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MATT STONE RACING new driver combination in the main series, so we certainly weren’t kidding ourselves that we were going to come in and sweep the floor with what we had. We knew that we had a lot of learning to do and we embraced that opportunity. “We knew that it was going to be a tough road, so there is certainly no silver bullet in this game and there is no overnight success either. So we had to tough it out.” They toughed out the 2018 campaign by choosing to focus on 2019 reasonably early on. “The best thing is that it was always a two-year program,” he says. “Towards the end of last year we really started to put all our energy into 2019 and what that looked like. I think we made the right choices, and it has been proven with all the success that we’ve had.” Stone is the first to admit the adjustment to the main game was a bigger challenge than expected, especially on the commercial side with a rotating sponsorship package in 2019 highlighting the volatility of the market. “We probably definitely underestimated it; we’ve done a lot of racing in a lot of different categories both nationally and internationally, and although stepping up was just taking on one extra category, that one [category] in itself is the equivalent of a lot of the other things we do put together,” he explains. Stone says while they’ve always been able to get up to speed pretty quickly in other categories, Supercars is a much tougher project. “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you look at when Team Penske came into the sport or Walkinshaw Andretti United,” he says. “No one just shows up and wins the next day. But for us as a team we’ve always been pretty capable of that in other categories. “It was definitely an adjustment in expectations. We never expected to win, but we probably didn’t expect to come last. But once we went back to our roots and the way we do things, we put ourselves on a path that has got us capable this year.” One of the big changes that the team made midseason last year was to switch from the ex-DJR Team Penske FG X Falcon they started the year with to their ex-Triple Eight Race Engineering VF Commodore which they won the Dunlop Super2 Series with. “Look, to be honest, we put a lot of thought into that one,” Stone says. “We probably should have put a lot more thought into the initial switch from 2017 through to 2018. We kind of took that one a little bit too casually and didn’t really consider all of the aspects involved. We went from a Holden that we were familiar with to a Ford which we knew nothing about. “We considered all of the implications of changing back to the Holden and we copped a bit of flack for it from a few sources in the media and whatnot. “Ultimately, though, we showed up at Adelaide 52

this year, put the thing in the shootout and showed everyone that we made the right decision last August. The very first thing we said about that decision was that it was about starting 2019 right. We showed up at Adelaide and showed all the critics that there was method to our madness.” However, so far in 2019 the Mustang package has proved superior in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship. Does Stone regret the switch back to Holden? “Absolutely not; it’s not been the Ford or Holden that has been the defining shift for us, it has been a relationship with a team and getting simulated teammates in the Triple Eight cars,” he says. “If we were running a Mustang this year, we would still be running equipment that we don’t understand. Arguably, we would have an aerodynamic advantage, but I won’t put that definitively. “We would still be running older spec equipment that we don’t understand. Whereas now we’ve got a package that I believe, while it may not have the advantage that the Mustang does, for us it’s better than what we would be in based on what we ran last year in a Ford.” While the close relationship with Triple Eight Race Engineering is a factor in their success, it’s not the only reason Matt Stone Racing has moved forward this year. “Yes and no, as it’s the partnership in general and the fact they supplied us a car that is of a racewinning quality,” Stone says. “The partnership with them has been very much back and forth and an open book. It’s not like they are doing the work for us; we’re still having to do the hard work, the engineering. “Early in the season when we were out-qualifying them in a couple of instances, that shows it really was a two-way partnership. But, definitely, a single-car team without that alliance would be very difficult.

BELOW: Todd Hazelwood and Matt Stone Racing celebrate their Dunlop Super2 Series title win in 2017.

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