Motorsport: The greatest drivers of the V8 Supercars era

By Dale Budge

Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup during the Ipswich Supersprint. Photo / Getty Images
Shane Van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup during the Ipswich Supersprint. Photo / Getty Images

With V8 Supercars now technically becoming just Supercars and Craig Lowndes extending his overall career race wins record last Sunday at Ipswich thought it appropriate to work out the greatest five drivers of the V8 Supercars era.

For the benefit of a New Zealand audience we also came up with our top five greatest Kiwi drivers during that period.

The greatest drivers of the V8 Supercars era

1. Jamie Whincup
Whincup has 99 career race wins and will surely become the second driver to hit triple figures in the next couple of months. The Red Bull Racing driver has been the epitome of consistency since leaving Tasman Motorsport as a youngster for Triple Eight Engineering. He has banked more race wins and more pole positions than anyone during that time and has a record six championships to show for it. Very rarely has he made costly mistakes and his ability to get the best out of his car seems second to none.

2. Craig Lowndes
Lowndes was the first driver to hit 100 race wins and he extended his all-time record with a win last Sunday at Ipswich. Since breaking into the sport in 1994 Lowndes has found himself as one of the drivers to beat. A staggering 22 years at the top and Lowndes is still winning races at the age of 42. He has only three championships compared to Whincup but has a phenomenal record at Bathurst, where he has stood on the top step of the podium on six separate occasions. Lowndes has produced some of his best work when storming through the field to salvage a race win it appeared lost.

3. Mark Skaife
A giant of the sport - Skaife has been the face of V8 Supercars racing in Australasia since its inception. He headed the Holden Racing Team at the height of its dominance in the sport. He was a terrific driver, winning a stunning five championships and 90 race wins along the way. On top of his driving, Skaife was part owner of HRT for a period of time and was instrumental in the development of the Car of the Future project. He now works as a television commentator for the series.

4. Marcos Ambrose
Ambrose emerged as the leading Ford driver in the early 2000s when Holden had enjoyed a period of dominance in the category. The Tasmanian stunned the V8 paddock when he qualified on pole for his first ever race in 2001. Driving for the Stone Brothers Racing team Ambrose finished eighth in the championship in his debut season but would go on to claim back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004. He sensationally quit the category to move to the United States and chase a NASCAR dream. His short time in the sport yielded tremendous success.

5. Garth Tander
Tander has enjoyed a stellar career but flies under the radar at times. He lies in third place all-time in terms of race starts, fourth in race victories and has three Bathurst wins and a championship to boot. Having burst onto the scene in 1998 Tander won his Bathurst in 2000 and pushed championship winner Mark Skaife all the way. Tander hasn't been as competitive in the latter part of his career as HRT has struggled to match it with the best teams but he remains one of the best pure racers in the category and often turns poor qualifying into good race results.

In the discussion
The late great Peter Brock was already well-ensconced as a legend of Australasian touring cars by the time the V8 era took over in the mid-1990s. His impact on the category however was still immense. Likewise Dick Johnson's superb career was getting towards the twilight years when the V8s arrived on the scene. Kelly brothers Todd and Rick enjoyed plenty of success during the 2000s and have shown plenty of durability as has Jason Bright. Mark Winterbottom has been the leading Ford driver since Ambrose departed to the US and Triple Eight moved to Holden. By the time he's finished he could find himself on this list. Russell Ingall is also worth a mention. The 2005 champion has raced in more races and rounds than any driver excluding Lowndes.

The greatest ever Kiwi drivers in V8 Supercars

1. Greg Murphy
Murph is without doubt the best Kiwi of all-time and the greatest driver in V8 Supercars history not to win a championship. His 28 race wins has him just outside the top 10 all-time and he finished in the top five in the championship on five separate occasions, including twice being runner-up. Murphy saved his best for the big occasion however completely dominating the Pukekohe round of the series while he collected four Bathurst 1000 victories. His pole position and lap record during the top 10 shootout at Bathurst in 2003 - known as "the lap of the Gods" - is still one of the most talked about moments in the sport's history.

2. Shane Van Gisbergen
Having started in the sport as an 18-year-old in 2007 you could argue Van Gisbergen was born to drive V8 Supercars. He enjoyed race wins and was a regular contender whilst with Stone Brothers Racing and then Tekno Autosport. A move to Red Bull Racing in 2016 however has seen him become many people's choice to win this year's title. He currently lies second in the championship but has more race wins this year than any other driver. His ability to drive is undoubted, highlighted by success in various types of racing - from touring cars, sports cars and even drifting.

3. Scott McLaughlin
McLaughlin became the youngest ever V8 Supercars race winner when he won on his home track of Pukekohe in 2013 in his debut season. He stormed to rookie of the year honours that season but became a championship contender the following year when he moved, along with his Garry Rogers Motorsport team, to Volvo. McLaughlin showed his class, holding off six-time series champ Jamie Whincup in a classic exchange at the Australian Grand Prix event in Melbourne. He has gone on to win eight races in his short career and will make the big off-season move to DJR Team Penske next season.

4. Paul Radisich
Radisich made a name for himself as the world touring car champion in the 1990s and didn't start his V8 Supercar career until signing with Dick Johnson Racing to replace John Bowe in 1999. Radisich showed his class by finishing fourth in the championship in 2000 and backed that up with another top 10 finish the following year. He signed with the struggling Team Kiwi Racing for the 2005 season and led the outfit to their best ever finish and a maiden podium. Radisich is remember for a couple of massive accidents at Bathurst that resulted in serious injury. The second one in 2008 ended his driving career. Radisich finished with eight career race wins.

5. Fabian Coulthard
Coulthard made his V8 Supercars debut in 2006 and enjoyed mixed success in smaller teams until signing on with Brad Jones Racing for the 2012 season. He won his first race in 2013 as BJR raced out of the blocks with the Car of the Future. He had two other race wins and finished sixth in the championship. Coulthard has been a genuine contender ever since - winning races in each of the next two seasons. This year he joined the DJR Team Penske outfit. He is expected to add to his tally of five wins in the coming years.

In the discussion
Jim Richards is a legend of the sport but like the other heroes of his generation - Brock, Johnson etc - most of his success came prior to the V8 Supercars era. Craig Baird is one of New Zealand's most talented drivers having won more domestic titles than any driver in history. He had a long career in V8 Supercars, often in less successful teams. The late Jason Richards came close to making the list and misses out in part because his career was cut short just as he was realizing his potential.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 23 Oct 2016 13:49:57 Processing Time: 883ms