From mechanic to Supercars team owner, Paul Cruickshank has been and done it in local and international motorsport.
The Kiwi worked for Australian touring car teams through the mid-1980s before spending three years in England and eventually setting up his own Supercars race team.
Cruickshank now lives a quieter life away from the racetracks, and in this edition of Saturday Sleuthing, we found out what he is up to …
Before we get into your past, lets talk about the present. What makes up a day in the life of Paul Cruickshank today?
I have a European car servicing business in Brighton, Melbourne. After I left motor racing I tried a couple of different ways to do business, and this has taken a couple of years to work out how to do it and where we can make a difference. And now, we are just starting to hit our straps.
Originally, we were doing some restoration work and it wasn’t something I was enjoying, especially when I was using third-party contractors for various jobs. Now, we are doing car servicing, and in recent times, we’ve set up a fleet maintenance business.
Let’s talk racing. Give us a snapshot of how you got into motorsport that ultimately led you to owning a two-car Supercars team …
I grew up in a town in New Zealand called Ashburton. There was a very good car club and racing heritage there. The guys I went to school with included Andy McElrea (Porsche Carrera Cup team owner), John Evans (father of Carrera Cup driver Jaxon) and Tim Miles (long-time motorsport entrepreneur and racer). So, really, I had no chance of doing anything else!
I did some club racing with those guys and came over to Australia in 1986 through some introductions from an old racer called Leo Leonard and he introduced me to another racing guy called Jim Keogh. I worked for a Holden dealer during the day and worked on Jim’s race cars at night.
Leo signed up to drive in 1986 with Robbie Francevic and Mark Petch in a Ford Sierra XR4 Ti. I worked for them for a while, and through that, I met Ross Stone and ended up working with him on the Nissan New Zealand operation, which we brought to Australia in 1987.
A global economic crisis at the time ended that program, so I rang Neal Lowe who had just started with DJR (Dick Johnson Racing) and I worked with Dick’s team for three years, mainly on John Bowe’s car. At the end of 1990 I went back to New Zealand and looked after Andy McElrea’s Formula Ford and won the championship that year.
Soon after, I met Dick Bennetts and I went over to England to work for West Surrey Racing in 1991 to 1994, looking after their Formula 3 cars. I looked after drivers like Pedro Diniz, Craig Baird and Pedro del la Rosa.
I came back to Australia at the end of 1994 and did some time with Kevin Waldock’s V8 team and then started with the Australian Motor Sport Academy, which ran Formula Fords, headed up by Alan Jones and Tony Noske.
That program didn’t last long, so I worked for Gibson Motorsport for three years, followed by a couple of years away from the industry before starting up Prancing Horse Racing with Tony Raftis. I was their first employee and did that until the end of 2002, which led me to start PCR (Paul Cruickshank Racing) in 2003.
Phillip Island, 2003
We ran Kevin Mundy and Todd Wanless that year in some ex-Stone Brothers Racing Falcons with SBR’s assistance in the Development Series and we also ran a Carrera Cup car for Kevin Bell – the first year of Carrera Cup racing.
In 2004, we ran Kevin Mundy and Marcus Zukanovic in DVS and we expanded to two Carrera Cup entries and in 2005 we teamed up with Jim Morton, so we entered Warren Luff in DVS in a BA Falcon, finishing second in the series, and we also had Phil Scifleet racing one of our AU Falcons.
That takes us up to 2006 where you made the leap into the main Supercars Championship with Marcus Marshall …
That’s right. We also had three Carrera Cup cars that year too – Jonathon Webb, Alex Davison and David Wall – so there was a bit going on for a young team.
In 2007 we got John Bowe to race our car in what turned out to be his last-ever full Supercars season, and we also had four Carrera Cup cars.
After JB left, Fabian Couthard drove for us in 2008, and in our final year in 2009, we had two cars for Coulthard and Michael Patrizi.
And it all ended quite suddenly. Why so?
We were struggling financially. We’d been cut out of the Ford system and we were just struggling to make it make sense. James Rosenberg called me and said ‘do you want to sell?’.
I had a discussion with John McMellan (Wilson Group) who was sponsoring our team at the time. John was happy to keep supporting me, but the opportunity to get out was too tempting.
We were under some financial pressures and, I won’t say we took the easy option, but if we were going to stay, we were going to have to graft it out, and it was a pretty tiring process to keep the money up to run it at that level.
I’d always prided ourselves on running the best cars we could and doing a good job from the preparation and engineering side of things. And if I couldn’t do it properly with a good driver, I didn’t want to do it at all.
In your final two years you’d developed a close tie with Triple Eight Race Engineering for equipment and support. On reflection, it was a shame that you couldn’t see that blossom to see its full potential.
We had an exceptionally good relationship with Roland Dane’s team. In some ways, we were pioneers in terms of forging a proper relationship with one of the big teams. We had done it with SBR reasonably well, but the deal with Triple Eight was a proper technical relationship.
I’m proud of that fact, because at the time, no one else was really doing it. I was pleased with how we did that, and it had the potential grow into something truly successful.
And in terms of milestones for the business we were the first Supercars team that went from nothing, through the Development Series and graduated into the main championship. I was very proud of that too.
Phillip Island, 2008
In terms of racing results, what was the race or the race weekend that stood out for you?
It was definitely the 2008 Bathurst 1000. We were competitive in every session, we made the Shootout and we were in the game all day.
We had Fabian with John McIntyre for the Phillip Island 500, and we had Alex Davison in the car for Bathurst after he came back from his European racing.
The team was operating at a really high level and the vibe was incredible.
We had a full pick-up issue in the last part of the race, which set us back. We were looking like finishing fourth or fifth, but we had to pit on the last lap of the race and we still finished 10th.
I look back on that race and think that was the best time we had. There was a lot of energy around the team, we had a lot of corporate support. It was a good time.
That was the high. Was there anything lower than having to pull stumps on the team at the end of 2009?
There were a couple of low points, but for me, the lowest was not being able to finish the job on my terms. We worked very hard. The team was always evolving, we presented a good operation, we had a great team of guys, so it was a shame that we didn’t get out of it on our own terms.
I would have liked to finish the job – that was the biggest thing. But when I look at it, I used to go to the team owners’ meetings and I’d look around the room and think ‘Paul Cruickshank, you are way out of your league here!’
I look at it and, from being a mechanic at Gibson Motorsport in the mid 90s to having my own team within a few years was not a bad effort.
Any desire to do it again? Whether it be Supercars or another racing category?
It’s funny. Would I do it again at that level? Not a chance, because there are so many promises made in the business. I suppose I was bit naive in some of the deals that I did, so no way would I go back and put myself through that, not without the resources that you need.
I look at the Supercar business now, and the fundamentals of motor racing have not changed since day dot – the things that you needed 100 years ago are still the same things you need now.
Sure, there’s technologies are different, but the fundamentals of building, running and functioning a team are the same. When we were doing that at our best, we were very good at it and very competitive.
I would like to think I have a lot to offer the industry, but I was pretty exhausted when I got out of it so I was happy to walk away.