It’s Bathurst time, and the tenth anniversary of the Peter Brock Trophy.
I can’t believe that 10 years ago the mountain lost its King. Peter will never be forgotten with his nine wins still remaining the most at Mount Panorama. Peter’s protégé Craig Lowndes has won five out of the last ten Bathurst 1000s since his passing, and remains a fan favourite to take his seventh win this year.
There are plenty of other potential race winners in this field and it will one of the most hotly contested Bathurst 1000’s in years. Lowndes and Richards, last year’s winners are back together to go back to back, but we won’t know who’s the winner until lap 161 on Sunday afternoon.
TRIPLE EIGHT RACE ENGINEERING:
It surely couldn’t happen again said the T8 camp before they went into the Sandown weekend. And it did. While the penalty ended any chance of a good result for #88, they were also on the wrong strategy. Whilst the car was quick in both qualifying races, and looked ominous before Sunday, the race never really eventuated for them.
A third straight pole position meant very little when the race was over. Dumbrell’s poor start didn’t end up being a factor, as he was able to take the lead, but that pitstop incident can’t go unnoticed.
The mistake proved costly as Jamie Whincup lost the championship lead, albeit by less than 10 points. Bathurst hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Whincup since his last win in 2012. A second in 2013 has been the most he can crow about with errors and issues stopping his charge in other years.
He’s often been on the pace at Bathurst, but it all seems to fall apart on race day for him. Dumbrell is a safe pair of hands and will bring the car back straight. This pairing will be more determined than ever that bring in a result. If they can eliminate the errors, they are going to be hard to beat.
Question marks that hung over the pairing of Shane Van Gisbergen and Alex Premat were more than truly dealt with at Sandown. Premat proved a reliable partner for SVG, despite an interesting few qualifying races. The duo in the #97 started a bit further back than they would have liked.
Premat proved a solid hand in his first real hit-out since last year with GRM. Van Gisbergen drove a sublime race, and despite double stacking was in contention at the end. Tander’s problem in the latter stages helped, but he had torched the tyres on the way to catch him.
Van Gisbergen and Premat are proving to be a popular pick for Bathurst after their 2nd place at Sandown. Van Gisbergen has tasted success at Bathurst, albeit in a GT car and is one of the quickest operators around the track. He will be keen to atone for the heartbreak of the starter motor issue.
Premat has shown real pace at the mountain and in the past two years when paired with Scotty Mac at GRM they went well, however went without podium results. They will be in the hunt all day, but it will be crucial to be in front #88 at the last stop to avoid double stacking.
What a disaster for Craig Lowndes. I had my concerns about the pace of this pairing at Sandown, and they rarely had any when it mattered.
They qualified outside the top 10 and a few mistakes didn’t help their cause on race day. They didn’t finish well at Sandown last year and it was more of the same this year. Richards pace was good in early practice, but faded as the weekend went on, which will be of concern to the Vortex crew. They finished in eighth and will need to be better at the mountain.
Lowndes has an enviable record at the mountain in recent times, winning five out of the last ten races (06,07,08,10,15), while Richards has tasted success with Lowndes last year and Winterbottom in 2013 at FPR/PRA. Car #888 is one to watch, especially over the long distance of the race. It’s hard to ignore Lowndes with his record, but the lack of pace at Sandown cools my enthusiasm for this pairing.
Championship: Whincup 2nd, Van Gisbergen 1st, Lowndes 3rd.
PRODRIVE RACING AUSTRALIA:
Mark Winterbottom’s championship is over. It’s mathematically possible, but barring any race ending issues to car #88, #97 or #888, it is not going to happen. Whilst he had a great season last year, this season has shown a real lack of race pace from the PRA car. He’s had one win this season, and this is not 2005/06 where you could win with a single race and the title.
The last few events haven’t gone to plan at all, and he hasn’t been on the podium since Townsville. Sandown was a disaster too, with the #1 PRA car finishing two laps down. I still believe that Dean Canto was unfairly chastised for his mistake a turn four which ended their chance to win and Winterbottom’s championship tilt.
