2017 United States Grand Prix – Preview

The 17th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend from the Circuit of the Americas, located about 22 kilometres away from the city-centre of Austin, the capital of the state of Texas, and we have two world championships that could well be decided this weekend.

Lewis Hamilton (306 points) leads the world drivers’ championship in his Mercedes by 59 points over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (247 points), while Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas (234 points) is third in the championship, 72 points behind Hamilton, and still has a mathematical chance of claiming his first world championship in 2017.

Hamilton extended his lead over Vettel from 34 points to 59 points after taking a magnificent victory at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka after starting from pole position, thus having started from pole position on every circuit on the current Formula One calendar, and holding off Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in the closing laps to take his eighth win of the season, and his fifth win in the last seven races, including his fourth win in the last five races. In addition to this Hamilton has finished on the podium in six of the last seven races, including in the last five races, and is truly at the top of his game right now!

The same cannot be said for Ferrari, who have dropped their bundle in the last three races with the collisions and accidents in Singapore, which wiped out a two-car Ferrari team on the opening for the first time in history, and then reliability issues in both Malaysia and Japan with their power-units, allowing Ferrari to only score a combined 22 points during the last three races, and is seemingly going to cost Vettel the world championship, and it makes it more painful to consider that they had arguably a faster car than their rivals at all of those three events.

Meanwhile, Bottas has been consistent without being spectacular recently, but has finished inside the top five in the last 11 races, but has only finished on the podium twice in the last five races, the five races since the summer break, and you sense he will need to lift his game if he wants to secure second in the drivers’ championship.

So, for Hamilton to clinch his fourth world championship at the United States Grand Prix, one of these scenarios must happen:

  1. If Hamilton wins the race, Vettel must finish sixth or lower.
  2. If Hamilton finishes second, Vettel must finish ninth or lower, and Bottas must not win the race.

However, as I said before, that is not the only championship battle that could be decided this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas, with the World Constructors’ Championship up for grabs for Mercedes for the fourth-straight year.

Mercedes (540 points) lead over Ferrari (395 points) by 145 points with four races remaining, with reliability and the lack of a strong two-driver effort costing Ferrari any realistic hope of claiming their first constructors’ championship since 2008.

Mercedes, in the five races since the summer break, have out-scored Ferrari 183 to 77, a difference of 106 points, and in the last three races, Mercedes have out-scored Ferrari 105 to 22, a difference of 83 points. In fact, Red Bull (303 points), who sit in third in the constructors’ championship, but out of mathematical contention have also out-scored Ferrari in the last three races 91 to 22, a difference of 69 points, and are only 14 points behind Mercedes when you just consider the last three races, just showing how far Ferrari have fallen in terms of the reliability of their car.

So, for Mercedes to clinch their fourth-straight world championship at the United States Grand Prix:

  1. Ferrari must not out-score Mercedes by 17 points or more. If one of the Mercedes win the race, they are guaranteed to win the constructors’ championship. If both Mercedes finish inside the top four, they are guaranteed to win the constructors’ championship.

So, will Hamilton and/or Mercedes claim the world championships this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas.

Both Ferrari and Red Bull have the potential to challenge Mercedes here, and Mercedes, as far as their speed is concerned, don’t have as big a margin as they have had previously at this time of the season compared to 2014, 2015, and 2016.

However, Lewis Hamilton has been right at the top of his game in recent races, and if he continues in this vain of form, he will be very hard to beat at a place where he has only lost once.

Hamilton to win the United States Grand Prix to clinch Mercedes the constructors’ world championship, but the drivers’ world championship to continue onto Mexico.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (Saturday 2am and 6am AEDT).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 4pm local time (Sunday 3am and 8am AEDT).

The 56 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (Monday 6am AEDT).

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2017 MotoGP Australian GP – Preview

The 16th round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend from the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, which is located about 140 kilometres south-south-east of Melbourne, and it is the second of three-straight flyaway weekends (Japan, Australia, and Malaysia), and from what we saw in Japan, we are set for some great racing at this breathtaking circuit.

