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 Newcastle 500 – Preview

IMG_1379[1]

Photo of the Newcastle Street Circuit precinct a few weeks before the event.

For the second time in as many years, the Supercars Championship is set for a thrilling conclusion in Newcastle, and this time, it will be a battle between two Kiwi drivers in Scott McLaughlin from DJR Team Penske, and Shane Van Gisbergen from Triple Eight Race Engineering as the 2018 Supercars Championship heads to the Newcastle Street Circuit for the 16th and final round of the season, the Newcastle 500.

Just 14 points separate McLaughlin (3656 points) and Van Gisbergen (3642 points) with both having stellar seasons, but within those stellar seasons, they have both had down moments.

McLaughlin has claimed eight wins and 19 podiums overall in 29 races, including four-straight wins from Race 9 to Race 12 of the season (Phillip Island and Barbagallo), and 13 podiums in 14 races, including a streak of eight-straight podiums, but before winning Race 29 at Pukekohe in New Zealand, McLaughlin had gone nine completed races without a race victory.

Conversely, Van Gisbergen started off the season superbly by winning the opening two races of the season in Adelaide, before going 15 races without win. After this barren run though, Van Gisbergen won four of the next five races from Race 18 to 22 of the championship (Townsville, Ipswich, Sydney Motorsport Park, and The Bend Motorsport Park), , and of course won Race 28 of the championship at Pukekohe in New Zealand to give us a titanic fight in Newcastle. Overall, Van Gisbergen has had seven wins and 17 podiums in 29 races coming into Newcastle.

During the season, McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen have finished first and second (in either order) in the same race five times in 2018, and with the championship battle set to be a “winner takes all” scenario, things are certain to heat up!

Looking at the Newcastle Street Circuit on paper, it is a circuit that should suit Triple Eight Race Engineering and the Holden ZB Commodore, given the lack of long, fast corners, and the point and squirt nature of the circuit.

However, despite street circuits typically lacking grip compared to your normal permanent venue, I expect the Newcastle Street Circuit to provide plenty of grip, which should suit DJR Team Penske and their Ford FG X Falcon beautifully, but on a circuit that I consider “The Monaco of the South”, anything can happen.

What also should be considered within the battle for the championship is the battle for third in the standings between Jamie Whincup (3175 points), Craig Lowndes (3117 points), and David Reynolds (2918 points), three drivers in strong cars who are capable of deciding who wins the championship.

Of course both Whincup and Lowndes are both teammates of Van Gisbergen, and will be looking to do what they can to help their Kiwi teammate claim his second championship. However, it will be an emotional weekend for Lowndes as he competes in what will be his final full-time Supercars Championship event, and the three-time Supercars champion will be looking to do what he can to beat seven-time Supercars champion Whincup into third in the championship, and maybe claim one last victory as a full-time driver.

Reynolds is the interesting one though, 257 points behind third-place Whincup and unlikely to get third, and 249 points ahead of sixth-place Chaz Mostert (2669 points) and unlikely to be surpassed for fifth in the championship, and the highest-ranked driver in the standings not associated with either Triple Eight Race Engineering or DJR Team Penske, so he is the most likely driver, along with Mostert that you think could sway the outcome of the championship one way or another.

So, what are the championship permutations?

For Saturday, only Scott McLaughlin can claim the championship over Shane Van Gisbergen with one race remaining:

  1. If McLaughlin finishes 1st or 2nd, and Van Gisbergen retires from the race.

I will update the championship permutations before Race 31 of the championship on Sunday morning should the battle continue through to Sunday.

So, who will win both races at the Newcastle 500, and who will claim the 2018 Supercars Championship?

I think if qualifying goes to the form book, I think Saturday’s race will be a largely normal race, and I think Shane Van Gisbergen will win Race 30 of the season, with Scott McLaughlin finishing second or third.

However, I think Sunday’s race, regardless of whether qualifying and the Top 10 Shootout goes to form or not, will be chaotic, and my gut feeling tells me something is going to happen between McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen that is going to decide the championship, and/or have major repercussions going forward.

However, regardless of what happens, I cannot wait to see what unfolds!

 

After Shane Van Gisbergen was given a post-race 25-second time penalty for a Breach of Rule D25.6.3.2. after Race 30 of the championship, dropping him from 1st to 5th, thus giving Scott McLaughlin his ninth race victory of the season, it means the championship picture has changed going into the final race of the season, with McLaughlin now having a 53-point lead in the standings over Van Gisbergen.

So, McLaughlin can win his first championship:

1. If McLaughlin finishes ahead of Van Gisbergen.

2. If Van Gisbergen wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 6th or higher.

3. If Van Gisbergen finishes 2nd, McLaughlin must finish 8th or higher.

4. If Van Gisbergen finishes 3rd, McLaughlin must finish 10th or higher.

5. If Van Gisbergen finishes 4th, McLaughlin must finish 12th or higher.

6. If Van Gisbergen finishes 5th, McLaughlin must finish 15th or higher.

7. If Van Gisbergen finishes 6th, McLaughlin must finish 18th or higher.

8. If Van Gisbergen finishes 7th, McLaughlin must finish 20th or higher.

9. If Van Gisbergen finishes 8th, McLaughlin must finish 22nd or higher.

10. If Van Gisbergen finishes 9th, McLaughlin must finish 24th or higher.

11. If Van Gisbergen finishes between 10th and 17th, McLaughlin must finish the race (26th or higher).

12. If Van Gisbergen finishes 18th or lower, McLaughlin is the CHAMPION!

 