Dean had done a magnificent job from 22nd on the grid to get them near the front-runners in changeable conditions. I feel it’s unfair to ping just him for his mistake after such a good drive.
With no real championship tilt to worry about, they can have a red hot go at Bathurst. While they don’t have the outright pace of the T8 cars, we can be assured if they are in the front pack at the last stop, Winterbottom will be aggressive. I don’t mind this combo, but I’m still keener on the #55 in the PRA stable.
Chaz Mostert is PRA’s best hope for Bathurst. He is in good form at the moment and should be right to avenge last year’s heartbreaking crash. While it ruled him out for the rest of 2015, he has built into 2016 and got stronger as the season has progressed.
He hasn’t finished outside the top five since Townsville and if not for being double stacked at Sandown, I felt they were a chance for a podium. Owen did a solid job as Chaz’s co-driver and will be a safe pair of hands at the mountain.
I believe they are pacier than #1 in qualifying and race trim. They showed reasonable pace at Sandown and are the best placed PRA car in my opinion. Will be one to keep an eye on, but must also look to keep the GRM/BJR/HRT cars at bay.
Cameron Waters and Jack Le Brocq’s Sandown was one to forget. A horrid few qualifying races and a car leaking fluid during the race was as good as it got all weekend. They will have to be better at Bathurst. I have my concerns about Waters and whether he has graduated to a plum seat too early. He has only finished in the top five twice this season.
I cant help but think he should have done a main game apprenticeship in another team, as did Mostert with DJR to learn the ropes. I believe it would have been more beneficial to his career going forward and his confidence. Le Brocq was a solid pair of hands and will be better for the run.
It is hard to see what they will bring at Bathurst, but surely they cannot replicate what happened at Sandown. I find it hard to say they will finish top five, regardless of issues for others. Their focus should be on getting a straight car to the finish and the result will look after itself.
Championship: Winterbottom 5th Mostert 7th, Waters 20th
SUPER BLACK RACING
Chris Pither was upstaged by his teammate at Sandown. Richie Stanaway was a jet in the changeable conditions and Mark Skaife said he wouldn’t be short of drive offers in years to come. Skaife knows this game pretty well, so it would amiss of me to disagree.
The real test will come at Bathurst for him, but so far, he’s been the standout rookie for the enduros. They started from the back at Sandown and they leapfrogged the #55 early in the race. They faded later in the race and finishing 17th was disappointing after such a charge early.
For Bathurst, simply they will need to qualify better and ensure Richie doesn’t get boxed around in the early laps if he is to start. I know he has racing pedigree overseas, but Bathurst in a supercar is a whole new ball game. I’d like to see him do well, and Pither needs some results with some uncertainty of the future of Super Black Racing brand.
It’s difficult to see them beating Winterbottom/Canto and Mostert/Owen home on pace, but strategy and a bit of mountain magic makes me think a top 10 could be a chance if everything goes perfectly for the #111.
Championship: Pither 18th.
HOLDEN RACING TEAM:
The defending Pirtek Enduro Cup champions; Garth Tander and Warren Luff did what they couldn’t do last year, and won an event.
The car was quick out of the truck on Friday and this duo had a well-deserved and popular win. Tander and Luff did what hadn’t been done so far this year and put the #2 on the front row after the qualifying races. The best qualifying for Tander prior to this was race one at Clipsal in March, a long time ago!
Luff was a perfect co-driver for Tander and showed what a quality, quick and safe co-driver can bring to a team. Garth has had to start from the back too many times this year and driven the car at eleven-tenths to get a result.
I was shocked by HRT’s decision to drop him for next year, as his racecraft is as good as any in the field. His quality driving was again shown at Sandown. The new chassis’ first up result is promising and they will be looking to continue the good form into Bathurst.
