TRIPLE EIGHT RACE ENGINEERING:
It’s endurance season and a whole new ball game.
The tried and true combination of Whincup and Dumbrell will be strong at Sandown and have a solid record at the venue. Whincup has also been in hot form in the past few events, with five podiums from the last six races. It is hard to bet against them being the favourite to win the event. Dumbrell is comfortable in the car and can lap as quickly as many of the full-time drivers. This duo will be trying to take out their third pole position in a row at Sandown in the Saturday qualifying races.
You’d be daring to go against them making it a trifecta. They were in with a good chance to win last year before a pit drama saw them drop from the lead. This pairing won 2013 and 2014 events, so they’ll be the ones to beat.
Question marks hang over the pairing of Shane Van Gisbergen and Alex Premat. A lack of miles for Premat has been the primary concern, however he has been shown to be quick when in Supercars previously.
Van Gisbergen has been a lot more consistent this first season in Red Bull colours, with eight podiums this season. They have never been paired together, but you would think that Roland has done his homework. Expect the #97 to be in the front group, but the Whincup/Dumbrell pairing is a safer pick. If it rains, the #97 will be a better chance with SVG at the wheel.
This is where Craig Lowndes launches his championship offensive. Less than 200 points behind Whincup, the veteran combination of Lowndes and Steven Richards will be one to watch. Sporting a retro Caltex livery, car #888 will be easy to find on track, but this combination struggled last year at this circuit. They will keep circulating and be reasonably competitive, but I cant see them outpacing #1 or #97.
Richards doesn’t have the outright speed of Dumbrell, but is a safe, reliable pair of hands that are so valuable in the endurance events.
It is hard to see them not finishing in the top five, but I can’t see them winning without mechanical issues or double-stacking happening to their sister cars.
Championship: Whincup 1st, Van Gisbergen 2nd, Lowndes 3rd.
PRODRIVE RACING AUSTRALIA:
Mark Winterbottom is struggling to stay in the fight for the championship. He is nearly a whole round behind, and hasn’t pulled a win since Barbagallo, five rounds ago. He is paired with Dean Canto this year after PRA had a co-driver shuffle. Despite a win to Winterbottom last year at Sandown in a PRA 1-2, it is quite difficult to predict that happening this year. PRA have not had the pace they had last year and a new co-driver also adds an element of uncertainty. Dean is a clean, safe and quick pair of hands, and should slot in with Winterbottom with no issues, but race day will tell all.
I would struggle to make a case to say they are potential winners on pace, but strategy and track position could vault them into contention.
Chaz Mostert is paired with defending Sandown 500 co-driver Steve Owen. Chaz has taken a little while to build into form in races this year, however he has been one of regular front row qualifiers. He hasn’t finished outside the top five in the past four races and is the form driver in the PRA stable. He came second in this race last year with Cam Waters as his co-driver, so this will be a new pairing as per car #5.
I think this pairing is the pick of the PRA stable. Whilst Steve Owen might not have the pace of Canto, I think he will be better matched with Mostert, and I see them being the main car to take it to the T8 trio.
Cam Waters is paired with PRA development series driver Jack LeBroq.
After finishing 2nd last year as Chaz Mostert’s co-driver, Waters has had a tough initiation this season to the main game as a solo driver. LeBroq is having a great season in the development category and seems a solid chance to win the championship. As for the race, a top 10 would be a good finish for this young duo, and building valuable seat time together for Bathurst and GC600. I can’t recommend them as a winner, and I think it would have to be a real strategy call to get them on the podium. They could be a real surprise packet however and push some of the more experienced duos down the order. One to watch.
Chris Pither pairs with Stanaway for this endurance season in the #111 Ice Break Falcon.
Pither has had some solid runs this season, including an unexpected pole position. I can’t put forward any case for them to finish in the top five. They are top 10 at best and will be around the mid-pack. I am very interested to see what Stanaway can do in the car given his international pedigree. The car is good and the drivers have potential, but can they put it together over 500km? That will be answered on Sunday afternoon.
Championship: Winterbottom 4th Mostert 7th, Waters 19th, Pither 20th.
HOLDEN RACING TEAM:
The defending Pirtek Enduro Cup champions; Garth Tander and Warren Luff return in the #2 machine. Whilst HRT has had a horrid season and lost its Holden factory funding for 2017, they still have two A-grade drivers in the cars. The HRT cars a step further back than last year and replicating their endurance success of last year seems fairly unlikely. Garth has struggled to qualify the car this season, however has proven his racecraft is above average with some fighting drives this season. With 500km of racing, they’d be a top 10 chance for sure, but will struggle to get past the PRA and T8 cars at the front for a podium. A top five finish is an achievable goal if everything goes right.
