Rogers rolls the dice

COLOURFUL V8 Supercars team owner Garry Rogers is renowned for taking risks on untried drivers, but his decision last year to sign Frenchman Alex Premat was especially quirky.

Rogers excels at spotting nascent talent, giving a disproportionate number of leading drivers their starts in V8 racing.

He has always swum against the tide of picking proven performers, betting on teen tyros or outcasts. But even by Rogers' unconventional standards, Melbourne-based Premat was a choice so far out of left field it was regarded as a reckless gamble.

After all, V8 Supercars has a history of humbling even the most accomplished and experienced international drivers, who struggle to come to grips with heavy cars that are undertyred and overpowered.

Although Premat (pronounced pray-mah) was accomplished in European sports car racing and competitive in Germany's high-tech V8 touring car series, his chances of adapting successfully were further hampered by not being in a front-running car. Garry Rogers Motorsport punches above its weight, occasionally emerging from the midfield to challenge the top 10, but it doesn't have the resources to make its Holden Commodores consistent front-runners.

Predictably, Premat, 30, failed to make much of an impression last season, most of which he spent towards the rear of the field or coming off second best in altercations with the hardened local competition.

When Rogers suspended him from the car-wrecking Gold Coast 600, his prospects of retaining the drive this year looked hopeless.

But far from a French flop, Rogers is convinced Premat's disappointing rookie season wasn't a wasted effort, pointing to his end-of-season improvement as a sign of progress.

Confounding his critics, he has re-signed Premat to partner New Zealand teenager Scott McLaughlin in GRM's Fujitsu Racing Commodores.

''Alex was a gamble last year and he struggled,'' Rogers said. ''There was no doubt he has the skills, but we didn't get the best out of him. I was disappointed - based on his history, we believed he could do better.

''I decided I had invested a lot in him and he has invested in us, moving his family over here. We can get more out of him.''

Rogers also cited the switch to the new Car Of The Future rules as a key factor, believing the design changes will suit Premat's European racing pedigree. Among a host of under-the-skin changes, the new-generation V8 Supercars feature better tyres, bigger brakes and a more sophisticated rear suspension, designed to make them more responsive and less cumbersome.

Their driving characteristics are closer to the sophisticated V8-powered Audis that Premat raced in the German Touring Car Masters series for four years.

As well as being better suited to his racing experience, Premat believes the change to Car Of The Future means he won't be so disadvantaged when the new season starts at the March 1-3 Adelaide 500.

''I have set my expectations to finish in the top 10,'' Premat said. ''Everyone will be learning [the new cars] from zero and we will be doing the same. I want to start the year as I finished in 2012 and I'm looking forward to the new season.'' While he is looking to Premat to justify his reappointment, Rogers is again investing in the future with 19-year-old McLaughlin, who won the second-tier V8 development series last year.

McLaughlin is the latest in a long line of young drivers who began their rise to V8 stardom with GRM, based at Dandenong South in Melbourne's south-east.

Celebrating his 50th anniversary in racing this year, Rogers, 68, counts among his many finds reigning V8 champion Jamie Whincup, who is also the source of his greatest embarrassment.

''Over the years, we've had many great drivers in the team,'' Rogers said. ''I have also proved to be an idiot when I sacked Jamie Whincup - not one of my better decisions.'' Whincup didn't impress Rogers in 2003, but he has since developed into V8's most dominant driver, winning four championships and four Bathurst 1000s with the pace-setting Triple Eight squad.

Rogers has also confirmed that Jack Perkins and Greg Ritter have been re-signed as Fujitsu Racing's co- drivers for the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 endurance races.

The story Rogers rolls the dice first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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