If they can keep the fenders on it, this will be one of the contenders. Garth is one of the best endurance drivers and very rarely makes mistakes, and you know Luff will bring the car home in one piece. After Sandown’s result, you’d be a fool to count them out.
James Courtney and Jack Perkins fell away as the race went on. Whilst they popped out in a good spot after one of the stops, it disintegrated from there. I felt they were a little off the pace all weekend and didn’t have the car to fight for a podium.
As good as Jack Perkins did in the #22, I felt they left him in the car too long and they were off a little on strategy. The exhaust issue wouldn’t have helped, and as #2 was going so well, it magnified the focus on why the #22 was so far behind.
They will be looking to go better at Bathurst, but Courtney didn’t race at Bathurst last year due to injuries sustained at SMP, whilst Perkins teamed up with Ingall in the #22. They will be looking to go better at Bathurst, but its hard to see them beating the #2 after the one sided result at Sandown.
Championship: Courtney: 11th, Tander 8th.
GARRY ROGERS MOTORSPORT:
Scott McLaughlin and David Wall paired up for a solid result at Sandown. I said in my Sandown preview that I see a lot of potential in this partnership and their 4th at Sandown was about as good as they could have expected. They both raced well, but lacked that last bit of pace and killer instinct to beat the #19 to the final podium spot.
If there was a few more laps, who knows what could have happened with the #19 suffering engine issues, but there would be another million what if stories up and down the pit lane. While Scott is off to DJRTP for 2017, there is no doubt he will be giving his all at GRM at Bathurst.
Wall did all that was asked of him and showed he hasn’t lost any pace not being in supercars full time this year. They are the best chance for a top 10 from GRM, but they will need to find something more to secure a podium.
James Moffat again saw a good result fall through his hands again after Sandown. He was on for a good finish at SMP before the PLP and then he was out before the end of the first lap of the Sandown 500.
He and Golding proved to be a surprise packet of the qualifying races and were both solid. The accident by Golding up the back straight will put him in good stead, as now he knows how hard these cars can bite when it goes wrong.
Whilst they would be disappointed with the result, there’s a good opportunity to make up for it here at Bathurst. I can’t see them outpacing the #33, but Moffat and Golding is a combo to keep an eye on if some other more fancied pairings hit trouble.
Championship: McLaughlin 4th, Moffat 19th.
DJR TEAM PENSKE:
I’m not sure how to read this combo coming into Bathurst. They finished a solid 6th in the race, up five spots, but were around six seconds off fifth. I felt they had their chances to be further up, but squandered it at times being on the wrong tyres and strategy at times. They managed a solid finish and a straight car unlike many others behind them.
The Penske car was strong last year in the hands of Scott Pye and Marcos Ambrose before a crash at the top of the mountain. Roger Penske will be in attendance at Bathurst, and will expect more and more from his team.
Penske haven’t joined Supercars to make up the numbers and the signing of McLaughlin for next year shows that. I think they’re a solid top 10 selection, but its hard to make a case for them winning without a disaster for other teams further up the gird.
Scott Pye teamed up with D’Alberto and they were barely sighted at Sandown, despite the throwback 2003 Shell Helix livery. They started towards the back and brought it home in 15th. With Scott’s future for next year sorted at WR, he will still need to put in some good drives with DJRTP to show his wares.
I didn’t feel they showed their true pace all weekend, but I expected more, as would have the DJR supporters. They have a chance to turn it around at Bathurst and a better qualifying spot will go a long way to making the early part of the race easier for them. Pye did such a good job at Bathurst last year and made Roger expand the team to two cars for 2016.
He will want to put in another similar performance hopefully without a crash this year. D’Alberto has been solid, without being outstanding and is capable of helping the #17 to a good result. A win seems unfathomable for this combo, but a top five would be a perfect reward for a tough season in the Pye camp.
Championship: Coulthard 12th, Pye 16th.
