2019 Bathurst 1000 – Preview

It is Australia’s Great Race, 161 Laps, 1000 kilometres, it is the Bathurst 1000, and with it being the start of the endurance season in 2019, it is set to be dramatic once again!

And with that comes a myriad of storylines!

Defending Bathurst 1000 winner Craig Lowndes partnering up with Jamie Whincup, who he won the great race with three times from 2006 to 2008, also finishing fifth together back in 2009 despite serving a drive-through penalty early in the race due to an unsafe release in the first pit stop. Lowndes is attempting to win his eighth to get within one victory of Peter Brock at Mount Panorama, Whincup looking to become the seventh driver to win the Bathurst 1000 at least five times.

Then we have Shane Van Gisbergen and Garth Tander together in tandem in what is set to a fabulous combination throughout the endurance season. Then we have Steven Richards, a five-time winner and defending champion reuniting with Mark Winterbottom, who he won the great race with back in 2013.

David Reynolds, along with Luke Youlden, will be searching for redemption in 2019 after Reynolds suffered from heavy fatigue throughout the 2018 Bathurst 1000, surrendering the lead to Craig Lowndes, and preventing the pair from defending their 2017 crown.

And while I could talk about many other storylines, including the wildcard pair from Walkinshaw Andretti United of former Formula One driver and 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi, and six-time IndyCar race winner James Hinchcliffe, the ultimate story of the 2019 Bathurst 1000 will likely centre around six Ford Mustangs, in particular Car No.17 led by defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, with Alexandre Prémat partnering up with him as the endurance season begins in earnest at Round 12 of the 2019 Supercars Championship.

McLaughlin (3008 points) leads the championship by a massive 598 points with four rounds remaining after dominating the field like few have done before, and certainly not in recent years, winning at every circuit on the calendar in 2019, achieving 17 wins, 14 pole positions, and 10 fastest laps from 24 races (23 starts), and with a car that should be mighty around Mount Panorama, McLaughlin knows, along with Prémat, that this is their best chance of claiming their first win at The Great Race, and give DJR Team Penske, formerly known as Dick Johnson Racing, their fourth victory at Bathurst.

Van Gisbergen (2410 points) is second in the standings for Triple Eight Race Engineering, followed by 2014 Bathurst 1000 champion Chaz Mostert (2327 points) for Tickford Racing, who will be partnering with James Moffat for the endurance races, and McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard (2317 points), with Coulthard partnering with Tony D’Alberto for the next three rounds.

Whincup (2140 points) is fifth in the championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering, with Reynolds (2084 points) in sixth for Erebus Motorsport. They are followed by Cameron Waters (1975 points) from Tickford Racing, partnering with Michael Caruso, Nick Percat (1894 points) from Brad Jones Racing, who will be partnered by Tim Blanchard, with 23Red Racing (Tickford Racing) driver Will Davison (1811 points), and fellow Tickford Racing driver Lee Holdsworth (1704 points) completing the Top 10 in the standings, and will be competing in the endurance season with Alex Davison and Thomas Randle respectively.

So, who is going to win the 2019 Bathurst 1000?

The favourites have to be Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat from DJR Team Penske, and given the form that both the team and McLaughlin have shown in 2019 with the Ford Mustang, they could be close to untouchable this weekend!

You sense that the last round in Pukekohe in New Zealand was one of the weaker circuits for the Ford Mustang, along with Symmons Plains, Queensland Raceway (to a lesser extent), and quite possibly Sandown, which will be the third of the endurance events, while Bathurst is arguably on paper the strongest circuit for the Ford Mustang, so despite the ongoing parity adjustments for the Ford, Holden, and Nissan, I still feel like the Ford Mustang, especially in the hands of McLaughlin, will have a huge advantage over their rivals.

I cannot see anyone other than McLaughlin taking pole position for The Great Race, unless McLaughlin makes a massive mistake, and that will be the perfect platform for both McLaughlin and Prémat to surge to victory at Mount Panorama.

2018 Bathurst 1000 – Preview

After 12 rounds of exciting, wheel-to-wheel racing in the 2018 Supercars Championship, the entire field heads to Mount Panorama for Australia’s Great Race, the Bathurst 1000, and after the domination at the Sandown 500 by Triple Eight Race Engineering in finishing first, second, and third with its three cars, the rest of the grid, including DJR-Team Penske will be looking to respond with glory at Australia’s spiritual home of motorsport.