Van Gisbergen can win his second championship:

1. If Van Gisbergen wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 7th or lower.

2. If Van Gisbergen finishes 2nd, McLaughlin must finish 9th or lower.

3. If Van Gisbergen finishes 3rd, McLaughlin must finish 11th or lower.

4. If Van Gisbergen finishes 4th, McLaughlin must finish 13th or lower.

5. If Van Gisbergen finishes 5th, McLaughlin must finish 16th or lower.

6. If Van Gisbergen finishes 6th, McLaughlin must finish 19th or lower.

7. If Van Gisbergen finishes 7th, McLaughlin must finish 21st or lower.

8. If Van Gisbergen finishes 8th, McLaughlin must finish 23rd or lower.

9. If Van Gisbergen finishes 9th, McLaughlin must finish 25th or lower.

10. If Van Gisbergen finishes between 10th and 17th, McLaughlin must not finish the race/not score points.

 

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.

 

2017 Newcastle 500 – Preview

IMG_0827[1]

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.

****

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.

 

2017 Auckland SuperSprint (Supercars) – Preview

The 13th and penultimate round of the 2017 Supercars Championship takes place this weekend at Pukekohe Park Raceway in Pukekohe in New Zealand, which is about 60 kilometres south of Auckland, and we have a five-way battle for the championship heading into the final two rounds (four races) of the season, with Jamie Whincup having a chance to claim an unprecedented seventh Supercars/Australian Touring Car Championship this weekend.

Whincup (2580 points) leads the championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering by 17 points over DJR Team Penske driver Fabian Coulthard (2563 points), with Coulthard’s teammate Scott McLaughlin (2553 points) 27 points behind Whincup heading into the final two rounds of the season, with Prodrive Racing Australia driver Chaz Mostert (2454 points), and Whincup’s teammate Shane Van Gisbergen (2391 points) all within striking distance of the championship, 126 and 189 points behind Whincup respectively.

Whincup has the least amount of race wins out of the five drivers remaining in championship contention with two victories, but has achieved 13 podiums (12 podiums if you discount Race Three of the championship), and has finished outside of the Top 10 on only three occasions so far in 2017. However, despite being consistent in qualifying, achieving an average qualifying position of 4.68, Whincup has only achieved one pole position in 2017 with the car generally lacking the outright speed of the DJR Team Penske cars, particularly McLaughlin who has taken 14 pole positions so far in 2017

Coulthard has the second-most amount of race victories in 2017 with four, but has only achieved a total of 10 podiums, but like Whincup, has consistently finished inside the Top 10, only missing out on a Top 10 on four occasions (three if you discount Race Three of the championship), but hasn’t had the one lap speed of his teammate McLaughlin, only achieving a single pole position up to this point in 2017, having an average qualifying position of 6.68.

McLaughlin has had the most race victories in 2017 with seven, and a total of 13 podiums, capitalising on his strong qualifying form, having an average qualifying position of 2.54. However, McLaughlin has finished outside of the Top 10 on six occasions, the most of any of the title contenders, including suffering a mechanical-induced retirement at the Bathurst 1000, costing McLaughlin vital championship points.

With this, McLaughlin will aim to become the first driver since Garth Tander in 2007, and only the second driver since the Bathurst 1000 became a championship event in 1999 to win the title after retiring from the Bathurst 1000.

Mostert is the underdog in this championship battle, considering that he is the only Prodrive driver in contention. However, Mostert has achieved three race wins, and a further five podiums so far in 2017, finishing outside the Top 10 on three occasions. Mostert has also been consistent in qualifying despite only achieving one pole position, achieving an average qualifying position of 4.86.

Mostert has finished inside the Top 10 in the last 10 races, and is in great form heading into the final two rounds of the season.

Van Gisbergen is the fifth driver in the championship battle, and has achieved four race wins (three if you discount Race Three of the championship), as well as a further six podiums, finishing outside of the Top 10 on only four occasions in 2017. Van Gisbergen also has the second-most pole positions in 2017 with three, and has an average qualifying position of 4.68.

Looking at all of the five contenders, it is going to be very hard to split them in terms of the overall championship, but I think Scott McLaughlin is the favourite, perhaps just ahead of Jamie Whincup due to his superior one lap speed, and I believe that he will convert this to race-winning success under intense pressure in both New Zealand, and at the final event of the year in Newcastle.

However, you wouldn’t back against Whincup to win his seventh championship given his consistency in 2017 compared to the other four championship contenders.

Looking at who will be strong at Pukekohe, the DJR Team Penske has worked better on high speed circuits, and on circuits that have a number of high speed corners, which Pukekohe has.

However, Triple Eight Race Engineering and Prodrive Racing Australia have been strong at Pukekohe in recent years, but I think DJR Team Penske will to a certain extent dominate this weekend to take a stranglehold on the championship, and I believe it will be McLaughlin moving one step closer towards his first championship success in Supercars.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

An early look at the Newcastle Street Circuit

IMG_0712

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.

*********

IMG_0766

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.

IMG_0772

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)

IMG_0713

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.

IMG_0768

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

IMG_0714

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.

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)

IMG_0679

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.

IMG_0786

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

IMG_0790

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.

IMG_0798

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

IMG_0765

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.

IMG_0763

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.