BRAD JONES RACING:
Tim Slade and Ash Walsh did a terrific job at Sandown and I feel their effort were lost in the PLP and then 16th place finish. Walsh did a really good job and his start was electric. I felt he kept the car in a good rhythm and despite the PLP can hold his head high in his job.
Slade had a battle on after the PLP, but he was also solid. This car was clearly the pick of the BJR cars, and I see no reason for this changing at Bathurst. Slade has been a real coup for BJR this season and the drop off after Fabian left hasn’t been as big as many had predicted.
I believe this is Slade’s best chance at a good result at the mountain in his career. Walsh proved he was more than capable at this level at Sandown, and a lot different from the driver with the messy exit from Erebus last year. With BJR’s quality strategies a hallmark of their enduro campaigns, these are a good top 10 car to have on your radar.
Jason Bright’s poor season continued after a forgettable Sandown. He and Andrew Jones were up the back all weekend and didn’t look like improving as the weekend went on. In the end they finished two laps down in 21st.
Bright hasn’t finished inside the top 15 in the past five races and the rumours about his exit from the #8 are getting louder. He and Andrew need to put in a good performance at Bathurst. I can’t see it happening however, as the #8 has been too inconsistent this year.
It’s hard to believe ten years ago, Bright was on the front row at the mountain and had just come off a Sandown win with Mark Winterbottom. He will need to turn back the clock to better performances if he wants to keep his seat for 2017. It’s hard to recommend this car with any confidence for the Bathurst 1000.
Tim Blanchard and Macauley Jones teamed up in the #21 Cooldrive Commodore and while there were a few incidents in their race, they had pace at some stages. The #21 started near the back and had a few offs, mainly due to driver error. We wont stick the boot into Macauley, as he will be better for the run.
They were able to run with the pace of the leaders at a few stages, however, this could not be maintained. Blanchard this season hasn’t threatened the top 10 in qualifying and it is hard to make a case for them getting near the top 15 at the mountain in qualifying.
The more miles they can get into Macauley, the better at Bathurst. I can’t see them being of much real relevance at the mountain, but they could push towards 10th if other more fancied entries fall over. I’d keep an eye on Macauley’s pace over the weekend as he builds experience at the mountain. They are most likely to be 15th-20th.
Championship: Slade 10th, Bright 15th, Blanchard 23rd.
Rick Kelly and Russell Ingall were one of the disappointments of the Sandown 500. Two credentialed drivers and to come away with 14th after the qualifying races wasn’t good enough. During the race, Ingall was solid, but the mistake where he spun was quite costly for their race. Rick was able to salvage a 10th placed finish, but they didn’t quite have the strategy to win either.
Russell must be hard on himself, as he knows how slippery the kerbs are at Sandown. Kelly has been a form slump since Winton and must turn this around to be any chance at Bathurst. While the Nissan still has a deficit on the straights according to Ingall, the Altima is very stable up the top of the mountain, which will serve them well.
I feel this combination could slot in anywhere. They have the potential for a top five finish if things go to plan, or they could be struggling to get into the 10. A hard one to pick, but surely they are too good to get caught up in backmarker rubbish at the mountain.
Caruso has been Nissan’s #1 man this season no question, but what happened at Sandown? He and Dean Fiore started inside the top 10 and that was about it. They appeared to go backwards during the race, and never seemed to have pace at the right time.
I found it surprising since Caruso has been Nissan go-to man this season, but he was nowhere in contention at Sandown. Fiore toiled well, but didn’t seem to have the pace either. They will need to tune the car for Bathurst, as it was off the pace at Sandown.
I can’t see this being the top Nissan at Bathurst, despite Caruso being the highest Nissan in the championship. There’s something about this combo that turns me away from it. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I prefer the #15 and #7. A top 10 is needed from this combo at Bathurst to not let Caruso’s season be a waste.
Todd Kelly and Matt Campbell were a real surprise packet at Sandown. They started from a lowly 18th after some issues during the weekend, however they were one of the star pairings of the race. Matt Campbell drove exceptionally well and showed that his Porsche racing had paid off.
