The former Holden Racing Team made a surprise jump at the official manufacturer last week by announcing that they will field a pair of Mustangs in Supercars next season.
Given the Walkinshaw brand’s long relationship with Holden, including nearly two decades as the Holden factory team, this defection is one of the most significant in Supercars history.
It won’t be without casualties, either, with the initial fan reaction to the news a clear sign that – unsurprisingly – some of the diehard Holden/GM supporters won’t be following the team into the Blue Ovals.
The toll on the fan base is likely to be much greater than when the squad lost its factory Holden deal to Triple Eight, as WAU is still seen as the dye in the Holden wool team, while T8 has a history with Ford.
Speaking during the deal announcement, co-owner Ryan Walkinshaw acknowledged that Ford’s move would not be universally popular with the team’s fans.
But he said the lure of the factory deal with Ford made the defection worthwhile, even at the expense of some fan support.
“Honestly, you wouldn’t want it any other way, because if it weren’t for that passion, what we did would be nothing, would it?” he said when asked about the negative reactions from some fans.
“So you’d expect to get an enthusiastic response, something that was a big decision we had to make and we were hoping for, but to be honest the response was much better than we thought.
Walkinshaw Andretti United is an old Holden squad and previously competed as a factory team
Photo by: Motorsport Images
“You will always have a small minority of people who are very vocal and indeed that comes as a shock to much of the Australian automotive community.
“If you really think about it a year ago, we would probably be one of the teams that you think are least likely to make a switch like we just did.
“So I fully appreciate and have a lot of understanding about why many fans find this surprising and why fans might feel disappointed or even angry about it.
“But I think most of our fans follow our team because of who we are, they follow our values, they follow our riders, they follow the way we do business and they have the same passion to want to go forward and win. race.
“That’s what we’re really doing here, we’re not here to be second or third.
“If you look at Supercars over the last 10 years I think there has only been one championship winner who was not a factory backed team, which is a good indication of the importance of factory support if you want to go and win the championship.
“It’s very, very important for our ambition to do that. I think most people will understand why we made the decision.
“It’s not a fact that we’re at odds with GM or don’t have a good working relationship with GM or anything like that, we want to make a difference, we want to be a factory team, and we want to have a partnership where we are wanted and share the same ambitions and goals as we do. do.”
WAU took Bathurst 1000 wins with Mostert and Holdsworth last year
Photo by: Mark Horsburgh, Edge Photographys
What is not entirely clear is the extent of factory support WAU will get from Ford. But it appears that support will be spread across Ford’s six teams, rather than uniting, say, Dick Johnson Racing and WAU for example. A separate announcement about that is expected later.
“We will have a number of factory-supported teams by 2023,” said Andrew Birkic, President and CEO of Ford Australia.
“More than two. We’re not adding any more teams, in terms of Mustangs.”
The WAU/Ford deal has raised questions about whether this new relationship can extend beyond the race track and into the automotive world.
The Walkinshaw Group is deeply involved in the road car design and engineering industry and currently works with the likes of GM and Volkswagen.
However, as it stands, Ford Australia says it is not considering tying up road cars.
“It’s an obvious question. The answer is that they are separate businesses,” Birkic said.
“So, today we are talking about motorsport and there are no discussions or announcements on the other side of the business.”
Walkinshaw insists that Ford’s ties will only relate to racing
Photo by: WAU
Walkinshaw did not rule out working towards an automotive collaboration, while also reaffirming that the bond is really about racing.
“If you ask me if there is an opportunity to expand my automotive business with new customers, I think that’s a pretty obvious answer. Absolutely,” he said.
“Ford has some great products and we know we are the leading automotive design, engineering and manufacturing business in Australia today. So we can add a lot of value there.
“But in the end that’s not why we made this decision. It’s important to make it clear that WAU is a partnership with myself, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown. The only affiliation between it and my automotive group is me.
“What we do on the race track is unrelated to what we do off the track on the automotive side. The relationships and discussions we have today are purely motorsport.”