Marc Márquez (244 points) leads the world championship on his factory Honda, but his championship lead over factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso (233 points) has been cut to just 11 points after the Italian’s sensational victory at the Twin Ring Motegi in very wet conditions, overtaking Márquez on the final lap to grab his fifth victory of the season, which is the most wins Dovizioso has had in a season since he claim the 125cc championship in 2004. It was also Dovizioso’s seventh podium of the season, which is the equal most he has achieved in a season during his premier class career (2010, 2011, and 2017).

And while the lead for Márquez was cut to 11 points, the Spaniard could celebrate his 100th podium in Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing in just his 165th race, and with that podium, it is the seventh time in the last eight years that Márquez has achieved 10 podiums or more in a season across all classes.

Third in the championship is factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (203 points), 41 points behind Márquez after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix, struggling in very wet conditions on his Yamaha, a bike that has struggled all season long in wet conditions, and after scoring three wins in the opening five races of the season, Viñales has only been able to manage three podiums in the last 10, a run of form that will surely cost him any hope of winning his first MotoGP World Championship in 2017.

Dani Pedrosa (170 points), the teammate of Márquez, is the last rider in mathematical contention for the world championship, but is 74 points (out of a possible 75) behind Márquez in the championship after retiring from the Japanese Grand Prix, and will need a miracle if he was to win his first MotoGP World Championship in 2017.

Valentino Rossi (168 points) is fifth in the championship on his factory Yamaha, but officially out of championship contention after crashing out in Motegi, struggling like his teammate Viñales in the wet conditions.

Johann Zarco (125 points) is ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (116 points), and Danilo Petrucci (111 points) in the battle for sixth in the championship, which will be battle outside of the championship battle that will be sure to captivate great interest among the fans as this season draws closer to the end.

Cal Crutchlow (92 points) is ninth in the championship, and is ahead of Jonas Folger (84 points) who missed the Japanese Grand Prix due to a mystery virus, and looks set to miss the Australian Grand Prix, as well as the Malaysian Grand Prix the week after.

As far as who is going to win at Phillip Island, Honda, Ducati, and Yamaha should all have strong bikes to handle the fast, sweeping corners around this iconic circuit.

It is important to note that Phillip Island is one of just five circuits on the current MotoGP calendar that run in an anti-clockwise direction, and at the three anti-clockwise circuits (Circuit of the Americas, Sachsenring, and Motorland Aragón) MotoGP has been to in 2017, Marc Márquez has won all three, while Andrea Dovizioso has struggled, finishing sixth, eighth, and seventh respectively at those three circuits.

However, Márquez has only won the Australian Grand Prix once since joining the premier class in 2013, but could have potentially won all of those races. Márquez was disqualified in 2013 after failing to pit within the prescribed pit-stop window in the first-ever dry flag-to-flag race, before crashing at Turn 10 in 2014 while leading the race comfortably, before winning a thriller in 2015 when he was out of championship contention, overtaking Jorge Lorenzo on the last lap, and then crashed at Turn Four (Honda Corner) while leading the race again in 2016.

Conditions this weekend are set to be fine, but cool, which should suit the Yamaha better, but I think the Honda and Ducati have been developed much further and better than the Yamaha, and given his record on anti-clockwise circuits, both in 2017 and in general, it is very hard to tip against Márquez moving a step closer to a fourth MotoGP World Championship, and his sixth championship across all classes.

 

MotoGP Practice on Friday at 10:55am, and 3:05pm local time (10:55am, and 3:05pm AEDT). MotoGP FP3 on Saturday at 10:55am local time (10:55am AEDT), FP4 on Saturday at 2:30pm local time (2:30pm AEDT), Q1 and Q2 on Saturday at 3:10pm and 3:35pm local time (3:10pm and 3:35pm AEDT). MotoGP Warm Up on Sunday at 11:40am local time (11:40am AEDT), and MotoGP race on Sunday at 4:00pm local time (4:00pm AEDT).

 

Gold Coast 600 – Preview

This weekend, the 12th round of the 2017 Supercars Championship takes place at the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit on the Gold Coast for the Gold Coast 600, and after long, wet, and eventually chaotic Bathurst 1000, we have been left with a championship form guide that has been turned upside down.

Coming into the Gold Coast 600, Fabian Coulthard (2431 points) for DJR Team Penske leads the championship by 91 points over Triple Eight Race Engineering driver Jamie Whincup (2340 points), and 97 points over his teammate Scott McLaughlin (2334 points).

