision.
“It’s not the fact we fell out with GM or don’t have a great working relationship with GM or anything like that, we wanted to make a change, we wanted to be a factory team, and we wanted to have a partnership where we were wanted and share the same ambitions and goals.”
Walkinshaw and Ford made clear during the announcement that the Supercars deal is not linked to any collaborative road car projects, although Walkinshaw said he’s open to the idea.
“Ford has some great products and we know that we’re the leading automotive design, engineering and manufacturing business in Australia at the moment,” he said.
“So we can add a lot of value there, but at the end of the day that’s not why we made this decision.
“It’s really important to make it clear that WAU is a partnership with myself, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown. The only affiliation between that and my automotive group is me.
“What we do on the race track is not connected to what we do off-track on the automotive side. This relationship and this discussion we’re having today is purely motorsport.”
Ford Australia President and CEO Andrew Birkic meanwhile added his thoughts about the fan response to WAU’s manufacturer move.
“Certainly, there are a lot of passionate Holden fans out there, we understand that, and we respect that,” he said.
“That’s what’s great about our sport, is that rivalry, we love that, we embrace that, but certainly there is a bit of a changing of the guard here, we respect Holden but it’s time for us to move on.
“We’re fully invested in motorsport in Australia and this announcement today is a further commitment to that.”
WAU’s switch returns former long-time Tickford racer Chaz Mostert to the Blue Oval after just three seasons in WAU Commodores, while it’ll be teammate Nick Percat’s first time aboard a Ford.
Having sat out all Gen3 testing thus far, the duo is set to sample the DJR-built Mustang during future running this year as the team builds towards 2023.