Ford folk hero's V8 Supercars season in doubt

MARK FOGARTY
Last updated 08:20 28/01/2013
Dick Johnson
GLEN HUNT/Fairfax Australia
EDGE OF THE SEAT: Dick Johnson has sought help from V8 Supercars.

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Ford folk hero Dick Johnson's V8 Supercars team faces an uncertain future after plunging into another financial crisis just a month before the start of the season.

Without major sponsorship and having lost a key investor, Dick Johnson Racing - the longest established and one of the most popular teams in V8 racing - is on the brink amid claims that it doesn't have enough funding to make the first event in Adelaide, from February 28 to March 3.

Despite winning the V8 championship in 2010, DJR has barely survived in recent years; it has been rescued from the verge of collapse three times since 2008.

Johnson, 67, remains one of V8 racing's most popular figures 13 years after his retirement.

He is Ford's most famous and successful racing representative, remaining loyal to the Blue Oval for 36 years, during which DJR has won three Bathurst 1000s and seven V8 driver titles - including a record-equalling five by Johnson himself.

Already critical following the loss of two major sponsors and also Ford's support at the end of last year, his team's financial health suffered another blow recently when Queensland entrepreneur Maurie Pickering pulled out of a three-way partnership deal that saved the team late last year.

Fairfax Media has learnt that an emergency meeting of the team's board of directors will be held tomorrow afternoon to decide how - and if - DJR can survive.

The team must attract the minimum A$2 million in sponsorship or investment needed to field two Ford Falcons in the 14-event V8 championship.

''It's not a dead duck yet, but there have to be some hard decisions made,'' a senior DJR insider told Fairfax Media on condition of anonymity.

''We have to look at the viability of going ahead.''

Johnson is reported to have sought assistance from V8 Supercars last week, warning officials that DJR didn't have enough funding to be ready for the start of the series.

Not showing up would only exacerbate DJR's financial woes, as teams are subject to a A$150,000 penalty per car for every event missed.

Further breaches would result in the team's entries being reclaimed by V8 Supercars for resale.

As well as doubts that the team will have the funding to start the series in Adelaide, there are widespread suggestions that, at best, DJR will only have one of its two new Car of the Future-specification Falcons completed in time for the V8 pre-season test at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 16.

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The construction of the cars is way behind because the team has struggled to pay suppliers for critical components.

DJR's position is so parlous that speculation is rife within the V8 fraternity that Johnson's son, Steve, may have to step down to make way for a driver who can bring substantial sponsorship to the team.

Sources close to the team have confirmed that at least two drivers with big backing have been in talks to join the Brisbane-based squad.

DJR has been struggling since Johnson's partnership with forklift magnate Charlie Schwerkolt finished acrimoniously at the end of 2010, when James Courtney won the V8 title for them.

The team was on the brink again late last year until a rescue package involving Pickering and fellow Gold Coast businessman Steve Brabeck kept it going.

The agreement gave them majority ownership of DJR, leaving Johnson with a one-third share. Brabeck, who owns long-time DJR support sponsor Crimsafe, took over the administration of the team - including financial governance - as part of his debt for equity deal.

But the withdrawal of Pickering, who owns prominent car dealerships and a finance company, on top of losing all its main sponsors, has left the team without enough operating capital to continue.

It is understood Brabeck is leading a last-ditch effort to secure commercial backing and a new partner ahead of tomorrow's board meeting.

-Fairfax News Australia

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