Coulthard and his co-driver Tony D’Alberto were quiet for most of the weekend, especially compared to McLaughlin and his co-driver Alexandre Prémat, with Coulthard qualifying in seventh after the Top 10 Shootout, and being comfortably slower than McLaughlin for the entire weekend, but managed to stay out of trouble to salvage third in a brilliant performance of damage limitation that led to Coulthard not only taking the championship lead, but him and D’Alberto taking the lead of the Endurance Cup.

However, it was not a good race day for McLaughlin and Prémat, with McLaughlin making a mistake early in the race to lose the lead, before engine problems came into play, affecting their performance before it eventually failed on Lap 73 on approach to The Cutting, becoming the first competitors to retire from the 2017 Bathurst 1000, which has severely compromised McLaughlin’s championship hopes by scoring zero points.

However, it wasn’t a good weekend for Whincup and his co-driver Paul Dumbrell, and generally for Triple Eight Race Engineering overall, struggling with their brakes and general car set-up, with Whincup failing to qualify inside the Top 10, qualifying only in 11th, and then not leading a lap in the race.

It was the first Bathurst 1000 since 2004 that a car containing Whincup did not lead a single lap. This was before engine issues all but ended any hopes of a victory, with the car getting back out for the last few laps to be classified, and gain some vital championship points.

Fourth in the championship is Chaz Mostert (2208 points) for Rod Nash Racing/Prodrive Racing Australia, 223 points behind Coulthard in the championship after finishing 10th with co-driver Steve Owen at Mount Panorama after serving two drive-through penalties, but the team has steadily been improving their car speed, and Mostert looks set for a late-season charge to towards possibly winning his first championship.

Shane Van Gisbergen (2142 points) is fifth in the 2017 Supercars Championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering, 289 points behind Coulthard after he and his co-driver Matt Campbell finished the Bathurst 1000 in fifth position. Like all of the Triple Eight cars, they struggled with brake stability and car balance, but Van Gisbergen was able to qualify the car in fifth after the Top 10 Shootout.

However, they struggled during the race, with Campbell having an absolute shocker in wet conditions, while Van Gisbergen made some uncharacteristic mistakes, costing the team a chance of the victory, but Van Gisbergen is still a realistic hope of defending his championship crown.

In terms of the Teams’ Championship, DJR Team Penske (4800 points) are leading Triple Eight Race Engineering (4482 points) by 318 points, with DJR Team Penske having a slim hope of claiming the teams’ championship this weekend, and ending Triple Eight’s seven year domination of the teams’ championship.

In terms of the Endurance Cup standings, 18 driver combinations still remain in mathematical contention with the top five separated by 108 points with Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto (480 points), Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway (444 points), Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen (414 points), David Reynolds and Luke Youlden (408 points) after winning the Bathurst 1000, and Dale Wood and Chris Pither (372 points) all in realistic contention to win the Endurance Cup.

As far as who I expect to be strong on the streets of the Gold Coast, I expect both Triple Eight Race Engineering and DJR Team Penske to be mighty, and while I expect Prodrive Racing Australia to be in the fight, I am expecting Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat to hit back after their retirement at Bathurst to claim victory in both races at the Gold Coast 600, and allow McLaughlin to regain some momentum in the championship.

 

 

 

 

2017 MotoGP Japan GP – Preview

The 15th round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend from the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, which is about 150 kilometres north-north-east of Tokyo, and is the first of three-straight flyaway weekends (Japan, Australia, and Malaysia) that could well determine who becomes the 2017 MotoGP World Champion, and with four-races to go, the battle looks set to go down to the wire.

Marc Márquez (224 points) on his factory Honda, leads the world championship by 16 points over factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso (208 points) after winning the last two races, including last time out in Aragón in Spain three weeks ago. He has now equalled his win tally from last year to become the first rider since Valentino Rossi to achieve five race victories (or more) in a MotoGP season for five-successive years.

And despite a couple of scrappy qualifying sessions by his own high standards, has the bike, the speed, and the momentum in his quest to win his fourth MotoGP World Championship, and his sixth world championship overall.

Dovizioso, meanwhile had a much more difficult time in Aragón, struggling for pace during the race, coming home in seventh place, and leaving his hopes of winning his first MotoGP World Championship in a difficult position, but is having the best season of his MotoGP career, there is no doubt about that!

