It’s 2015 and we’re getting down to business. The V8 SuperTest is just around the corner, but before we charge headlong into the new season, we want to take a look back at the legend of a year that was 2014 and for that we’ve got Race Team Manager Mark “Dutto” Dutton on hand.
RB: It’s been a long (though not long enough) break, so let’s kick off with something simple – what were the highlights and lowlights of 2014?
MD: My individual highlight is a bit of a tough one, it was a big year because of all the changes. Trying to nail it down to one highlight is hard, apart from the fact that we did win the Teams Championship, the Drivers Championship, Best Presented Team and the Pole Position Award. To achieve success like that, especially with all the changes, was good.
Lowlight? Bathurst. I think what happened speaks for itself.
RB: Ah yes, the Fuelgate scandal of Bathurst 2014. Talking about the changes, how do you think the restructure worked out with David Cauchi becoming the Car #1 Race Engineer and yourself Race Team Manager?
MD: Cauchi did a good job. It was a tough year for him, but he learnt a lot along the way. While he was thrown in the deep end, he was also in the best position regarding the support he had around him throughout the team and having the best driver. It’s a challenging role and he did an excellent job. By no means is he tapped out – he made some big steps, but he’s still getting better with time. He’ll get a lot better, it’s exciting times ahead.
This role is very different for me because I had been doing the previous race engineering role for so long. This year for me was just about trying to be as efficient as I could be, effective and communicative and just learning exactly what the different role entails.
RB: What were the biggest challenges for RBRA in 2014?
MD: Mainly just adapting to all the personnel changes. It’s a big deal. It is a team. If you have a team of stars, but they’ve never played together in any sort of sport, they’re never as good as a team that knows each other inside and out. You pre-empt and you know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, so it’s a lot smoother sailing and less chance of mistakes because you’re in such a good routine, but when you change that, even though we’re still using the same people, just in different roles, there is always an adjustment period. To have the success with as many changes to personnel as we did was a credit to the people.
RB: There was a lot of talk about what people referred to as RBRA’s mid-season slump. What are your thoughts on this and how did the team bounce back?
MD: In my opinion there wasn’t really the mid-season slump that people thought there was. In 2013 we had a few dud rounds and in 2014 the dud rounds were grouped together. Then all of a sudden we had two bad weekends in a row and people started calling it a slump. We’ve got things in place and plans to try and improve all of the rounds, let alone those dud ones, but we had that last year as well, so let’s not kid ourselves. We’ll go there with fresh ideas and new approaches this year to try and do things better at those particular rounds.
RB: As we’ve mentioned, it was a season of lows as well as highs. What were you most memorable moments of 2014?
MD: There are a few moments that you can look back on and smile a little bit more now than you could at the time. Craig and Jamie coming together in Tasmania is not a good memory, but you sort of laugh when you can take the piss out of yourself. I was fresh in the role, a few rounds in, and we’ve had one rule forever here that drivers don’t crash into each other. Although it’s not in our control, because at the end of the day we’re not steering the cars, it was a funny one to look back on and go ‘for all these years they’ve managed to be within a whisker of rubbing paint and haven’t done it, and RD gives me the keys and they do it’. Straight up! That was a memorable one. It was as innocent as you can be, no malice, but that’s not how we roll.
The memories all blur into one another. Sandown was a really good one because in 2013 Car 1 had to come back through the field, whereas for this one to have pretty much all-out dominance, that’s always good fun when you’re doing that. Bathurst obviously speaks for itself. The run home in the season – that was really a show of dominance. That was impressive to not only finish it one event ahead, but to do it in the end by such a long points margin. In any category or season that’s a huge effort, but when you have your ‘mid-season slump’ as they call it, plus all the changes we had and the category just getting tighter and tighter, to come out and do that, you have to stand back and think wow, that’s impressive. The run home especially was awesome.
RB: To wrap it up, as someone who’s been at Triple Eight since day one in 2003, how did it feel breaking that record with Jamie and becoming a six-time championship winning team?
MD: Fantastic! That’s a big thing for the team. You never get bored of winning because breaking records and re-writing history books are things you think back on when you’re old and grey and talking to the grandkids about all the cool stuff you did, whether they believe you or not. Those type of things are impressive. You try and use it as positive energy, so the drive to be the first to win six was a huge thing for the team and I think everyone really did feel it was an extraordinary achievement.
Stay tuned for part two when we preview 2015 and the season ahead.