V8 Superfans’ columnist V8SC Opinion gives us his preview on round eight of the 2016 Supercars Championship taking place at Queensland Raceway in Ipswich.
TRIPLE EIGHT RACE ENGINEERING:
Triple 8 would have to be happy with the performance of the two Red Bull cars, but the weekend dented Lowndes’ championship charge in the #888 Vortex car.
The Whincup of his championship winning days was back on Saturday, after a very ordinary Friday from the RBRA squad. His qualifying, shootout and race performance on the Saturday was sublime. The Sunday race, in his own words “he took one for the team”. I wouldn’t go that far, SVG was quicker and more likely to win in my opinion. He’s got his form back on for qualifying after a few down rounds and is a hot chance at QR. He’s been on the pace there and it’s the RBRA test track. No excuses this weekend for Jamie Whincup.
Van Gisbergen’s weekend was very solid with two podiums and two top five qualifying grid spots. He is driving like a championship winner if he continues his recent form. There’s a lot of racing to go, but he is the one to beat for mine. He will be quick, and the inconsistency that has dogged him in the past has been trimmed significantly this year at RBRA. Onto Ipswich, I see he is the main challenger to Whincup, Lowndes and Winterbottom. I’d mark him down for one podium at the least.
It was bad, but it could have been worse for Craig Lowndes in Townsville. He will need to turn it around at Ipswich to avoid falling too far back in the championship. Qualifying and race pace on Saturday were lacking and while he scored a good grid spot on the Sunday, he did nothing with it and the team cooked him on tyre strategy. While they called him in, it was too late. The safety car the lap after he pitted saved him, but it was a rare blunder from the usual crack T8 squad.
He needs to have a win or two in the coming rounds and not have another repeat of this if he wants to remain in the frame. He’s as good of a chance of any of the top guys to stick it on the podium, but will need a little luck.
Championship: Whincup 1st, Van Gisbergen 2nd, Lowndes 4th.
PRODRIVE RACING AUSTRALIA:
Mark Winterbottom was starting to be questioned with the rise of Chaz Mostert last season, but he is well and truly PRA’s top dog in 2016.
Winterbottom had a good weekend in Townsville with two 3rd places.
I felt he raced well when he didn’t have the car to win, and that is crucial to build on into Ipswich. He continues to hold onto third in the championship. He’s the best chance to challenge the T8 trio in the chase for a podium.
Chaz Mostert’s season is very different from the one he had last year. He has had a few bad results, and although he had reasonable qualifying pace, he couldn’t turn this into a result. He had two top ten grid spots, but the best for him was a 4th on Saturday. He was relatively in the hunt on Sunday, but the last safety car hurt him and he fell to 16th. He is 11th in the championship, and we all know he is a lot better than that. He had his first win in the main game at Ipswich, and clearly the PRA car is better than the DJR one he had for that win. He’s one to keep an eye on at QR.
Cam Waters is learning the ropes the hard way in the main game, but he is a good up and comer. His best qualifying was 13th on Sunday, and he was rewarded with a 6th place in the Sunday race in Townsville. He hasn’t had a complete race weekend yet this season for mine to rate him as a podium contender, but he is on the rise. Having Frosty and Chaz to learn from will help him immensely, but he needs more time.
I’d look for one top 10, and two if he qualifies well.
After a great weekend in Darwin, Townsville brought Pither back to earth with a thud. He locked in two 22nd grid slots with the best finish of 20th on Sunday. He needs to recapture the form he showed at Perth and Darwin to repay the faith shown in him. I’d expect one top 15 at least to be the pass mark for Pither at Queensland Raceway.
Championship: Winterbottom 3rd, Mostert 11th, Waters 18th, Pither 21st.
HOLDEN RACING TEAM:
HRT did very little to lose the “street circuit specialists” tag at Townsville. Garth Tander had the drive of the weekend in my opinion during the Saturday race. After starting from 20th, he ended up 7th at the flag. Most of those passes were on track, which again shows the class of the 2007 champion. Sunday brought a better qualifying position with 10th, but a bungled pitstop saw him finish a lowly 20th. He has traditionally gone well at QR, but HRT’s qualifying woes seem far from sorted. Keep an eye on him for a top 5. A top 10 is a solid chance for GT.
Courtney seems to lift for street circuits as does HRT, and Townsville was no exception. A 3rd grid spot on Saturday turned into a 6th place, which was reasonable considering the faster cars around him. A 12th on Sunday wasn’t good enough in qualy, but a great strategy call by Robbie Starr got Courtney fresh rubber and the pace to secure a 2nd place. He has finished in the top 10 in three of the last four races and is in good form. He’s done reasonably well at QR in the past, but it will tell a lot of whether HRT has begun to turn the corner on what has been another frustrating season for the team. Courtney is a good chance for a top 10, but must qualify well for that to happen.
Championship: Courtney: 9th, Tander 10th.
GARRY ROGERS MOTORSPORT:
Scott McLaughlin had a horror Saturday race at Townsville, but a 5th place on the Sunday was a much-needed result for the Kiwi.
I believe he is a lot more relaxed after the GRM defection announcement, but needs to continue to put in good drives and qualifying sessions to be a chance in this year’s championship race.
QR will be a turning point for McLaughlin in my opinion. He will either re-announce himself as a contender or fall away behind the T8 trio and Winterbottom as the main protagonists to watch.