Maverick Viñales (196 points) is third in the world championship on his factory Yamaha, 28 points behind Márquez despite having not won a race since the French Grand Prix back in May, and the factory Yamaha team have struggled to find that extra speed and confidence, particularly in hotter conditions to challenge Honda and Ducati in the world championship battle, but you feel Viñales is riding well at the moment, with six-successive top six race finishes.

Fourth in the 2017 MotoGP World Championship is Márquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa (170 points) after a second-place finish in Aragón, and remains in mathematical contention for the title, along with Yamaha teammate of Viñales, Valentino Rossi (168 points), who made a miraculous comeback from a broken leg in Aragón, qualifying on the front row, and then managing to finish fifth in one of the most remarkable performances that we have seen, given the circumstances, in recent years.

Johann Zarco (117 points) is sixth in the world championship, but out of contention to win it in his rookie season in MotoGP, and is ahead of factory Ducati rider Jorge Lorenzo (106 points). Lorenzo scored just his second podium of in 2017 at Aragón, and is showing some promising signs that he might be getting back towards race-winning form in his first season on the factory Ducati, although time is running out to secure a race victory, and avoid having a winless season for the first time since joining the premier class in 2008.

Completing the top 10 in the 2017 MotoGP World Championship are Danilo Petrucci (95 points), Cal Crutchlow (92 points), and Jonas Folger (84 points), riders who are all capable of achieving another podium or two before the season comes to an end.

Looking at who can challenge for a race victory at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan, it is pretty hard to go against Marc Márquez, who won the race last year in securing his third MotoGP World Championship, but he has got some heavy competition for the victory at the Honda-owned circuit in 2017.

In the Bridgestone era (2009-2015) at the Japanese Grand Prix, Yamaha had won three times (all for Jorge Lorenzo), Honda had also won three times (all for Dani Pedrosa), and Ducati only won once during that time with Casey Stoner back in a difficult 2010 for the Italian manufacturer, the year which started their downward spiral, which they have recovered from.

You also sense that this circuit should suit both the Yamaha and the Ducati, perhaps even more so than the Honda, and both Viñales and Dovizioso desperately need a victory to keep their championship hopes alive, and to not allow Márquez to get a total stranglehold on proceedings.

While I would tip Márquez given his current form to win for the second year in a row at the Twin Ring Motegi, if I wasn’t going to tip him to win the race, I think Jorge Lorenzo will break his duck and claim his first race victory for Ducati, while I think Maverick Viñales will get his first podium since the British Grand Prix.

 

MotoGP Practice on Friday at 9:55am, and 2:05pm local time (11:55am, and 4:05pm AEDT). MotoGP FP3 on Saturday at 9:55am local time (11:55am AEDT), FP4 on Saturday at 1:30pm local time (3:30pm AEDT), Q1 and Q2 on Saturday at 2:10pm and 2:35pm local time (4:10pm and 4:35pm AEDT). MotoGP Warm Up on Sunday at 9:40am local time (11:40am AEDT), and MotoGP race on Sunday at 2:00pm local time (4:00pm AEDT).

 

2017 Japanese Grand Prix – Preview

This weekend, the 16th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place from the Suzuka International Racing Course, also known as the Suzuka Circuit, in Japan, which is about 70 kilometres south-west of the Japanese city of Nagoya.

And with Lewis Hamilton taking some more points off Sebastian Vettel, this world championship battle is set to heat up at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton (281 points) leads the world drivers’ championship for Mercedes by 34 points over Vettel (247 points) after finishing second behind Red Bull driver Max Verstappen last weekend at the Malaysia Grand Prix in what was considered to be a disappointing result for Mercedes after struggling to find their normal pace during practice, and while Hamilton did secure his 70th pole position in his Formula One career, he did not have the speed to hold of Verstappen in the race.

However, he did gain six more points over Vettel in the championship after his Ferrari had major technical issues on Saturday relating to the power-unit in his car, meaning that he couldn’t set a time in qualifying, which meant he started from last on the grid, although the major benefit from that disappointment was that he was able to take on extra power-unit components without effectively serving a penalty.

