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Conrod, Straight: Issue 10

12/9/2007 21:54 (Michael Shaw) - Craig Gore’s magic three-year plan lies in tatters. He was going to storm in, learn the series in year one, win some races in year two and then knock the field for six in year three and take the championship on his way out the door. V8 Supercars was only meant to be a marketing exercise for his company, Wright Patton Shakespeare, to get the name in front of the right people and as many of them as possible. As he told Conrod almost three years ago – “We came here as a business.”

Now in its fourth year, WPS Racing is still here, still waiting for that elusive championship.

Gore has learnt the hard way that ‘his way’ isn’t always the best way. In fact, sometimes the actual ‘best way’ isn’t how races and championships are won. Mark Larkham, who was in the WPS team for a short period of time, also learnt this lesson in the mid to late ‘90’s.

Larko brought his Formula Ford and Formula Holden experience to V8s, thinking that if he built a V8 Supercar in the same way as an open wheeled race car, he’d be at the front of the field, as everyone else was behind the times. The theory had worked in other touring car series.

Unfortunately for Mark, he learnt that V8s are fickle cars and that some things just don’t work. The softer set up of his V8, as compared to the open-wheelers he knew so well, and the knock-on effect this had over the rest of the car weren’t compatible with the fundamental design changes that Larkham attempted. (Some of those changes have actually crept into current Supercar design – for one the position of the driver has moved backwards and towards the centre of the car.)

As Larko slowly adapted to this new style of racing, merging his somewhat radical ideas with the standing conventions of the time, he progressed up the grid to finally crack the top ten in his 24th round, at Symmons Plains (Round 4) in 1997. He also achieved his first podium that year, placing third with Andrew Miedecke.

Gore, like Larkham, has been learning from his mistakes and constantly improves the team. The structure and practices have moved more in line with other teams, no doubt helped by Larkham’s input. Gore has also toned down his public persona. It was always possible to tell, after that first large fine, when Gore was putting in a huge effort not swear on camera. After three and a half years that visible effort is not as obvious as it once was, and it’s only when he’s truly upset that it can be seen.

The result of this is that Ford and WPS are now on speaking terms, after Ford had once vowed never to give Gore any support. Another, more shocking revelation, is that Gore actually likes the series and has become passionate about it. His passion for not only his team, but for the series itself has seen Gore put effort into voicing his opinion on issues of series improvement.

His newfound passion for motorsport has spread, along with his investment, to the US with his part-ownership of a ChampCar team, Team Australia. The Aussie Vineyards, a Gore company, team with drivers, Australian Will Power and Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, have had reasonable success this year; Successes that have included pole positions and race wins for Power, who also led the championship earlier in the season.

Gore’s passion is illustrated in his having convinced Channel 7 to show the ChampCar races. With Channel 7 essentially choosing to ignore the series, Gore stuck his nose in, to convince them to show it. While there is obviously a benefit to getting his branding on more screens, ChampCar has never been a ratings hit. (Those of us who enjoy watching this series are thankful for Craig’s turnaround.)

Four years ago, when he first arrived, none of the well-established in the industry expected him to last nearly this long. Few thought he’d even have the patience to compete for the three years he’d planned to.

Internally, an environment of stability, a crucial ingredient in success, has been established, creating a place where employees can enjoy working together to build the team. And a basis for a brand platform for fans to follow, now exists.

All that is required now, is the on track results. One lucky race win, while more than what rivals expected, is a lot less than the high flying Gore aimed to achieve.

While the comment "If we can't dominate, we'll go", was overly optimistic. The fact that at the end of strategic phase one, Gore hasn't pulled the pin, and is here for the long haul, means that this story is not at it's conclusion.

Release Date: 12/09/2007