James Moffat scored a top 10 in Saturday qualifying, but that was as good as it got for him. His best finish was a 17th on Saturday, which isn’t nearly good enough considering how well McLaughlin is going in the #33. I said in my Townsville preview, “I am starting to question whether Moffat is capable of leading the team…” That question for me is only getting louder and louder. With McLaughlin going, he needs to step up and quick. A good top 12 finish will silence a few of the doubters, but QR is a make or break point for Moffat this season.
Championship: McLaughlin 5th, Moffat 19th.
DJR TEAM PENSKE:
DJRTP danced around the back end of the top 10 and that was about it in Townsville. Fabian locked in 10th in the Saturday qualy session and his best finish of 8th on Saturday was solid. That was as good as it got for the #12, as he started down the back on Sunday. He finished 15th in a wasted weekend for DJRTP. I can’t see him challenging the top 5 at Ipswich, but a top 10 would be a good reward.
Scott Pye’s Sunday was a good result for him as he looks for a new seat in 2017. He qualified 9th and finished 7th, which was a marked improvement from the horror Saturday. He needs results in the hope of finding a seat for next year. He should be a better chance at QR to secure a result, and don’t be surprised if he beats Coulthard home.
DJRTP are a good chance for a double top 10, however they must sort out their qualifying woes.
Championship: Coulthard 14th, Pye 16th.
BRAD JONES RACING:
Timmy Slade’s hot streak came to an end at Townsville where he didn’t crack the top 10 in either race. He finished 13th in both races and seems locked at 8th spot in the title race. He will need to show more of the speed he showed at Winton and Darwin to help his results. He’s the best chance of the BJR trio to score a top 10.
Jason Bright hasn’t qualified well since an 8th at Adelaide, and his best starting slot of 16th was held on the Saturday at Townsville.
He finished 9th, which was the best of the BJR cars, but it was his first top 10 in seven races. I worry about his security of a drive in 2017. You can talk about his part ownership of the #21 license, but he has other business interests outside motorsport if it comes to that.
He needs some more top 10’s to show he isn’t a spent force.
Tim Blanchard had another stinker weekend in qualifying with a best of 23rd coming in the Saturday session. His best finish was 17th on Sunday, and he really needs to step up and challenge Bright and Slade. There’s no point getting sponsor dollars in the gate if it isn’t helping your team move forward.
Championship: Slade 8th, Bright 15th, Blanchard 23rd.
Rick Kelly admitted his own mistakes across the Townsville weekend and that held him back from better finishes. He didn’t really set the pace of the Altima’s and seemed to struggle with set-up all weekend. A best finish of 12th marked what was a very average weekend for the Sengled #15. He will need to bounce back at QR to show this season’s progress hasn’t halted.
Caruso was the top performing Nissan in Townsville, and the 8th place finish on Sunday was a solid finish for the #23. He didn’t seem to have the best car on the track, but was able to pull two top 10s out of it, which his teammates couldn’t. He will be again one to watch at QR
Todd Kelly’s Nissan looked sharp with the black, yellow and white livery, but his best finish of 10th on Saturday was as good as it got. He seems locked into 13th place in the title and has held it for four of the last five races. He is a good chance for a top 10 if everything goes right, and he will not want a repeat of last year’s failure at Ipswich.
I always find it hard what to write about Dale Wood. He had a brilliant qualifying on Sunday, securing 11th place, and the race results went begging. Russell Ingall implied on Inside Supercars last week that he isn’t the biggest fan of Wood, and the jury is still out on him for mine. He needs some results fast, or he should be looking elsewhere. I can’t see QR being the magic elixir for the #96.
Championship: Caruso 7th, R Kelly 12th, T Kelly 13th, Wood 23rd.
David Reynolds’ weekend was a really solid performance from a team without the resources of the big names. The race results don’t give him credit for the drives he put in and the pace he showed. A 5th in Sunday qualy was the highlight on the stats sheet, but he is as good as any of the non-PRA, T8 and GRM cars for a chance at the top 10.
Aaren Russell struggled in qualifying over the weekend in Townsville, but a 21st on Sunday was the best that he could record in the races. The Plus Fitness sponsorship fracas would have been a distraction for him, and I have no comments to make on it. A top 20 would be a good result for him at QR.
Championship: Reynolds 17th, Russell 26th.
LUCAS DUMBRELL MOTORSPORT:
What a shocker Townsville was for LDM. The only saving grace was Andre’s 15th in race one. They need to be better at QR to show that they aren’t going backwards. The addition of Campbell Little should drive this team forward, and appeared to in Darwin, but it looked rudderless in Townsville. A big few races for LDM coming up, but it’s hard to see a top 15.
Championship: Percat 24th, Heimgartner 25th.
Will Davison is relishing being back in a competitive car and had two top 10 qualifying positions in Townsville. His best finish was 5th on Saturday, whereas he finished 11th on Sunday. He has been locked in 6th place in the championship since Perth and without more top 3 finishes, he could be there even longer. QR is going to be interesting for Tekno; can they tail onto the T8 trio or are they behind the PRA #5 in development? I think Davison could get two top 10s, but that depends on qualifying and not getting stacked behind Team Vortex in the pits.
Championship: Davison 6th.
CHARLIE SCHWERKOLT RACING:
Kurt Kostecki had a rough initiation into the main game finishing 25th on Saturday and a DNF. It was always going to be a tough initiation at Townsville for Kurt, and while he did bend the car on Sunday after suffering foot issues, he did a solid job for the team. QR should be easier for him and he should be better after the run in Townsville.
It’s hard to assess what he could do in Ipswich, but he should be closer to the pace after a weekend in the car.