Shane Van Gisbergen (3054 points) (partnered with Earl Bamber) leads the championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering by 55 points over DJR-Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin (2999 points) (partnered with Alexandre Prémat) heading into the Bathurst 1000 after finishing second at Sandown, and is looking to win the Bathurst 1000 for the first time, while McLaughlin, who finished a disappointing fourth at Sandown, will be attempting to claw back some ground on Van Gisbergen in the championship, and claim his first victory at The Mountain.

If McLaughlin (with Prémat) wins the Bathurst 1000, and Van Gisbergen (with Bamber) finish off the podium, McLaughlin will regain the championship lead.

Jamie Whincup (2716 points) (partnered with Paul Dumbrell) is third in the championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering after winning the Sandown 500 for the fourth time (third time for Dumbrell), but the defending series champion is still 338 points behind teammate Van Gisbergen in the standings heading into the Bathurst 1000, a race that neither Whincup or Dumbrell have won since 2012, despite being fast at Mount Panorama on numerous occasions since then. Whincup will be desperate to change that record this year to keep his chances of winning an eighth championship alive.

Behind the top three in the championship are the drivers who realistically cannot challenge for the 2018 Supercars Championship, but can certainly make an impact as to who might eventually claim the title in 2018.

Craig Lowndes (2487 points) (partnered with Steven Richards) is fourth in the championship in his final full-time Supercars season. Of course the big news since the Sandown, in which Lowndes (with Richards) finished third, is that the irreplaceable three-time series champion and fan favourite will be replaced by nobody after Triple Eight Race Engineering decided that they will downgrade back to two cars in 2019. However, as a full-time driver, Lowndes will be looking to go out on a high with a seventh win at The Mountain, and perhaps challenge for a top three finish in the championship.

David Reynolds (2435 points) (partnered with Luke Youlden) is fifth in the championship for Erebus Motorsport, and has generally been in career-best form in 2018 in what has been another consistent year for last year’s Bathurst 1000 champions. However, despite achieving two wins (Race 6 and Race 16), and a further five podiums, Erebus Motorsport haven’t been able to find enough speed regularly enough to enable Reynolds to challenge Triple Eight Race Engineering and DJR-Team Penske. Reynolds will be aiming for a top five finish in the championship, which would be his best championship finish since 2015 when he finished third for Rod Nash Racing (Prodrive).

Below the top five in the championship, McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard (2114 points) (partnered with Tony D’Alberto) is sixth in the championship after struggling to match McLaughlin’s pace for much of 2018, while Rick Kelly (2098 points) (partnered with Garry Jacobson) is seventh in the standings after gradual improvements from Nissan Motorsport, finishing in the top 10 in 12 of the last 16 races, including claiming a win at Winton, as well as a further three podiums for the 2006 series champion.

Chaz Mostert (2048 points) (partnered with James Moffat) is eighth in the championship after an awful season so far with Tickford Racing, who have struggled to challenge the front-runners regularly, with Mostert only achieving one podium in 2018, a third-place finish in Race 20 of the championship at Queensland Raceway, and it is difficult to see them challenging for the victory at Mount Panorama, but surprises do happen, but I don’t think so.

The top 10 in the championship is completed by Scott Pye (1906 points) (partnered with Warren Luff) for Walkinshaw Andretti United, who have shown flashes of speed in 2018, and Tim Slade (1862 points) (partnered with Ashley Walsh) for Brad Jones Racing.

So, who is going to win the 2018 Bathurst 1000?

It is always such a hard question to answer, but on paper, this should be a circuit that should suit DJR-Team Penske better compared to Sandown, and in all honesty, Scott McLaughlin (and Alexandre Prémat) need to win the Bathurst 1000 to keep themselves at least within striking distance because after Bathurst, because in my opinion, the only track on paper that really suits DJR-Team Penske out of the remaining races is Pukekohe Park Raceway in New Zealand. If McLaughlin loses ground to Shane Van Gisbergen at Mount Panorama, his chances of winning his first championship in 2018 would reduce significantly.

However, you would expect Triple Eight Race Engineering, given their current form, to be right up the pointy end of the field this weekend, with all three cars a chance of the victory, with Erebus Motorsport, and Nissan Motorsport being outside contenders to take the Peter Brock Trophy home.

