L-R: Mark Sylvester (Data Engineer for Winterbottom), Manuel Sanchez (Race Engineer for Winterbottom), Phil Keed (Engineering Leader), Matthew Saunders (Race Engineer for Pye), Rory Jackermis (Data Engineer for Pye)
Team 18 has confirmed its engineering group to take on the 2020 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, with a host of fresh faces joining the expanding Supercars Championship team.
After scaling up from one to two ex Triple Eight Holden ZB Commodores during the off season, the Melbourne-based team has secured two new engineers that will be lead by a driver lineup featuring 2015 Supercars Champion Mark Winterbottom and new recruit Scott Pye.
The experienced Steve Henderson will continue as team manager, while the engineering squad will continue to be led by Phil Keed.
Former Garry Rogers Motorsport engineer Manuel Sanchez has been recruited by the team to head the race engineering squad on Winterbottom’s IRWIN Racing Commodore in 2019, while Matthew Saunders has remained with the team to engineer Pye’s entry.
Winterbottom will continue in his chassis from last year, designated 888A-048, while Pye will race the newest chassis to arrive at Team 18, designated 888A-052, which was formerly driven in 2019 by Shane Van Gisbergen.
Sanchez moves to Team 18 following a six year stint at Garry Rogers Motorsport. He previously engineered James Golding, who also joined the team as co-driver for Winterbottom. Sanchez also engineered the likes of James Moffat, David Wall, Robert Dahlgren and Alex Premat.
Saunders joined Team 18 in September of 2019 from Scott Taylor Motorsport as race engineer for Winterbottom. After studying a Mechanical Engineering degree at Griffith University, the Queenslander started with the GT/Porsche team in 2015 as a data engineer, progressing to race engineer in 2016 and held the role of team manager for the last two seasons.
Sanchez and Saunders will be supported by Mark Sylvester and Rory Jackermis as data engineers respectively.
To take on the extra work load that comes with the expansion to two cars, an extra nine staff have been employed by the team owned by Charlie Schwerkolt.
Winterbottom finished 13th in the championship last year which included a pole position at Symmons Plains and a best race result of fourth at both Symmons Plains and The Bend Motorsport Park. The 2013 Bathurst 1000 winner will continue in the IRWIN Racing Commodore for 2020.
Pye arrives at Team 18 following a three-year stint at Walkinshaw Andretti United, with a best result last year of fourth in Race 2 at the Gold Coast 600. The commercial partners on Pye’s entry will be confirmed in due course.
The first time the cars will hit the track for the 2020 season will be at The Bend Motorsport Park for the official pre-season test on February 18 ahead of the opening round of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship at the Superloop Adelaide 500 on February 20-23.
Phil Keed, Engineering Leader – Team 18
“Supercars is one of those categories that’s very skilled and recruitment generally focuses on attributes and skillset, but in this case we were prepared to accept a learning phase to ensure we secure the right balance of skills and personalities to cover the different roles in the engineering group,” said Phil Keed.
“From an engineering perspective it’s incredibly beneficial to expand from one to two cars. From a preparation and post-event point of view, we basically go through the same amount of work and reporting, so we end up with twice the amount of resources but only 10-20% more work which allows the team to focus their efforts on further development.
“Success in Supercars really comes down to how you execute on the race weekend and being able to respond, react, come up to speed quickly and adapt to conditions as they change.
“With two cars, you can go down two slightly different paths in the case of tyre pressures and setup changes without getting lost. If you were making a change with just one car, you wouldn’t know what would happen if you didn’t make that change.
“From a competition point of view, drivers have different strengths and are looking for different areas to improve, so I expect both Mark Winterbottom and Scott Pye will push each other and find slightly different things and bring them together to lift the overall performance of the team.
“The main goal for the team heading to Round 1 at the Adelaide 500 is to focus on the process of constant learning and improvement. Without aiming for a result, but rather to base our achievements on minimising errors, perfecting details and to give the whole team something to build on throughout the year.
“The key is if you look at the success of other teams in Supercars is not to have teams within a team, but to work together as much as you can. From that point of view we’re extremely looking forward to building this engineering group throughout the year.”