GT and SVG look to hit new heights

By Matthew Clayton for

After a “crazy” start to 2019, Red Bull Holden’s new Supercars signing Garth Tander wants to achieve big things.

Want the very definition of ‘whirlwind’? Garth Tander’s past week or so, when the 2007 Supercars champion went from employed to unemployed and then employed again in the space of 24 hours. It was a hectic time full of unforeseen uncertainty, but what we can say with some assurance now the dust has settled is that the 41-year-old will have a big say in the story of Supercars in 2019.
How? Released from his contract with Garry Rogers Motorsport for reasons we’ll succinctly file under “commercial”, Tander’s 21-year full-time driving career in Supercars has seemingly run its last lap, but drivers of his considerable pedigree aren’t ever out of any work for very long.

Less than a day after the news that blindsided the Supercars establishment, Tander inked a two-year deal with Triple Eight Race Engineering for the endurance rounds, meaning he’ll turn out for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team alongside Shane van Gisbergen for Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast.

Their similar heights (Tander is 4cm taller than SVG’s 188cm) makes this an imposing pairing physically, but their combined CVs are more what makes this, potentially, a formidable duo. Both are former series champions (GT 12 years ago, SVG in 2016), but Garth has what Shane so desperately wants – a win at Bathurst.

There’s three victories in Australia’s most famous race (2000, 2009 and 2011) on GT’s honour roll, and if some of those winning ways rub off on the perennially snake-bitten van Gisbergen at The Mountain this October, there’ll be plenty of smiles on both sides of the RBHRT garage. With old mates Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes sharing car No. 88 this year and the Garth+Giz combo in No. 97, it’s a headline-grabbing double assault on the highest-profile races on the calendar.

Tander’s mobile has been running hot over the past week, so we figured we’d drain his battery a bit more to ask how the emotional rollercoaster of 2019 has been so far. Two weeks into a new year, and you have a new job and a new team. Has your head stopped spinning yet?

Garth Tander: It’s been the craziest start to a year that I’ve ever experienced. I came back from Christmas holidays and thought I’d be doing one thing, and within six days I wasn’t doing that anymore and had joined Triple Eight and Red Bull. Interesting, that’s the word I’d use …

The GRM news obviously wasn’t what you wanted, but how quickly did you move on and start to wonder or enquire about what might be next?

GT: Initially I was so blindsided by it all that I needed to take a couple of days to really be clear in my head what the next step might be, because whatever I did was going to be a big life-changing deal with family and that sort of thing to think about. When I had the discussion with Garry and Barry (Rogers) and they told me what the decision was, that meeting lasted exactly 11 minutes, I remember looking at my watch as I walked out. I needed to get out of there and have a couple of days, a couple of nights to sleep on it … or lay awake not sleeping. Having this opportunity pop up with Triple Eight, Red Bull and joining Shane … it’s the easiest decision that I’ve ever made. It’s a no-brainer.

You’ve been around the game long enough to know that business or financial decisions have no room for sentiment, but was there a feeling of being a bit of a passenger in your own future?

GT: Helpless is the word that best sums it up. I’ve been on the record that I’d planned on 2019 being my last full-time year as a Supercars driver, I’d come to that decision over Christmas. But to have that fast-forwarded by a year, and not by my own doing, you do feel a bit helpless.

I’m not big on the fanfare and all of that, I don’t think I deserved the big Craig Lowndes-type send-off like he rightly got in Newcastle. But having the opportunity to have friends, family, people close to me be at my last race … that was something I always wanted to do to say thanks for 20-odd years, and I didn’t get to do that. I didn’t know Newcastle would be my last full-time race, it never even crossed my mind. That’s a disappointment, as it was out of my hands. That’s been the over-riding emotion, the over-riding feeling. I didn’t get to thank people properly.

I’m glad now that I stopped Craig when he was walking along pit lane before his final race in Newcastle to take a selfie with him … it was nice of him to stop for a selfie before my final race too!

Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander with the Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore

T8 team principal Roland Dane likes to be proactive and decisive – so how did that approach come about, and how quickly?

GT: He obviously got a sniff that there was something going on and his caller ID popped up pretty quickly. It was the quickest deal I’ve ever done … ‘we know you’ll want to do the endurance races, we’ve got a spot, do you want it?’ That was it. Roland and I have often spoken, usually after a few beers, at the end of various years and he’s said that one day, he’ll get me into one of his cars. And here we are …

On a more practical level, you and Shane have a job to do later this year, and to help SVG get that Bathurst win that has eluded him so far. Is it exciting to be potentially part of that?

GT: If I can play a very small part in that story for him, that’d be fantastic. I’ve felt his pain as well, so I know how it feels to go there and feel that you keep hitting your head against a brick wall and nothing goes your way. But I’ve also experienced that other side of winning it, and the elation that comes with that. The relief, too. If I can help him realise that goal, that’d be fantastic to get Shane the one he deserves, and for me to have another chapter in my story of motor racing.

You’ve been in the series for all of Shane’s time in it and know him pretty well … how will the partnership go?

GT: We’ve spoken to one another at the track quite a lot when we competed against one another, and Shane and I have been teammates racing GT cars in New Zealand in the past, and had a lot of fun doing that. We’re a good match in terms of size, and we race pretty similarly in that we’re both pretty uncompromising and take no prisoners. That natural style might have to change a little bit for me as I’ll be thinking more about Shane’s championship by that stage of the year, that’ll be a change for me as far as not being the main driver and the focus. Bathurst this time will be a different race for me, but I’m looking forward to sharing with Shane.

Let’s look forward. What else will 2019 hold for you now, and what do you hope to get out of it?

GT: I’ve got the Bathurst 12-Hour coming up, which will be funny now as I’ll be racing against Triple Eight, Shane, Jamie and Craig for a weekend! But it’s all about letting the dust settle after a crazy couple of weeks and seeing what opportunities present themselves. There’ll be some spare time now between February and October, so we’ll see what we can do to fill it.