Whatever happens, it is sure to be a cracker, but I think Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell will overcome their bad luck at The Mountain in recent years, and take the win to give Whincup a fighting chance of winning his eighth 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.

 

2017 Pirtek Endurance Cup – Preview

The first race of the 2017 Pirtek Endurance Cup, as a part of the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, takes places this weekend at Sandown Raceway in Melbourne.

It is of course the Sandown 500, and in this preview, I will not only look ahead to the Sandown 500, but I will look at the championship contenders, and how I think they will do over the course of the next three events (Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000, and the Gold Coast 600), as well as the competitors who could spoil the championship chances of other competitors.

Looking at the championship standings heading into the 2017 Pirtek Endurance Cup, Scott McLaughlin (DJR Team Penske) leads the championship on 2058 points after achieving a total of six wins, 11 podiums, and 13 pole positions from the opening 18 races of 2017, just 12 points ahead of Jamie Whincup (Triple Eight Race Engineering), who is on 2046 points after achieving a total of two wins, 12 podiums, and one pole position.

Third in the championship is Fabian Coulthard (DJR Team Penske) on 1951 points, 107 points behind his teammate after achieving a total of four wins, nine podiums, and one pole position in the opening 18 races, and is ahead of defending Supercars champion Shane Van Gisbergen (Triple Eight Race Engineering), who is on 1800 points after four wins, nine podiums, and two pole positions, 258 points behind McLaughlin in the championship.

Chaz Mostert (Rod Nash Racing/Prodrive Racing Australia) is fifth in the championship on 1794 points, and the only other driver with a realistic chance of championship glory after achieving two wins and six podiums so far in 2017.

Their co-drivers will have a big part to play as to whether they can win the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.

Alexandre Prémat, who is the co-driver for McLaughlin, performed superbly last year to help Van Gisbergen win the 2016 championship, as well as winning the Endurance Cup in the process, with a win and four podiums. He reunites with Scott McLaughlin after being his co-driver at Garry Rogers Motorsport in 2014 and 2015, as well as being a regular driver with the team in 2012 and 2013.

Paul Dumbrell for the sixth-straight year is Whincup’s co-driver, and is currently sitting second in the Dunlop Super2 Series. Whincup and Dumbrell will be looking for better results and performances at Sandown and Bathurst after difficult races in the last two years there.

Tony D’Alberto is the co-driver for Coulthard, and has been a reliable performer as both a regular driver and as a co-driver over the last decade.

Matt Campbell is partnering Van Gisbergen this year, and currently sits third in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup after achieving victories at both the Red Bull Ring and at Monza in 2017. He is the co-driver to watch out of the ones partnering genuine championship contenders.

While the experience of Steve Owen partners Mostert, who is aiming to win the championship two years after his massive accident at Bathurst, which saw his championship chances disappear in an instant.

However, there are some competitors not in championship contention who have the ability to influence the outcome of the championship, but most notably 2015 Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom and his co-driver Dean Canto, as well as three-time ATCC/Supercars champion Craig Lowndes and his co-driver Steven Richards, and have teammates in championship contention.

Erebus Motorsport, Nissan Motorsport, Garry Rogers Motorsport, Walkinshaw Racing, Brad Jones Racing, Tekno Autosports, and even Charlie Schwerkolt Racing are also expected to provide a stiff challenge, and will look to create wonderful memories out of a season that hasn’t provided them with a shot at the championship by winning the Pirtek Endurance Cup, or by winning at Sandown, Bathurst, or on the Gold Coast.

So, for my predictions for the Sandown 500, and once again we have an unusual qualifying format with a normal qualifying session, followed by a qualifying race for the co-drivers (grid set by the normal qualifying session), which is then followed by a qualifying race for the main/regular drivers (grid set by the co-drivers qualifying race), and the finishing order of that race will decide the grid for the 161 lap race on Sunday.

And while I would normally tip who I think is the best qualifier to take pole position, I am going to steer clear of Scott McLaughlin, who has been Ayrton Senna-like over one lap this year, and tip Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell to not only grab pole position, but to also win the Sandown 500.

As for the Pirtek Endurance Cup, I am thinking it is going to be a battle between Scott McLaughlin, and Alexandre Prémat against Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell, and I am finding it hard to split between those two combinations.