James Courtney returns to the enduros after winning the GC 600 with Jack Perkins last year. Whilst Courtney missed Sandown and Bathurst last year through injury, he and Perkins gelled at the GC, and through clever strategy and pace they were able to win. Courtney has been the more consistent of the two regular drivers at HRT this season, although has had his battles. It is hard to make a case for them at Sandown, as I see them as a better Bathurst chance. They are a better chance for a top five than GT and Luff in my opinion, but a lot will have to go right to see them even have a sniff at the podium.
Championship: Courtney: 10th, Tander 11th.
GARRY ROGERS MOTORSPORT:
Scott McLaughlin teams up with David Wall in the #33 car. While a legal battle to keep the Volvos on the grid for 2017 begins in the background, they must keep focused. I see a lot of potential in this partnership. There’s no doubting McLaughlin’s pace and Wall’s form in the Carrera Cup, so they are both racing well. Wall endured a troubled last season and was shown the door at GRM full time at the end of the season. He will be a solid co-driver for McLaughlin, but I still believe there is a missing piece of the puzzle for this pairing to be a winner at Sandown.
James Moffat was the closest he has been to the front all year at Sydney Motorsport Park, but saw it fall to the wayside after a PLP.
He will be out to ensure that a good result at Sandown does not face a similar fate. He is paired with Dunlop series frontrunner James Golding. I do believe this will be a solid partnership with the top 10 within reach. I have my worries about Golding however, as he is vying for a main game seat at GRM next year, I feel he could try too hard trying to impress. The best way to impress a team boss is to bring the car back in one piece. A back end top 10 chance is as good as it gets for #34.
Championship: McLaughlin 5th, Moffat 18th.
DJR TEAM PENSKE:
The infamous Coulthard/Youlden partnership saddles up for another enduro season, but it’s harder to see them doing as well as last season. Coulthard has had his battles in the DJRTP cars this season, and they are taking a fair bit longer to get to the front than most thought. They were relatively pacey together last year in the BJR commodore, but the current DJRTP machinery isn’t quite as good as BJR’s yet.
Coulthard has finished in the top 10 in the past four races and is coming off a strong 4th position in the second race at Sydney Motorsport Park. Youlden will continue to do the same job he has for years, but I feel Fabian doesn’t have the tools to fight for a top five finish at Sandown.
Scott Pye teams up with the experienced Tony D’Alberto in this year’s Pirtek Enduro Cup. Scott has endured a torrid season, and involved in a lot of drama not of his own doing which is disappointing since he has been flicked from DJRTP for 2017. He still has a lot to offer this season and a good result at Sandown will go a long way in securing a drive in the series for next season. His best finish of 3rd at Phillip Island this season seems a long way in the past however. Tony D’Alberto will be a solid fit with Pye and knows his way around Sandown. I have a strange feeling this is the pick of the Penske cars for Sandown. A big call, possibly, but it’s just my opinion.
Championship: Coulthard 13th, Pye 17th.
BRAD JONES RACING:
Tim Slade has had a solid season with two wins at Winton the highlight. He will be paired with Ash Walsh who was discarded from Erebus at the end of last season. Tim has proven to be a reliable steerer and the clear pick of the BJR trio. Slade will be good enough and I think Walsh has shown enough this year in the Porsche’s to prove he has talent. They are the pick of the BJR cars to do well and are a solid top 10 chance.
Jason Bright’s season has been average. There’s no doubt the rumour mill has him departing BJR at the end of the season, and he needs a solid endurance performance to quell the rumour mill fire. He is paired again with Andrew Jones, who has been with Bright for many seasons. They will be a midpack car at best, and its hard to see either of them lifting to any great heights for Sandown. I’d be surprised with a top 10 given the quality of other entries.
Tim Blanchard hasn’t set the world on fire at any race this year, and will be hoping to turn it around in the season of endurance. He is paired with youngster Macauley Jones who is running in the development series. This car is hard to bank on for a top 15, but could happen if strategy goes their way. I’d look elsewhere in the BJR stable than the #21 car.
Championship: Slade 8th, Bright 15th, Blanchard 22nd.
Rick Kelly has been dethroned as top dog at Nissan if results are anything to go by. He has had his battles this season, and sits 12th in the championship. He will be jockeying to be the first Nissan home against Caruso in the #23. Rick is paired with veteran Russell Ingall in the #15 Sengled Altima for this year’s enduros and this pairing could be one to watch. I like this pairing more for the GC and Bathurst, rather than Sandown, but they are a top 10 pick for mine. This duo has too much experience and racecraft to be out of contention.
