Winning another Bathurst 1000 title was the last thing on Holden great Garth Tander’s mind at the start of the year.
In fact, the former Supercars series champion wondered if he would get behind the wheel again after his glittering 19-year full-time career came to an abrupt halt with a shock axing in January.
No wonder the three-time Bathurst winner was pinching himself as he prepared to launch his 21st assault on Mount Panorama this weekend as one of the Great Race’s hot favourites.
The 42-year-old will team up with Supercars star Shane van Gisbergen after being thrown a co-driver lifeline by heavyweights Red Bull Racing.
“For me it is a great opportunity to have more success at the mountain, which is something I did not think I would have again at the start of the year,” Tander told AAP.
“I knew when we did this deal that I was in a car that was capable of winning Bathurst.
“Since I found out I wasn’t going to be full-time in Supercars and this opportunity popped up I have been counting down the days.”
Tander will start life as an endurance co-driver 12 months earlier than expected.
The Holden veteran had hoped to draw the curtain on his stellar full-time career at the end of 2019.
But his plans quickly changed when Holden’s Garry Rogers Motorsport sensationally gave him the axe in January, replacing him with young gun Richie Stanaway as part of a new sponsorship deal with Boost Mobile.
It’s fair to say Tander left with some hard feelings.
“I am still disappointed with the way it played out but it is not worth wasting energy worrying about that stuff any more,” he said.
“But from a career perspective I have got my head around the fact I am not a full-time driver any more.”
Being snapped up by front-runners Red Bull Racing as their co-driver for the year’s three endurance rounds – starting with the Bathurst 1000 – certainly eased the pain for Tander.
Now Tander says he is primed to add Bathurst title No.4 to his resume.
“It has certainly been strange watching the events on TV and not being there having been part of the series for so long,” he said.
“But what it has done has ensured I am feeling really fresh. As a full-time driver you can get to this time of the year and feel a bit fatigued.
“But I didn’t think I would have the chance to do this this year so I am going to enjoy it.”