However, despite a storming drive in his Ferrari from 20th on the grid to finish fourth, more pain was to follow for Vettel on the cool-down lap, colliding with Williams driver Lance Stroll, damaging his Ferrari significantly, meaning that he might have to take a grid penalty for a gearbox change should his team find damage to his gearbox, which could mean further pain in his quest to win a fifth world championship.

Third in the championship is Valtteri Bottas (222 points), 59 points behind teammate Hamilton in the standings after finishing a disappointing fifth in Malaysia, and has really been out of sorts since the summer break, generally struggling for speed in comparison to his teammate, and not producing the performances that he expects from himself. Bottas will need to lift his performances in support of Hamilton if he wants Hamilton to win his fourth world championship.

Daniel Ricciardo (177 points) is fourth in the world championship, 104 points behind Hamilton, and the last driver (other than Hamilton, Vettel, and Bottas) in mathematical contention for the drivers’ championship, although Ricciardo has accepted for sometime that he wasn’t going to have the machinery to contend for the championship, after finishing third in Malaysia.

Kimi Räikkönen (138 points) is fifth in the championship for Ferrari after power-unit/battery issues caused him to be wheeled from the grid, and he was unable to start in the Malaysia Grand Prix, which was a huge shame considering that he was starting from the front row of the grid, and certainly he had the pace to win in his Ferrari. Räikkönen could have also helped his teammate remain closer to Hamilton in the championship if he was able to participate, and finish ahead of Hamilton (either first or second), which would have meant Hamilton would have only gained five points over Vettel instead of the six points that he did gain over Vettel.

Sixth in the championship is Verstappen (93 points), who finally had some luck go his way, winning the Malaysia Grand Prix after overtaking Hamilton on Lap Four at Turn One, and then leading 51 of the remaining 53 laps to take a comfortable 12.770 second victory over Hamilton, which was only the second race win of Verstappen’s young career, which happened the day after his 20th Birthday!

In terms of the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (503 points) lead by 118 points over Ferrari (385 points) in the two-way battle for the constructors’ championship with Red Bull (270 points) in third, followed by Force India (133 points) in fourth, then Williams (65 points) in fifth, who have broken away slightly from Toro Rosso (52 points) in the battle for fifth in the championship, followed by Renault (42 points), Haas (37 points), and then McLaren (23 points), and Sauber (five points), who seem destined to finish 10th in the constructors’ championship.

Looking at trying to predict a result for the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix, I think that although it has been a couple of difficult weekends for Mercedes in terms of their speed, I would expect them to be back on top form at Suzuka, and although I think Ferrari and Red Bull will still be good in Japan, I believe Lewis Hamilton on a circuit tailor-made for him and his Mercedes, due to the long, fast corners, and the premium placed on having a strong power-unit, will dominate all of his rivals to claim victory ahead of a five-way battle for second and third between Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Max Verstappen.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (12pm and 4pm AEDT).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 12pm and 3pm local time (2pm and 5pm AEDT).

The 53 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (4pm AEDT).

An early look at the Newcastle Street Circuit

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Photo of pit complex site, and start/finish line before construction. (Taken on Monday 20th of February, 2017)

This is my early look at the Newcastle Street Circuit, but before I discuss the general requirements, and take you through a lap of what could be an iconic street circuit, I want to quickly touch upon the progress of construction of the Newcastle Street Circuit, and with eight weeks to go until the Newcastle 500, I was shocked, but not surprised at what I saw today (Tuesday).

I am not impressed at the rate of the construction of the Newcastle Street Circuit, particular approaching Turn Two, then from there through the Shortland Esplanade Esses (although the road has been resurfaced through most of this section, with plenty work to do on the outside of the corners to make it look visibly attractive for television and tourism purposes) to Turn Six. The braking zone for Turn Six, and the general area of Turn Six, as well as the approach to Turn Seven has been neglected significantly, with little to no work being done yet from the braking zone for Turn Six to the braking zone of Turn Seven.

In addition to this, the construction work from the exit of Turn Eight through to the braking zone of Turn 10 is still taking place, and from what I saw, it won’t be ready for a little while yet, and this is without thinking about putting up the barriers, which should be starting to go up now, and this is a long, exhaustive process.

While I remain confident that the Newcastle Street Circuit will be ready to go on time for the Newcastle 500, I am very concerned about the rate of progress in getting everything ready for the event.