He has tested a Porsche in a junior scholarship event in Germany, and they would be silly not to use due diligence on him for a Porsche Supercup drive. It was a real mature drive from a youngster who showed many with more experience how it was done.
Those who have called for Todd Kelly to hang up the helmet at the end of this season should re-watch the Sandown race. He drove a very good race and showed the talent he has always had. I haven’t seen him drive as well as this since the mid 2000s when in the #22 at HRT.
Bathurst is a different challenge from Sandown, as mistakes at the mountain end in concrete walls. I liked what I saw in this pairing and if Matt displays the same racecraft and maturity he showed at Sandown, they are a solid top 10 chance. Todd will bring the car home in one piece and will show he isn’t a spent force in this championship. These guys, while might be underrated in the Nissan camp will push #15 hard to be the top performing Nissan at the mountain.
Dale Wood and David Russell co-piloted the #96 and were barely sighted all weekend. When they were sighted, it was usually because they were getting in the way of others. The other three Altima’s have thumped Wood this year and I can’t envisage how that will change at the mountain. Starting from 20th, they met the flag in 18th spot. Mind you, there was Canto and Winterbottom a few laps down, Reynolds/Baird excluded and Moffat/Golding out on lap one…
David Russell did his best, but he has shown to be more suited when he was with the Kelly brothers in past years. It’s hard to see them doing anything at Bathurst. I’m happy to be proved wrong. Two 14th places as Wood’s best results for the season say it all. They are not a contender for the win, podium or even top 10.
HARVEY NORMAN SUPERGIRLS
Renee Gracie and Simona De Silvestro are paired together again in the Harvey Norman Supergirls entry. This year however, they are racing a Nissan Altima, instead of the PRA prepared FG-X they campaigned last year. They qualified 25th last year with De Silvestro at the wheel.
The duo were working their way into the race before Gracie made a mistake on oil at the elbow and they lost some laps. Their car was still classified a finisher and they will be better for the experience. This year they have completed a two-day test at Winton prior to attending the mountain.
Gracie has been competing in the Dunlop series this season, so will have plenty of miles under her belt. De Silvestro has signed a contract with Supercars to race in the main game for three seasons from 2017 onwards. They have yet to announce her team for 2017, but given her international pedigree, she will perform well at the mountain.
A top 15 would be a great result for this duo, but I’d say a result closer to 20th is a more likely outcome.
Championship: Caruso 9th, R Kelly 13th, T Kelly 14th, Wood 21st.
David Reynolds must wonder at night what he could have done to stay at PRA or go to any other team. No disrespect to Betty’s team, but these ex-Walkinshaw cars are a long way from the arsenal that Reynolds had this time last year. They had a reasonable drive in the qualifying races to start the big race from 17th.
That was as good as it got for the Erebus crew as they were excluded from the event. Baird and the team appeared to not know the rules about minimum laps for the co-driver. Greg Rust hinted to the team when interviewing them, but they still seemed unaware/unknowing of the minimum laps not changing despite a shorter race. B
Baird ran short on laps and they took home nothing. I didn’t see enough speed from Baird to make me think they will be a top 10 threat at Bathurst, although Reynolds has always raced well there. His best finish in 2012 was second, and last year he started from pole position.
I can’t see this car threatening the bigger teams unless there is a high attrition rate in front of them.
Shae Davies and Chris Van Der Drift shared the #4 Erebus car and they were never a factor. They started from 25th and finished 22nd. I barely sighted them during the race other when they were getting passed.
I don’t intend to be disrespectful, but they were never a chance for the top 10, and I expect more of the same at Bathurst. Davies is only new to the team and Van Der Drift brings sponsorship to take the co-driver position, so it is hard to expect much from this duo.
Van Der Drift has international pedigree, but didn’t show as much as I thought he would at Sandown. I’m looking forward to Bathurst to see if they can crack the top 20. The best they could hope for is top 15, but everything would have to go perfectly for car #4 and other cars in front would have to DNF for that to happen.
