Motorsport: Volvo pioneer backs flying Kiwi

By Eric Thompson

Former series winner talks up Scott McLaughlin's V8 Supercars chances.

New Zealand's Robbie Francevic says his Volvo 'always looked like it was a bit out of control'.
New Zealand's Robbie Francevic says his Volvo 'always looked like it was a bit out of control'.

You'd probably describe one of New Zealand's best saloon car racers Robbie Francevic as an "early adopter" when it came to Kiwi drivers taking on the Australian Touring Car Championship (now the V8 Supercars).

Along with another Kiwi, Jim Richards, the pair owned the Aussie tin top series from 1985 to 1991 with Francevic winning the title in 1986 and Richards the other years. What makes Francevic's feat quite remarkable is, he did it as a New Zealand-based driver in a Volvo of all things.

The year before winning his title Francevic put the frighteners up the established ATCC drivers - Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Allan Grice and Richards - by muscling his Volvo 240T to a win at the third round at Symonds Plains.

The following year he won the opening two rounds and then again in Adelaide. Despite not standing on the podium again, and a rift developing with team management, Francevic narrowly won the title by five points from George Fury.

So it was with a happy heart he watched young Kiwi Scott McLaughlin put a Volvo on the podium at the opening round of the V8 Supercars championship in Adelaide last weekend for the first time in 27 years.

"I'm absolutely elated that Volvo is back in racing and it's ignited my enthusiasm in the series," Francevic said. "I've now got something to hang my hat on and will be following each race now. They've [Gary Rogers Motorsport] got a really good young fella with Scott who seems to have his head screwed on and he appears to be able to get the best out of the car.

"He's got a good team around him and, with Volvo's engineers [Polestar Racing] on board and factory backing, the car's going to be quick. I reckon Scott and the Volvo could be in with a chance to win the championship. I'm really excited about this season and it was really good to hear Scott say what he thought about getting past Whincup and second place ['I just plucked her in first, gave it some jandal and f*** yeah'].

"Too many drivers these days talk too much about sponsors and thanking everyone rather than just saying how they feel."

Francevic was always a hard charger, said what he thought and carried his passion for the sport on his sleeve. He's happy and proud of his time with Volvo and was even more pleasantly surprised when the new livery for McLaughlin's car was unveiled.

He also reckons the fans will flock to support the young Kiwi in the "flying brick", as it was affectionately known when racing previously. "It's great to see the new car has the same sponsorship we had [Valvoline].

"The fans really took to me and the Volvo because if you didn't like Ford or Holden there was nothing else to follow. With the Volvo, fans could get behind me and I had a great following and was probably better known in Australia than in New Zealand.

"The car had a great engine that was engineered as well as anything Volvo ever did, and their attention to detail is what made the car good back then and today with Scott's car," Francevic said.

One noticeable difference from the days of the old 240T was the handling of the new S60 car. During the Clipsal 500 the Volvo looked stable through the high-speed sections of the track and had a balanced attitude through the tighter sections. The same couldn't be said for Francevic's beast. "The Volvo always looked like it was a bit out of control, lifting wheels a lot. There was a lot of twist in the chassis, but you could get the car up and out of the road, which meant it was fast. And with the solid engine developing a lot of power I was always able to get near to the front of the field but the handling wasn't to everyone's liking."

By winning the 1986 ATCC title at 45, he became the oldest winner in championship history - a record he still holds. "I had a big following in Australia and had some bloody good races. It was a good car to race."

- NZ Herald

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