Caruso has been Nissan’s #1 man this season. He secured a win earlier in the season, but has had a battle in recent rounds. He is paired with Dean Fiore, of whom he has raced with before. For some reason and despite the form of Caruso, I prefer the #15 pairing to be the first Nissan home. Caruso has been a real find for Nissan since moving from GRM, and will ensure the car comes home in one piece. A solid duo, but the #15 is a better bet.
Todd Kelly pairs up with Carrera Cup rising star Matt Campbell.
Todd has had his best season in years and the calls for his retirement I believe are unwarranted. He has a great chance to show a youngster the ropes in a reasonably competitive car. Campbell is no stranger to Bathurst after setting lap record pace in the 12hr race practice session.
They will be a chance for a top 10, but top 15 is a more realistic goal for this pairing of youth and experience.
Dale Wood shares his #96 GB Nissan with David Russell for this year’s endurance races. Wood has had a fairly ordinary year with his best finish of 14th. The other three Altima’s have heavily outgunned Wood this season, and if the rumour mill is correct, he might be on his way out of Nissan for 2017. To bolster his chance of getting a seat, he needs to perform in the enduro cup. David Russell has been with this team before and is a reliable, safe choice. I can’t see this car troubling the top 15 without dramas for other cars ahead of it.
Championship: Caruso 9th, R Kelly 12th, T Kelly 14th, Wood 21st.
David Reynolds is sporting a new livery on the Penrite car and will be paired with experienced campaigner Craig Baird. Reynolds’ solid season hasn’t been displayed in his race results and he sits a lowly 16th in the title race. Reynolds has shown he is capable of a top 10 when the car is in the window, which has shown to be quite a challenge this season. Baird will be better for the run at QR where he replaced Aaren Russell. I find it hard to see them getting a top ten, but a top 15 is a very achievable result.
Shae Davies is paired with NZ’s Chris Van Der Drift. Davies has only just got acquainted with the Erebus seat and now finds himself sharing it for the enduros. Davies, while an experienced campaigner in other categories will find Sandown a whole new ball game. Van Der Drift has a wide variety of racing experience and I think he will surprise a lot of people with his speed and racecraft. They are unlikely to finish in the top 20, but I’m interested to see Van Der Drift.
Championship: Reynolds 16th, Davies 30th.
LUCAS DUMBRELL MOTORSPORT:
Nick Percat has the experienced Cam McConville alongside him in this season’s endurance cup. After originally signing Oliver Gavin, whom Percat has raced alongside for the last few enduros, an event clash prevented the pair from getting on track together. Cam is a season racer and whilst he has had limited racing in the past few years, he has been one of the more sought after steerers since his full-time retirement from the main game. Whilst Percat hasn’t fired a shot since his Clipsal race win, the long endurance race might play into his and Cam’s hands.
One to watch for a higher top 10 spot if they get the strategy right and have a fast car, otherwise top 15 would be a good achievement.
Andre Heimgartner had a horror weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park and will want to have a better weekend at Sandown. He had a solid run before SMP and was beating Percat on occasion. He is paired with Erebus castaway Aaren Russell. I expect this pairing to be around 20th with the chance to etch forward through strategy and retirements.
Championship: Percat 23th, Heimgartner 24th.
Will Davison’s championship hopes went out the window after an awful weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park. With championship aspirations over, I believe this will free up Will to race. He has had an up and down season and will want to finish the big points races at the pointy end of the field. Webb has been a solid contributor with Van Gisbergen in previous years and I’d expect more of the same this year with Davison.
I can’t see them having the pace to win it and their chance of a podium depends on not being double stacked with the #888 Vortex entry.
A solid top 10 selection, but look elsewhere for the winner.
Championship: Davison 6th.
CHARLIE SCHWERKOLT RACING:
Lee Holdsworth returns to the saddle after his injury-induced layoff after Darwin. He will be looking to get back comfortable in the car. Building up race fitness shouldn’t be an issue, but endurance races do take a toll on the body and car. Holdsworth has Karl Reindler alongside him in the #18 entry. Reindler filled in for Holdsworth at SMP and did a reasonable job, and will be better for the run. Reindler was one of the more impressive co-drivers of last year’s Sandown 500 where he paired with Tim Blanchard and they finished 8th. I can’t envisage that being repeated this year with Holdsworth after his injury layoff, but that’s just my opinion. This pairing is a top 15 chance, but closer to 20th for mine.
Championship: Holdsworth: 25th.