Championship: Reynolds 17th, Davies 39th.
LUCAS DUMBRELL MOTORSPORT:
Nick Percat and Cam McConville were one of the highlights of a fairly dire Sandown 500 for the teams further down the pitlane. Cam McConville in his racing return proved a solid pair of hands, despite having the wrong tyres on at the worst times through the race.
They started from 13th, which was Percat’s best grid position this season. They ran a solid race and despite a few little mistakes, they were able to come out with a 9th place finish. They also had the fastest lap of the race, which is a real boost for the minnow LDM team.
I was impressed in how this car played the endurance game to pop out where they did. Percat has Bathurst winning pedigree, with he and Garth Tander taking home the Peter Brock Trophy in 2011 from Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife. McConville has stood on the podium a few times and knows his way around the track. I like this pairing, but it won’t be a winner. A top 10 is achievable, but a top five would be like a win for this team.
Andre Heimgartner paired with former Erebus racer Aaren Russell in the #3 Plus Fitness Commodore and they struggled. They started in 16th place after a solid first few qualifying races, but that was where the fun ended for this duo. They plodded around all day in the pack and eventually came out in 19th place.
In my Sandown preview I said, “I expect this pairing to be around 20th…” and it appears I wasn’t far off the mark. Russell appeared solid in the race without being outstanding and brought the car home in relatively one piece.
Heimgartner has shown a little bit this year, but another result behind Percat will not help him holding this seat into next year. He and Russell will need everything to go right to challenge the #222 for team honours at the mountain. It’s hard to recommend this car to anyone expecting a good result.
A top 15 will be as good as it gets for the #3 Plus Fitness machine at Bathurst.
Championship: Percat 22nd, Heimgartner 24th.
Will Davison’s championship hopes may be over, but what a solid drive from himself and Webb at the Sandown 500. After a horror event at SMP, which yielded a 21st and 26th, Davison needed to bounce back, and did. They placed 10th after the qualifying races and raced well throughout the event.
Davison was cool in his last stint where they popped out in third. Despite engine issues late in the race, Davison was able to bring the car home on the podium. I was really impressed with this pairing and they both have solid Bathurst experience.
We know the car is good, we know the drivers are good, but are they good enough to win it? Head and heart says no. The #19 Tekno car will be a good car to monitor on race day. After last year’s heartbreak for Webb with SVG, you’d think Webb would be driven to ensure a result. Davison is quick in a good car and has had pole at Bathurst before, and a win.
The constant worry of double stacking behind the Vortex entry cools my enthusiasm for this entry, however if any of the main protagonists at PRA/T8/HRT fall over, they will be ready to pounce. A left field podium choice, but don’t discount this car from your thoughts.
Championship: Davison 6th.
CHARLIE SCHWERKOLT RACING:
Lee Holdsworth returned to the wheel of the #18 Preston Hire Commodore fuss free at Sandown. He had been out of the car since his sickening crash at Darwin. He was paired with Karl Reindler, who was a former full time driver with Britek Motorsport and Kelly Racing.
They ended up 15th after both qualifying races, which was a good reintroduction back to the main game for both. Reindler was a star last year when paired with Tim Blanchard, however his results weren’t repeated this year. This duo was solid and went under the radar most of the day, which bodes well for Bathurst.
Lee will be better for the run and has been a solid contributor at Bathurst in years gone by. Reindler must ensure he keeps the car within his limits to ensure a solid finish for the Preston Hire crew. It would take a near miracle for this team to win, but team manager Jeff Grech knows this track and how to win it.
I think this car will finish higher than many will predict. We know the T8 chassis is good, the drivers are solid, and with Grech calling the shots, they are a top 10 chance. I wouldn’t put the house on it, but there are a lot of things that happen when racing 161 laps around the mountain.
Championship: Holdsworth: 25th.