Supercars, the New South Wales (NSW) State Government, the Newcastle City Council, and all other relevant stakeholders involved need to come out to the general public, and answer the tough questions to ease all concerns among many people that the Newcastle Street Circuit might not be ready on time, because I am very concerned that it might not be ready on time.

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Start/Finish Line, and pit complex site. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

From November 24 to 26, the final event of the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship will take place on the streets of Newcastle East, right beside the Newcastle foreshore, and while there have been a lot of political issues in relation to the race and the impact that it could have on the people living (or working) in the immediate area in and around the Newcastle Street Circuit, the vibe from most people in regards to the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 has been largely positive.

So, in a week where the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, and the great Mount Panorama Circuit takes centre stage, I want to give you an early preview to the Newcastle Street Circuit, and what challenges this 2.66 kilometre, 11 turn street circuit will provide the teams and the drivers in November in what is set to be two 94 lap races.

GENERAL REQUIREMENTS

It will be one of the tightest circuits on the Supercars calendar, in terms of the width of the circuit, and while many may regard the Newcastle Street Circuit as the Monaco of the southern hemisphere in the years to come, it will be surprisingly quick, quicker than what many people expect, given the general tight nature of the circuit.

However, like Monaco, the Newcastle Street Circuit will put a heavy premium on mechanical grip, and the teams will want to pile as much downforce onto the cars as they possibly can, due to the lack of long straights rather than because there is many high-speed corners, so in general terms, this track is not about aerodynamic efficiency, but rather having as much aerodynamic downforce on the cars as possible, but ultimately, the teams and cars that will do well are the ones who have great mechanical grip.

The surface of the road should be smooth, and not abrasive in nature due to resurfacing of roads for the Newcastle 500.

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Asphalt on pit straight. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

However, that doesn’t mean that engine power won’t play a part as to which cars are strong, especially going uphill to Turn Two, but it will be more important to have a car that has good traction, and that is strong and stable under brakes. In terms of transmission, there will plenty of time in the lower gears throughout a lap of the Newcastle Street Circuit, particularly during the middle parts of the lap, which could mean the stresses on the gearbox could be high due to the constant acceleration out of slow corners, so the teams will need to keep an eye on that as the weekend progresses.

In addition to this, teams will need to make sure that their cars have strong cooling packages due to the warm to hot weather that is typical in late November in Newcastle, and while you may get some cool breezes from the Tasman Sea/Pacific Ocean, Fort Scratchley and the various buildings in the east end of Newcastle shields much of this breeze. As well as this, cool suits will be essential for the drivers due to the hot conditions, and the heat build-up within the confines of the circuit, putting even more stress on the cars.

In terms of driving requirements, a driver will want a car that has a strong front-end, and is instantly responsive. A driver will want to have complete confidence in how the car behaves, and certainly doesn’t want a car that is out of control. A driver will have to build up his/her confidence from the start of the weekend, slowly building up to full speed.

A driver who is generally happy with a car that has a little bit of oversteer on a consistent basis will be strong in Newcastle.

PIT LANE

While the pit buildings, garages, and race control aren’t up yet to know for sure, I believe the Newcastle Street Circuit will have one of the tightest pit lanes, if not the tightest, in the Supercars Championship, meaning that teams will have to try and avoid at all costs double-stacking their cars for pit stops during safety car periods, and I think we will almost certainly see at least one safety car during both races at the inaugural Newcastle 500.

WHARF ROAD PIT STRAIGHT (run to Turn One)

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Braking zone into Turn One before construction. (Taken on Monday 20th of February, 2017)

The run along the Wharf Road pit straight will be quick before braking hard into Turn One, which resembles Turn One (Sainte Devote) at Monaco, albeit turning left rather than right.

It will be important in a race start situation to get a good start, because although there are a few passing opportunities around the Newcastle Street Circuit, the straight will narrow like a funnel into Turn One, meaning that you need to be in a good position to avoid possible carnage at the start.

In theory, it should be single-file into Turn One at the start of a race, but in reality, many competitors will take chances to get ahead of their rivals at the start, meaning the chance of damage to cars at Turn One after the start is high, meaning the chances of seeing an early safety car are high.

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Turn One. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

The saying “you can’t win the race at turn one, but you sure can lose it” will ring true here!

