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Why Randle’s rookie season was better than you think

ON the surface, you could be forgiven for thinking Thomas Randle’s 2022 Repco Supercars Championship was a disaster.

And maybe by the pure results it was, for he was 23rd in the championship (second-last of those to contest every round) and racked up a hefty repair bill.

But the reality is other criteria matter more when it comes to a rookie season.

The biggest of all is potential.

As will be the case with Matt Payne, Cameron Hill and almost certainly Declan Fraser this year, you’d take some ups and downs, as long as there are high enough ups to show that there’s more to come.

Rookies have traditionally struggled in Supercars, although Will Brown, Brodie Kostecki and Broc Feeney have bucked that trend in recent seasons.

But winding back the clock, Randle’s veteran teammate James Courtney is a decent example.

Courtney joined the Supercars field full-time in 2006, carrying plenty of pedigree following his pursuit of a Formula 1 career.

Thrown straight in the deep end with back-to-back-to-back champions Stone Brothers Racing, Courtney had four third-place finishes scattered between seven DNFs that season (five of which were due to accidents).

He returned and started year two with pole in Adelaide, and was crowned champion in 2010, then at Dick Johnson Racing.

Back to Randle.

It’d been a long apprenticeship to get to the top for the now 26-year-old, including a Sandown 500 podium and one-off main game solo debut in 2019, winning the 2020 Super2 title, and doing more wildcards in ‘21.

When his big opportunity finally arrived last year, Tickford started on the back foot across the board.

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But then Randle very nearly stuck his Castrol Mustang on pole for the fourth and final race at Albert Park, having been quickest of all to the second sector before losing the best part of three tenths in the final chunk of his fast lap.

Still that effort was good enough for a fine fourth, not that it would count for any points due to a pit stop blunder and then a mechanical failure which forced him to retire.

That aside, qualifying was often deemed to be the factor holding him back, with team principal Tim Edwards marvelling at his race pace.

As the season went on, Randle responded, qualifying ninth or better in eight of the final 15 grid-setting sessions.

Randle interviewed on the grid by Jack Perkins (left). Pic: Nathan Wong

That run began with his maiden Top 10 Shootout berth at Townsville, with further Shootout appearances coming at Sandown, Gold Coast (twice) and Adelaide.

His most notable performance was a front-row start at The Bend, although that soon became even more notable for undesirable reasons when a clutch issue saw him stall off the line and be cleaned up by Andre Heimgartner.

Once again, plenty of pace but a major dent to his points tally; a theme which continued as he was helplessly wiped out at Bathurst and Gold Coast.

Nevertheless, come the end of 2022, Tickford had Randle as a regular top 10 contender providing support to its lead man Cam Waters, and that progression should only continue with experience under his belt.

When it comes to a rookie, glimpses of top-end potential are better than merely staying out of trouble, and that’s why Tickford and its fans should be excited about what the future holds for Randle.

It’s that very reason too why victory in Adelaide transformed Feeney’s maiden year at Triple Eight – admittedly requiring a higher return given he was at the benchmark team – from good to great.

Randle’s next task is to edge his way ahead of Courtney in the intra-team pecking order – by no means an easy feat – to earn a place in the top Tickford garage and secure his long-term future.

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