With just one seat to be officially confirmed, the V8 Supercars field will be the smallest yet as even the top teams face a financial squeeze.
Two entries have dropped out and another is doubtful, reducing the car count to 25.
Of the confirmed entries, only backmarker team Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport hasn’t nominated a driver for its reduced one-car effort.
In a reversal of his planned retirement from full-time racing at the end of last year, V8 veteran Russell Ingall is expected to sign with LDM for at least one more season.
LDM is one of two competitors – along with Dean Fiore – who handed back entries to V8 Supercars because they couldn’t afford to run them. And fellow owner/driver Tony D’Alberto is scrambling to find funding for his solo entry.
D’Alberto has until the mandatory pre-season test day at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 15 to confirm his participation in the 14-event V8 Supercars championship or also relinquish his entry.
This V8 season, which starts with the March 1-2 Adelaide 500, will be the first in recent years in which there hasn’t been a full field of 28.
Even if 26 turn up, it will still be the smallest line-up since V8 Supercars took over the running of what was formerly the Australian touring car championship in 1997.
The field was purposely reduced by V8 authorities from a high of 32 cars in the late ’90s to 28 to increase the value of each entry, which is known as a Racing Entitlement Contract.
A REC is required for each car entered by an owner and REC holders are entitled to a share of V8 racing’s end-of-year profits.
But because of the V8s’ poor two-year interim TV rights deal, there was no payout last year and this year is also likely to see the teams get little or nothing.
Along with a tough sponsorship market, the lack of a dividend – which was as much as $800,000 a year until the teams reduced their shareholding in the sport from 70 to 35 per cent in 2011 – has put most teams under financial pressure.
Melbourne’s D’Alberto is making a last-ditch effort to find funding to take his entry to another team, with reports he is looking to partner with retired Sydney driver Jonathon Webb’s Tekno Autosports squad, which was also forced to cut back to one car for NZ star Shane Van Gisbergen.
Even champion team Triple Eight is in need of a bigger budget, selling the bonnet space on its Red Bull-backed Holden Commodores to upgraded minor sponsor Caltex.
Triple Eight’s main rival, Ford Performance Racing, has taken a hit to its budget despite winning the Bathurst 1000, losing major sponsors on top of reduced factory backing.
Erebus Motorsport, mainly privately funded by wealthy owner Betty Klimenko, is looking for replacement sponsors for both its Mercedes-Benz AMGs (down from three cars last year).
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