Once the race is underway, Turn One should be a decent, but difficult passing opportunity should a competitor get along a rival heading into the braking zone, but regardless of whether a pass is made here or not, it will potentially set up the opportunity for a pass, or re-pass into Turn Two.

WATT STREET UPHILL RUN TO TURN TWO

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The run from Turn One viewing up the hill to Turn Two. (Taken on Monday 20th of February, 2017)

Accelerating out of Turn One, you head up a long uphill straight to Turn Two. It is very similar in resemblance to the pit straight at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. It starts as a gradual uphill run, but when you get to the King Street intersection (on a normal day), Watt Street starts going dramatically uphill into the braking zone for Turn Two, which will be a popular passing opportunity on the Newcastle Street Circuit.

Whoever dares to brake later (as you can see in the photos of Turn Two taken in February before construction), and has the inside line when trying to pass a rival car will be rewarded, but unlike the run into Turn One at the Circuit of the Americas, the road width will the same into Turn Two, and there will be no chance for a competitor to defend their position around the outside of Turn Two in Newcastle compared to Turn One in Austin due to the concrete walls.

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Another thing that the drivers and teams should note is the escape road for Turn Two goes uphill, which should give them confidence in practice to brake as deep as possible to find the optimal braking spot for Turn Two, which will be important during qualifying sessions, the Top 10 Shootout, and of course in the races.

SHORTLAND ESPLANADE ESSES (Turns Three, Four, Five, Six)

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Turn Three before construction. (Taken on Monday 20th of February, 2017)

This is the section of the Newcastle Street Circuit that will become iconic in the history of the sport, a section that will literally scare the drivers more than any part of circuit on any track on the Supercars calendar, and it will sort out the good drivers from the great!

This section will require immense bravery, but also great driving technique and throttle control as you go downhill left through Turn Three, and then a slight kink right, then left through Turn Four, and then turning right around Turn Five before braking hard into Turn Six, which is a possible passing opportunity for those who are opportunistic.

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The braking zone into Turn Six. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

The car and driver combination who is fastest through this section will be the ones to beat at the Newcastle 500.

EXIT FROM TURN SIX TO TURN 10

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Braking zone into Turn Seven. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

After the breathtaking wonder of the Shortland Esplanade Esses, which some drivers may struggle to recover from, we head to a section of the Newcastle Street Circuit that will be a very tactically part of the circuit, and drivers will be trying different lines through the staircase of Turn Six (left), Seven (right) and Eight (left), which are all 90 degree corners, to try and gain an advantage over their rivals. It is similar to the staircase section at the Adelaide Street Circuit.

However, the way that you accelerate out of Turn Eight will determine whether you can pass a rival car into Turn 10, or keep them behind. From Turn Eight,  Turn 10 is a hairpin, similar in style to Turn Nine in Adelaide, except it is a left-hander rather than a right-hander.

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Turn Eight. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

In between Turn Eight and Turn 10, you head slightly uphill over a crest before rushing downhill a touch towards Turn Nine, which I think should be an easy flat-out corner, and while it may well be the fastest corner on the circuit, it doesn’t look like it will pose a huge challenge for the drivers and teams, but it will be more exciting for the fans watching the cars through this section of the circuit.

However, if you are not switched on through this entire section of circuit from Turn Six to Turn 10, you will lose a lot of time, and/or positions!

TURN 11 ONTO PIT STRAIGHT

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Exit of Turn 11. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

Accelerating out of Turn 10, you drive along Horseshoe Bend Road a short distance to Turn 11, which appears to be a corner similar to the Turn 19 (Anthony Noghes) in Monaco, and I think it will be a slow to slow-medium speed corner, and will require good traction out of the corner to accelerating onto the pit straight to complete a lap of the Newcastle Street Circuit.

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A view of the pit straight behind the grid. (Taken on Tuesday 3rd of October, 2017)

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

While like at every circuit you need to have a great car, the driver will have a greater influence than normal into achieving a great result at the Newcastle Street Circuit, and in a tight championship battle, it could have a decisive bearing as to who wins the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.

Bathurst 1000 – Preview

This week, the world of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship heads to the place known by many people as ‘The Mountain’ for the race regarded by many as the greatest touring car race in the world, the Bathurst 1000, and we are set to see another classic at Mount Panorama with so many combinations in with a shot of winning the great race.

