2017 Newcastle 500 – Preview

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The 14th and final round of the 2017 Supercars Championship will take place this weekend from the Newcastle Street Circuit in the east-end of Newcastle alongside a beautiful coastline, the perfect scene for a titanic championship decider between Jamie Whincup of Triple Eight Race Engineering, and Scott McLaughlin of DJR Team Penske, with three others in Fabian Coulthard of DJR Team Penske, Chaz Mostert of Prodrive Racing Australia, and Shane Van Gisbergen of Triple Eight Race Engineering still in mathematical championship contention.

Whincup (2850 points) leads the championship by 30 points over McLaughlin (2820 points) in a championship battle that has been topsy-turvy throughout. They are ahead of Coulthard (2674 points), who is 176 points behind Whincup, Mostert (2586 points), who is 264 points behind Whincup, and defending Supercars champion Van Gisbergen (2574 points), who is 276 points behind Whincup in the championship after a round of drama in New Zealand, realistically leaving us with a two-horse race in the championship.

In any tie-breaker to decide the championship involving McLaughlin if the points are tied at the end of the championship, McLaughlin will win the championship due to winning more races, since his seven race victories in 2017 cannot be surpassed.

However, on Saturday, Whincup is the only driver who can win the championship with one race remaining.

On Saturday, if Jamie Whincup wants to create history, and win his seventh Supercars Championship, one of these scenarios must happen:

  1. If Whincup wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 26th or suffer a Did Not Finish (DNF) result.
  2. If McLaughlin does suffer a DNF result, Whincup only needs to finish third or higher.

However, this is not the only championship on the line this weekend in Newcastle with the all-important Teams’ Championship between DJR Team Penske (McLaughlin and Coulthard), and Triple Eight Race Engineering (Whincup and Van Gisbergen), which will decide which team’s garage will be closest to the pit-exit in 2018.

DJR Team Penske (5529 points) leads the Teams’ Championship by 105 points over Triple Eight Race Engineering (5424 points) in a heavyweight battle that will go right down to the wire at the Newcastle 500.

In any tie-breaker to decide the championship, DJR Team Penske will win the championship due to having more race wins with an unassailable lead over Triple Eight Race Engineering on that count by 11 to 7.

On Saturday, if DJR Team Penske wants to win its first Teams’ Championship at the Newcastle 500:

  1. DJR Team Penske must out-score Triple Eight Race Engineering by 183 points. For example, if DJR Team Penske finish Saturday’s race in first and second, Triple Eight Race Engineering must finish in 17th and 18th to claim the Teams’ Championship. However, DJR Team Penske need both cars to finish 24th or higher in the race on Saturday if they want to be a chance of claiming the Teams’ Championship on Saturday, and at least one car must be inside the top seven, with the permutations differing depending on the situation.

During the weekend, I will keep you up-to-date in regards to what certain drivers have to do to win the 2017 Supercars Championship, particularly when it comes to the final race of the season on Sunday.

So, who will be strong at the Newcastle Street Circuit?

Looking at the predicted characteristics of the newest circuit on the Supercars calendar, the Newcastle Street Circuit is 2.652 kilometres long, which would make it the third-shortest circuit on the championship calendar.

The predicted average speed of the circuit is set to be around 133 kilometres per hour, which would make it the slowest circuit on the calendar, with speeds set to reach around 231 kilometres per hour on approach to Turn 11, with speeds set to reach over 200 kilometres per hour on a total of three occasions across the lap, including on the pit straight, and on the run to Turn Two.

It will be a circuit that will reward a car that has strong braking and traction, so the cars will run with high-downforce, not because there is a lot of high speed corners, but to make sure that the cars are stable when accelerating out of a corner, and that the cars are stable under braking. There is really only one genuine high-speed corner, which should be a relatively simple flat-out, full-throttle run through Turn 10.

It isn’t a high engine power circuit on paper, even when you consider the uphill run to Turn Two, but it will put huge stresses on the gearbox, which large number of gear changes expected during a lap of the circuit, and during the race overall.

It will also reward driver bravery and technique, especially when they go down Shortland Esplanade, a place on the circuit that will sort out the great drivers of the sport from merely just the good ones, as well as the drivers’ ability to think on the run, whether it is to attack another car or defend from another car, because passing will be difficult around the Newcastle Street Circuit.

That means strategy will be very important, not to be stuck in traffic, and avoiding the plague known as double-stacking, because we are very likely to see the safety car be called upon at some point during the weekend.

However, I think the drivers, knowing that overtaking is likely to be difficult will be looking to overtake cars at the start, and attempt to get into Turn One in first position. However, the drivers should be reminded that both races are 95 laps long, and that you can’t win the race at Turn One, but you sure can lose it, so it will be important early on for the championship contenders to stay out of trouble during both races (should they be in contention for the championship).

Looking at the strengths of the cars, I believe this circuit will probably suit Triple Eight Race Engineering slightly over DJR Team Penske, with Prodrive Racing Australia in the mix. However, I think drivers who are not in championship contention, and have proven themselves over the years to being the top drivers in the Supercars Championship will be able to show their stuff, even if their cars aren’t normally a match for the front-runners.

However, to pick who will win the championship is tough. I think Jamie Whincup will hang on to win his seventh championship, but I won’t be surprised if Scott McLaughlin does enough to claim his first championship.

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Scott McLaughlin has taken the championship lead after winning Race 25 (Race One of the Newcastle 500) of the season, while Jamie Whincup finished 21st and last after suffering steering damage after a collision with Michael Caruso. This means that McLaughlin has a 78 point lead heading into the final race of the 2017 Supercars Championship with Fabian Coulthard, Shane Van Gisbergen, and Chaz Mostert all out of mathematical contention.

DJR Team Penske has claimed the Teams’ Championship.

On Sunday, for Scott McLaughlin to claim his first Supercars Championship, one of these scenarios must happen:

1. If McLaughlin finishes ahead of Whincup.

2. If Whincup wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 11th or higher.

3. If Whincup finishes second, McLaughlin must finish 15th or higher.

4. If Whincup finishes third, McLaughlin must finish 18th or higher.

5. If Whincup finishes fourth, McLaughlin must finish 21st or higher.

6. If Whincup finishes fifth, McLaughlin must finish 24th or higher.

7. If Whincup finishes sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth, McLaughlin must finish 26th or higher.

8. If Whincup finishes 10th or lower, McLaughlin is the CHAMPION!

However, if Jamie Whincup wants to win his seventh Supercars Championship, one of these scenarios must happen:

1. If Whincup wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 12th or lower.

2. If Whincup finishes second, McLaughlin must finish 16th or lower.

3. If Whincup finishes third, McLaughlin must finish 19th or lower.

4. If Whincup finishes fourth, McLaughlin must finish 22nd or lower.

5. If Whincup finishes fifth, McLaughlin must finish 25th or lower.

6. If Whincup finishes sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth, McLaughlin must suffer a DNF result.