November 03, 2018

Horse 2485 - Is 888 Short of $$$?

In clear violation of Betteridge's law of headlines which states that "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'NO'", the answer to this question is a solid 'maybe?'. When you have a money raising exercise it is either because you are in fact short of a shilling or hard up for space in your house. Personally I think that it is the former and that 888's woes are totemic of a far larger problem.

I think that the V8 Supercars is in real trouble when it comes to its long term future. Not only has Australia suffered the loss of its automotive manufacturing industry but the great Australian public have responded by dropping Ford and Holden like a plate of cold vomit. Firstly Mercedes Benz severed their ties with Erebus Motorsports, Volvo had a public bust up with Garry Rogers Motorsport, Nissan have withdrawn their factory support from Kelly Racing and in 2019 will run their left over Altimas as orphans like the Ford teams have been doing with the Falcon, Penske are scrambling to build the Mustang, and now 888 Motorsport who owns the intellectual property which underpins the racing version of the ZB Commodore are having a fire sale.

Based on Whincup’s 2013 Supercars title-winning VF Commodore, the car was built with minor modifications including a paddle shift-version of the Albins transaxle.

It was originally fitted with a standard Supercars engine, before an upgrade saw a 5.6-litre V8 engine making more than 700 horsepower go into the car.
- 16th Oct 2018

The story of this chassis is weird. The car was originally built as a standard VF racing chassis with the normal 5L V8. It was then recruited to be the official test mule for the twin turbo 3.6L V6 LFX but that project appears to have stalled. 888 Motorsport have decided to sell the car with a 5.6L V8 which comes from I don't know where; thus making sure that whatever IP that they had tied up in the car is ungettable.
This is a brilliant move on the part of 888 Motorsport. As the car is not built on a standard chassis, it isn't GT3 compliant. Also because the engine isn't a derivative of something that was on the road, it wouldn't be JAF or GT300 compliant either. This means that this Sandman is more than likely not eligible to be raced in any category anywhere in the world; which would suit 888 to a T. They wouldn't be shown up because someone entered it in the Bathurst 12 Hours or the Spa 24 Hours but it might be eligible to run as an invitational car in Garage 56 at the Le Mans 24 Hours because the ACO can do whatever it jolly well likes.
The real question for me that came from this was why 888 want to sell this off. If it was simply to clear the warehouse then this would look perfectly normal but other events have conspired.

888 Motorsport made all kinds of bell ringing announcements that Jamie Whincup has bought 15% of the team. This is always a bad sign. This story played out when Allan Moffat was unceremoniously dumped by Ford even after he'd delivered what still remains the most famous 1-2 victory at Bathurst,  and it played out again in 1987 when Peter Brock started Advantage Motorsport and he very publicly had a dust up with Holden. It even happened when the Holden Racing Team were in trouble, which led to both Kelly Racing and Walkinshaw Racing as ongoing concerns.
The cover being used is that Team Principal Roland Dane is making succession plans but if that were the case, then surely it would make more sense to find someone who builds cars and actually knows how to run a team, rather than a driver. In the two cases above, Allan Moffat already had extensive experience in running and building a race car before he joined Ford and afterwards he ran a reasonably successful operation which ran Mazda RX-7s and later, Ford Sierras, but Peter Brock's own team was nowhere near as well run and he reverted to becoming an employee at the earliest available opportunity. I don't know what kind of management experience that Jamie Whincup has but I suspect that it is approaching zero.
For Jamie Whincup to buy 15% of 888 Motorsport when in theory they are the only team with factory backing, looks more suspicious than a cat covered in cream, leaving a dairy.

Various pundits in the media have tried to guess what's going on here but I put it that the Australian media is somewhat myopic and that the answer comes from farther afield. 888 Motorsport in Australia started out as the Australian subsidiary of 888 Motorsport in the UK. The team ran what effectively amounted to being the works Vauxhall team from 1996 until 2009 when General Motors was generally in trouble and scaled back all unnecessary operations. 888 were left floundering and continued to run the Vectras and then Insignias¹ before they eventually found backing from MG and ran their works team. When MG left at the end of 2017, 888 hasn't run a car in the British Touring Car Championship since and I suspect that they still have some residual debts.
What I think has happened is that 888 in the UK has avoided administration and lent on 888 in Australia for some cash to resolve their debt issues and the way that they were able to get that cash was by selling 15% of the proprietorship to Jamie Whincup. Of course this means that they're able to make an announcement about management which is absolutely true but if you pull back the curtain, you can see who is pulling the strings. Again this is pure speculation and wild mass guessing but it's the best guess that I can come up with. When given a series of data points, this is a good line of best fit.

More generally this speaks of underlying issues with the Supercars. What this demonstrates is that Holden's backing of 888 Motorsport is more flimsy than what I previously thought. Ford don't officially have a factory team, Nissan have pulled out and both Mercedes Benz and Volvo are gone. Walkinshaw Racing is currently treading a very fine line which is subject to General Motors' approval to run the Camaro and this process looks fraught. The truth is that the Supercars regulations were written while Australia had a manufacturing industry and were written with four door saloons in mind. The age of both of those things has rapidly passed and now nobody new wants to join in the category because it acts a lot like a closed shop.

The fact that this car is for sale doesn't on the face of it look suspicious. One data point isn't enough to make a conclusion but when you have sufficient data points you can begin to build a picture in the same way that Georges Seurat² did with "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" in 1884.

¹A real irony now is that the ZB Commodore is nothing more than a rebadged Vauxhall Insignia B.
²How many other motorsport writers would include a reference to French post-Impressionist painting, I ask you?

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