Coming into the Bathurst 1000, Scott McLaughlin (DJR Team Penske) leads the 2017 Supercars Championship on 2334 points after he and his co-driver Alexandre Prémat finished second at the Sandown 500 behind Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway, 84 points ahead of Jamie Whincup (Triple Eight Race Engineering), who is on 2250 points.

Whincup and his co-driver Paul Dumbrell finished a disappointing sixth at the Sandown 500 after a tyre puncture meant that their race was severely compromised, costing Whincup valuable points in his championship battle with McLaughlin. Both Whincup and Dumbrell will be looking for redemption at The Mountain after three-straight years of not being on the Bathurst podium after leading a large proportion of laps in each of those three years.

Third in the championship is Fabian Coulthard (DJR Team Penske) on 2173 points, 161 points behind his teammate McLaughlin in the championship. It has been a tough time for Coulthard recently, finishing behind McLaughlin in six of the last eight races, and really needs a big result with his co-driver Tony D’Alberto at Bathurst if he wants to keep his hopes of winning his first championship strong in 2017.

Chaz Mostert (Rod Nash Racing PRA) is fourth in the 2017 championship on 2052 points, 282 points behind McLauglin, after he and Steve Owen finished third at the Sandown 500. Mostert has really come on strong as the season has progressed, and heading into Bathurst, he remains an outside chance of winning his first championship.

The only other driver realistically in championship contention heading into the Bathurst 1000 is defending Supercars champion Shane Van Gisbergen (Triple Eight Race Engineering), who is on 1920 points, 414 points behind McLaughlin in the championship. Van Gisbergen has already turned his attention away from the championship battle, focusing on getting as many race victories as possible before the season ends, and is a good chance with his co-driver Matt Campbell of winning at The Mountain.

In the teams’ championship, it is a two-way battle for the championship, with DJR Team Penske (4542 points) leading over Triple Eight Race Engineering (4170 points) by 372 points heading into the biggest race of the year.

Looking at the standings in the Pirtek Endurance Cup, and it is top five from the Sandown 500 being the top five here, with Cameron Waters and Richie Stanaway (Prodrive Racing Australia), Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat (DJR Team Penske), Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen (Rod Nash Racing PRA), Garth Tander and James Golding (Garry Rogers Motorsport), and Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto (DJR Team Penske) leading the way on 300, 276, 258, 240, and 222 points respectively.

Looking at the track characteristics, as well as the strength of cars and drivers this year, the 2017 Bathurst 1000 appears to be an open race. It is also important to note that Dunlop are heading back to using in 2016 compound of tyre after the troubles at Phillip Island back in April, which should suit Triple Eight Race Engineering more than DJR Team Penske, given their dominance at the back-end of last year.

However, I expect DJR Team Penske to be very strong at The Mountain, while I think Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) may have the third best cars, behind Triple Eight Race Engineering and DJR Team Penske at the Mount Panorama Circuit.

When you consider all of these factors, you can see at least nine cars, possibly a few more who could win the 2017 Bathurst 1000, or at least challenge to be at the front in qualifying and in the Top 10 Shootout.

I am predicting a pole position battle between Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin on Friday and Saturday, but while I see these two being on the podium on Sunday, I think I see a regular driver who is not in championship winning the great race on Sunday.

Craig Lowndes, ever since he joined Triple Eight Race Engineering in 2005, has won at least one race per year, but hasn’t won since the 24th of July, 2016, and has only scored two podiums (one if you don’t including the non-classified Race Three of 2017 at Symmons Plains) in the last 31 races.

During these last 31 races, there have been some question marks about Lowndes future in the sport and whether he may be starting to lose that edge, the edge which has seen him finish in the top four in the championship every year that he has been at Triple Eight Race Engineering, but with him currently eighth in the championship on 1590 points, that wonderful record looks set to come to an end.

However, I believe he is overdue for a race victory, and I believe he and his co-driver Steven Richards can win as a combination for the second-time in three years, ahead of Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell, with Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat completing the podium in third.

Practice starts on Thursday, Qualifying is on Friday (3:50pm AEDT), the Top 10 Shootout is on Saturday (5:10pm AEDT), with the 161-lap Bathurst 1000 on Sunday, starting at 11:10am AEDT.