Sprint Gas Racing has sprung something of a surprise by revealing former Bathurst winner Jason Bargwanna as the unexpected replacement for Jason Richards alongside Greg Murphy for next season.
Having been a victim of the demise of Craig Gore's V8 operation, veteran Bargwanna will return to the field full-time in 2009 after a year on the sidelines to drive the #3 Sprint Gas Holden. The team confirmed that, despite an accent on youth emerging elsewhere on the grid, 'Bargs' trumped several other candidates for the seat on the basis of his proven speed and experience.
The potential pairing of two Bathurst winners - Murphy is a four-time victor at Mount Panorama - for the 2009 enduros also counted heavily in Bargwanna's favour, as did his affinity with sponsors and his talent with the media. Bargwanna has four round wins, 13 podiums, 42 top ten finishes and a Bathurst win in 130 V8 Supercar starts.
“2008 has been a frustrating year, so to have an opportunity to race V8s again in 2009 is sensational and not taken for granted,” he admitted, “The team I was due to drive for in 2008 closed up shop just before the start of the season. It was so close to Clipsal that all the seats were full, there was no choice but to sit the year out and hope for a drive in 2009.
“When something like this happens, it can very easily end a career so I was determined to do everything I could to prevent this from happening to me. I raced in the Mini Series, drove at Bathurst, did a bit of TV and I kept in contact with the right people - I basically did as much as possible to ensure I was involved and noticed."
His hard work paid off, but Bargwanna insists that he never lost confidence in his ability.
"I never doubted that I would be back in a full-time seat, I'm a survivor in this sport and there are many years of V8s left in me," he claimed, “To say that I am excited about 2009 is an understatement. I am motivated more than ever and confident that the team will be a force in 2009. Sprint Gas Racing is a team on the up; it's exciting to be a part of it. Given my year out of the car, I think I'm looking forward to the first event of the season a little more than most. Clipsal can't come soon enough for me.”
Bargwanna also revealed that his decision to join Sprint Gas Racing was made easier because of the team's recent performance at the season's blue riband event.
“Bathurst showed what the cars are capable of,” he said, “The potential is there, we've just got to unlock it. I'm really looking forward to working with the team as we enter the next phase. Car #3 was good this year; it had good pace and looked to be well balanced. There's a lot to look forward to in 2009.
Sprint Gas Racing boss Jeff Grech was equally excited to see Bargwanna agree to join the team and believes that the veteran will slip easily into Richards' seat.
“I've known Jason since the Holden Young Lions days, so I know what a good pick up he is for Sprint Gas Racing,” Grech said, “He has a wealth of experience, and his engineering understanding and feedback is exceptional, so he is a significant addition to the team.
“He's a former Bathurst winner and an obvious choice for the vacant seat in car #3 in 2009. I expect him to complement Greg and the engineering team well as we continue to move forward.”