by Matthew Agius

A number of changes are emerging in preparation for the 2006 V8 Supercar Championship Series. With a number of rumoured driver, team, sponsor and even manufacturer adjustments being hypothesised in the already rampant V8 silly season even though the current championship fight continues to rage on.
Stone Brothers Racing
One of the most awaited announcements in the world of V8 Supercars was eventually announced, with former Jaguar F1 test driver and Japanese Super GT racer James Courtney being named as the replacement for reigning champion Marcos Ambrose at Stone Brothers Racing. In addition to the revelation that Courtney will drive alongside veteran Russell Ingall in 2006, Jeld-Wen Doors was announced as the new naming rights sponsor for the #4 BF Falcon - replacing Pirtek. Ingall has also signed a contract extension and will continue to drive the Caltex Falcon.
Holden Racing Team
Since 2003 the Holden Racing Team driver lineup has gone unchanged and this will continue into 2006 with Mark Skaife and Todd Kelly piloting the two Team Red VZ Commodores. However in addition to this team stability, a new sponsor in the Westpoint Group (current Dick Johnson Racing major sponsor) is rumoured to be switching to the HRT after issues surrounding their commitment to DJR.
Tasman Motorsport
After such a successful endurance campaign, Tasman Motorsport was hit by news that both main drivers Jason Richards and Jamie Whincup had been approached by and were looking at options driving for different teams in 2005. Richards elected to stay with Tasman for 2006, but Whincup has jumped ship to Ford's new superpower - Team Betta Electrical, and will depart the Dodo backed outfit at the conclusion of the 2005 season.
Ford Performance Racing
Following the premature axing of Greg Ritter as driver of the Ford Credit/FPV Falcon, David Brabham was offered the seat in the #5 car for the remainder of 2005. At the Ferodo Triple Challenge, former Development Series champion Mark Winterbottom was announced as the new driver of the #5 Falcon alongside Jason Bright, who will continue to drive for FPR in 2006.
Perkins Engineering
It seems likely that Larry Perkins will operate his team for another year, with Steven Richards and possibly Paul Dumbrell shaping up to drive two VZ Commodores for TPR in 2006. Perkins Engineering is expected to be dropping operations duties for Rod Nash Racing and Paul Little Racing, and Autobarn and Mack Trucks have been touted as possible replacements for outgoing sponsor Castrol.
WPS Racing
As the only team without any major manufacturer support in V8 Supercar racing, WPS Racing have maintained that David Besnard and Craig Baird will stay on with the team, and it is likely that Craig Gore's team will continue to compete in Fords for 2006, although it is probable that it will be without factory backing.
Larkham Motorsport
A seat alongside Jason Bargwanna at Orrcon Racing has yet to be announced for 2006. With Mark Winterbottom departing the team, it is possible that Steven Ellery or Glenn Seton will earn the second seat.
Brad Jones Racing
A question cropping up in the V8 rumour mill following the release of Andrew Jones from Garry Rogers Motorsport before Surfers Paradise was that the former Development Series champion would replace his uncle, Brad at Team BOC. However at this point it seems probable that Brad will stay on at the Albury operation with John Bowe continuing as lead driver. SBR engines will also be utilised by BJR in 2006.
HSV Dealer Team
With Garth Tander and Rick Kelly contracted to the former Bathurst champions for 2006, the only change which will affect the team (and in a good way) is the new join naming-rights partnership with Toll Holdings. Toll has shut up shop with their smaller one-car outfit and will become a powerful visual influence on the HSVDT 2006 Commodores, and is supplying significant money for the deal.
Dick Johnson Racing
Dick Johnson Racing is one of the focal points emerging in the 2005/6 silly season. After such a successful debut year with the Westpoint Group as major sponsor, it seems as though the oldest team in Australian Touring Cars has asked the sponsor to move on. This request surrounds the incoming branding of Dick Johnson's new mortgage company - the V8 Mortgage Centre - will replace their Westpoint rivals as the naming rights sponsor of DJR as well as a johnson branded telecoms company too. Glenn Seton has also lost his drive of the #18 Falcon and will be replaced by Will Davison who drove for the team in the HPDC V8 Series and in the 2005 enduros.
Britek Motorsport
Jason Bright's fledgling team has come a long way in 2005, and with Steve Owen showing reasonable pace at the rounds he has contested this year, it seems likely he will stay on in the #25 BA Falcon. Matthew White may be dropped from the second car, with drives such as Glenn Seton, Greg Ritter, Dean Canto, Simon Wills and Andrew Jones touted as possible replacements.
Garry Rogers Motorsport
Cameron McConville is set to depart GRM for the vacant seat at Paul Weel Racing in 2006. Exiled FPR driver Greg Ritter could take the reins of the #33 Falcon, and with Dean Canto driving for the team at Surfers Paradise and Symmons Plains in the #34 car, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the 2000 Development Series champion may fill the seat in 2006. With Canto unable to race at Phillip Islands due to commitments in the Development Series, it is highly likely that one of GRM's 2006 faces will race in the seat.
Longhurst Racing
With Tony Longhurst buying out the sole remaining Team Dynamik franchise earlier this year, the former Bathurst winner seemed likely field a two-car attack for the 2006 championship series. Early suggestions that Longhurst would switch to Ford and use Stone Brothers Racing with BP sponsorship seemed credible, but after no further word on the issue, it is unknown whom Longhurst will choose as second driver, and indeed if he will run a second car or lease the #44 franchise out.
Paul Weel Racing
Paul Weel is out. The driver who started his team back in 2001 in a K&J Thermal Products AU Falcon before the switch to Holden in 2003 has resigned from racing for 2006 after deciding to focus on business commitments with PWR Performance Products. Cameron McConville is almost certain to drive the #50 car alongside Greg Murphy - providing the current driver with a teammate how equal capabilities for 2006.
Paul Morris Motorsports-Team Kiwi Racing
Paul Morris will undoubtedly be back in action for 2006 in the Sirromet Racing Commodore and his team's technical partnership with Team Kiwi Racing is likely to continue. As for TKR, an announcement was made in Auckland City, New Zealand - confirming that long-time sponsors Makita and 3M will increase their funding to becoming co-major sponsors. Paul Radisich will continue with the New Zealand born outfit next year.
Triple Eight Race Engineering
Team Betta Electrical is fast becoming a superpower in Australian V8 Supercar Racing. Triple Eight Race Engineering has conquered four tracks on the calendar - Eastern Creek, Queensland Raceway, Sandown and the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit. Craig Lowndes, perhaps the most gifted driver in Australian Touring Cars, has grown with Triple Eight over the past season, however his teammate Steven Ellery has been filtered out of the Team Betta doors. Even though he and Adam Macrow secured a third place at Bathurst, Ellery has been ousted from the team in favour of young Jamie Whincup who will join the squad from Tasman Motorsport.

The 2005/2006 silly season has already sparked some major changes in V8 Supercar Racing. It also seem increasingly possible that a new team - Paul Cruickshank Racing - will make the step up to the main game from the HPDC Series. With thirteen rounds visiting four countries next year adding to the competitive field where skill levels continue to build - the championship could be one of the most competitive yet.

However a question mark remains over the likes of Glenn Seton, Matthew White, Steve Ellery, Anthony Tratt and Dean Canto - drivers who, although talented - could be forced to sit out 2006. With the current series format discouraging new teams from entering the championship, and with such talent in the V8 Development Series and open wheeler categories gunning to enter V8s, it will be increasingly difficult for these ousted drivers, and indeed the struggling competitors who have been assigned seats, to keep their drives in coming years.