Not so long ago, WPS Racing was a backmarker - a team that commanded little respect in the V8 Supercar paddock - with no manufacturer funding, and machinery that was outdated and uncompetitive. However as Matthew Agius writes, the team's turnaround in 2006 has been nothing short of astounding.

Reflecting on the year that has been thus far, there are several standout aspects affecting competition that come to mind. The introduction of reverse grid races and the improvement and decline of team's in the paddock. By far the biggest improver has, in my opinion, been WPS Racing. Only a few short years ago, this team were where the likes of the Fujitsu and Glenfords teams are today - newcomers to V8 Supercars beginning an audacious attempt at taking glory in one of the world's most competitive touring car championships.

The squad originally started off by buying out a fraction of the defunct OO Motorsport's equipment and machinery and setting up a two car team to run for the 2004 championship. The campaign kicked off by team boss (and motorsport newcomer) Craig Gore, was just the first step in WPS' progress to becoming an Aussie car racing superpower. The outspoken Gore gave the team three years before it was consistently championship-competitive and there were some encouraging signs early in their assault. As the team grew in competitiveness, Gore poured funds into the V8 safety car program, Aussie Racing Cars and the Carrera Cup, Australian Rally Championship events, and ultimately began a Champ Car operation - Team Australia.

As Gore expanded his motorsport horizons, it appeared as though the team was floundering. There was encouraging signs at the end of 2004, with lead driver David Besnard appearing in the top ten. A race win at Symmons Plains also featured, albeit under unfortunate circumstances where Besnard was awarded the victory due to botched race timing.

When 2005 promised much, there was no delivery. Besnard and teammate Craig Baird weren't overly competitive. Whilst Gore brought colour and money to the sport of V8 Supercars, the pair couldn't take a trick. This lack of results was probably due to the use of outdated OO Motorsport cars, which weren't even competitive when they were introduced in 2003.

So what has led to the team's remarkable change of fortune? The answer lies in the team's off-season. Currently, Gore has expanded his operations to sponsoring Marcos Ambrose's NASCAR Craftsman truck entry, but back down under, he pulled off two major coups which have benefited the team beyond many pundits' post-2005 expectations for the Labrador outfit.

With Mark Larkham losing his prot?g? Mark Winterbottom to Ford Performance Racing near the end of last season, and with costs spiralling out of control for the small Larkham Motorsport outfit, Craig Gore offered the stalwart team owner an opportunity to start afresh with better funding and a new driver.

And so it was, Larkham Motorsport and WPS Racing merged to form an impressive two car super team. Larkham brought personnel, former Bathurst winner Jason Bargwanna and most importantly expertise to Gore, and Gore provided hotshot ex-Williams F1 tester Max Wilson and lots of dollars for him to utilise.

Even Larkham's loyal major sponsor Orrcon joined the new look WPS Racing - albeit in a smaller capacity, but still present. Larkham became the principal of the squad and set about improving the entire squad to become championship challengers, with foundation Team Manager Keith Evers providing considerable assistance.

Now, at the halfway point of the series, Evers has seen how WPS Racing has moved away from its 'pretender' status.

"Since January this year there isn't one aspect of our team that hasn't been reviewed and improved. This has allowed us to be more competitive on the race track," he said.

"The guys in the crew have been doing a good job preparing the cars in between rounds and have also been exceptional in their pit stops during the races. This has provided both Max and Jason a good opportunity to move closer to the front of the pack."

Certainly, WPS Racing has improved its championship position with Wilson and Bargwanna. Both sit inside the top twenty heading into their home round of the championship, and are expected to perform well in their Cosworth V8-powered Fords.

"We've really made some big steps forward over the past couple of months which was highlighted by a very successful test last week," said driver Max Wilson.

"Throughout the day the WPS Racing Falcon reacted well to the changes we made to the set up and continually moved forwards. The times I set were very competitive with those set by my competitors, which included almost every Queensland based driver, who were testing on the same day."

Bargwanna was also positive on the development made by the team before their home round this weekend.

"All year we have been testing on the run during the rounds so last week's test day provided us with an opportunity to really focus on specific areas which needed improving. I think we accomplished many of the goals we set out to achieve," he said.

"Like Max, my car also reacted well the changes we made throughout the day which gives me some confidence and a clear focus leading into this weekend's round."

With former drivers David Besnard and Craig Baird returning for the endurance races later this year, WPS Racing is sure to continue it improvement towards the front of the field. Whilst a championship this year, Gore's target year to be consistently challenging at the front, the two Black and Silver Falcons are sure to be top ten contenders.

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