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Not all drivers will admit it, fewer will tell you it’s a priority, but second to winning there’s no better indicator of how well or poorly you’re travelling than to compare your results to your teammate.
If your teammate happens to be one of just three drivers to deny Jamie Whincup the title in the past decade, then it’s fair to say you’ve got one of the best benchmarks on the grid.
If you happen to be new at this team, alongside its well-established superstar driver, and you comprehensively outperform this more experienced teammate in your first season, it’s got to look good on the resume, right? Well, that’s exactly what South Australian Pye has achieved so far at Walkinshaw Andretti United.
Pye arrived at the Holden squad during a period of uncertainty for both parties. The 28-year-old had been cast aside for rising star Scott McLaughlin at DJR Team Penske just as the Ford squad was on the verge of becoming a front-running contender.
“It was disappointing for me at the end of that season  when I was the one to move aside,” says Pye.
“My contract was up and they needed space for Scotty. So even though at the end of that season we were really on top of everything, they decided to go in a different direction. But at the end of my time there I was in a good position where I did have a few options.”
As Pye moved to his new home, the Holden squad had lost its factory backing and 2007 champion Garth Tander had returned to Garry Rogers Motorsport to open up the spot. Pye had plenty to prove and room to grow heading into 2017.
“It wasn’t so much about the immediate future and the pace of the car that I next jumped in,” says Pye.
“I looked at who my teammate was going to be, who was around me and who I’d be working with. And when I met with Ryan Walkinshaw for the first time we got on really well. Our goals aligned well and to have James [Courtney] as a teammate, I think whether the car is good, bad or otherwise as long as I’m qualifying next to him or in front of him then I’m doing a good job. And that is going to be seen by everyone.”
Pye had a desire to push himself against the best and for him that meant being compared to Courtney.
“Everyone knows the calibre of James; to put myself up against one of the best drivers in the field was the only way outside of winning races week in and week out to prove what I could do,” he explains.
“My goal last year was to make sure I could do the best job every weekend and match or beat James on my day. That for me would be a successful season. And we could work on the car in the meantime and try and make it faster.
“I’m still young, I’m not playing a short game here. I’ve hopefully got another 15 years to win championships.” So when Pye finished 12th at 2017 season’s end, while Courtney finished down in 21st – a further 373 points adrift – we asked the now Melbourne resident what this did for his standing within the team and his confidence.
“There was a question mark over what I could do in a car and when you go to a new team there is always a period where you have to prove yourself,” he says.
“You have guys like Rob Starr, who is on my car, who’s been around forever and has worked with guys like Skaifey [Mark Skaife] and Peter Brock, so their expectations and standards are really high.”
The Adelaide-born driver says it wasn’t until his first Supercars win in Melbourne this year that perceptions about what he could deliver on track changed.
“Right up until when I got that first race win at the grand prix there is of course going to be thoughts like, ‘Can he win a race, is he good enough?’” he says. “And I guess that is where perceptions change, when the car is right I can do the job.”
Just as Penske had come in and turned an ailing Dick Johnson Racing (DJR) operation around to the now-rejuvenated category benchmark DJR Team Penske, Walkinshaw followed suit with Andretti Autosport and United Autosports joining forces to form Walkinshaw Andretti United. The upturn in the team’s performance has been almost instant. From battling to scrape into the top 15 last year to top-10 regulars and top-five challengers this season.
“I feel like I’m in a very fortunate position to have another shot [at success],” says Pye.
“When I came to Walkinshaw I didn’t know the potential of these new owners coming in, but by just keeping my head down and looking after everyone I’ve stayed inside a team now that has immense potential.”
Pye believes the Walkinshaw Andretti United combination could be on the same trajectory as what the DJR and Team Penske merger has produced.
“I think we’ve actually got a little head start compared to when I started with them [DJR],” he says.
“Penske had to rebuild from the ground up, whereas as soon as I heard about our new partners I was really excited because I knew there would be an immediate gain. We already had great people, we just needed more of them and we also needed resources that allowed those great people to do their jobs. I think that is probably why our performance has increased quite quickly.”
Proving last year’s 12th in the championship was no fluke, Pye has spent much of the 2018 in or around the top 10, including that first win at Albert Park.
“That win was just... I guess it was just everything,” says Pye.
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