After a what seemed like an eternity the Supercars show is back in full swing again at Sydney Motorsport Park for the ninth round of the Championship. This also means V8SC Opinion is back with his preview for the final SuperSprint event.
TRIPLE EIGHT RACE ENGINEERING:
Triple 8 would have to be happy with how the Ipswich weekend went, with a solid haul of points for both Whincup and Lowndes, whilst Van Gisbergen lost some points to the leaders.
After Friday practice, Jamie Whincup was nowhere, but when the business started he was amongst it all weekend. A third and pole in qualifying set up two podium finishes and a bagful of points. He has led the championship for the past six races and it would be a game move to bet against it turning pear shaped at SMP. He is building nicely into the business end of the season. It’s hard to see him being outside the top five at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Van Gisbergen’s weekend wasn’t what he would have expected at the RBRA test track. While he led the T8 trio home for a 1-2-3 finish in the Saturday race. The Sunday was a different story, and while he had his issues in the race, a 12th place finish lost him crucial points to the lead of the title. He should be strong at SMP, and the man most likely to knock off Whincup.
Craig Lowndes had the quickest car all weekend, and to walk away with only one win would disappoint the three-time champ. He qualified well, which has been a bit hit and miss in previous seasons, and was able to finish 3rd and 1st. He remains 4th in the title, but will be one to watch at the endurance races; where his championship charge usually gains significant momentum. He will be around the mark at SMP, but I’d back his other teammates before him in Sydney.
Championship: Whincup 1st, Van Gisbergen 2nd, Lowndes 4th.
PRODRIVE RACING AUSTRALIA:
Mark Winterbottom has been fairly consistent this year, but it’s not 2005, and one race win won’t win a title. His best finish in Ipswich was 4th, with a fifth in race two. The incident with Kostecki angered him, but he will need to use that aggression in the car. He hasn’t won since Perth four rounds ago. Whilst he is limiting the damage with eight top 10’s in the last ten races, he needs to win and finish in front of the T8 trio to retain the #1 plate. SMP marks a good of chance for Frosty to start winning, but he won’t be able to beat the T8 trio easily.
Chaz Mostert’s weekend at Ipswich was the best round he has had all season in my opinion. Two top 3 qualifying positions set up his weekend, with a solid 5th in race one and a third in race two. He is building into this season as it goes on, but will need to finish up the front more often to help PRA hold the #1 plate for Frosty. He can’t win the title from here, so expect Mostert to be more daring than the T8 trio whom are trying to protect championship position.
Cam Waters graduated a year too early into the main game in my opinion. While he has had a pole position this year, and there is no doubting his qualifying pace, I feel he needs another year to work on his racecraft. He has had his fair share of bad luck, but has been caught up in too many incidents for mine. No doubt he is talented and will be a force in years to come, but it is too bigger jump to go from the Dunlop series to the reigning championship winning team. He qualified 12th for both races at Ipswich and had a best finish of 16th in race two. He will be around the mid pack at SMP, with a chance for a top 10 finish.
Ipswich was Chris Pither’s best round of his main game career. A shock pole in Saturday was turned into a disappointing 11th place finish. He bounced back with another top 10 qualifying on Sunday and brought the #111 car home in 8th. After a tough few events, it was a welcome return to the top 10 for Pither. He will be around the mid-pack at SMP, and I’d suggest he’s a better chance than Waters for a sneak top 10.
Championship: Winterbottom 3rd, Mostert 11th, Waters 18th, Pither 20th.
HOLDEN RACING TEAM:
How much has changed for this group since Ipswich? It’s been a tough season and I can only see the news helping to weld this group together. GT had two shockers in qualifying, with his best a 19th on Saturday. He raced well, and had a best finish of 13th on Sunday. He’s a better driver than his results and the sooner they fix the issues that car has, the better. A new chassis to debut at SMP could solve a few of them, but they are a fair way from the pace of PRA and T8.
Garth will race well and is a chance to be in the back half of the top ten in Sydney if he can improve his qualifying.
Courtney would have been on for a good result after an issue in the Sunday race at Ipswich, but an incident took ruined what was a good fightback from the #22. He qualified 11th twice and ended the weekend with a best finish of 13th in the Saturday race. He didn’t race at SMP last year due to the incident in pit lane that injured him and he is still recovering from. Hard to get a read on Courtney for SMP, but he’s a better chance than Tander for a top 10.
Championship: Courtney: 10th, Tander 12th.
GARRY ROGERS MOTORSPORT:
Scott McLaughlin’s season is slipping away after an average weekend at Ipswich. An unusually poor qualifying on Saturday was nearly replicated on Sunday as he barely scraped into the top 10. He finished a lonely 15th in the Saturday race and had no pace at all. The car was better in the Sunday race where he finished 6th. He is dropping points to the championship leaders and needs to win races to remain in contention. He will be in amongst the top 10 in SMP and a sneaky podium chance.
James Moffat was the closest he has been to his teammate all year at Ipswich which is a positive sign after a year-long struggle. Moffat had a pair of 13ths in qualifying, with a best finish of 9th in the Saturday race. He will need to continue to progress towards the front if he is to repay the faith Garry Rogers had in him for this season. He’s likely to be mid pack and into the lower teen positions at SMP.
Championship: McLaughlin 5th, Moffat 19th.
DJR TEAM PENSKE:
In my Ipswich preview I remarked about Fabian Coulthard that “I cant see him challenging the top 5 at Ipswich, but a top 10 would be a good reward.” He followed this with two 10ths in the races in Queensland.
He is still battling around the back end of the top ten, but I expect a big jump come enduro time. I’d expect him to be battling with the HRT cars at SMP around the edge of the top ten.
Scott Pye’s weekend at Ipswich was one to forget. A scary crash in practice showed it was an uphill battle for the #17 pilot in Queensland.
He put in a great performance in the Sunday qualifying session, putting his Falcon 6th on the grid. His best finish of 20th for the weekend in the races was a shame, but I’m backing him to bounce back in Sydney. He’s a solid top 15 pick, with the chance to be following Coulthard towards the edge of the ten.
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:
Tim Slade is building nicely in his first season at BJR. He had two top 10 qualifying positions at Ipswich and was able to turn them into two top seven finishes. He has been a real gem for BJR and more than an adequate replacement for Fabian Coulthard. He will be top 10 at SMP, but won’t have enough to challenge PRA or T8.
Jason Bright hasn’t qualified very good since Adelaide, and it is a big problem for the BOC side of BJR. He hasn’t done enough this season to warrant a 2017 drive as yet. He qualified in the mid to high teens in Ipswich and his race results were similar. Something needs to change to show he isn’t past it. He’d be one of the first picked endurance drivers if he chose to go down that path. It is hard to see him getting any higher than 15th at SMP.
Tim Blanchard’s qualifying is ordinary at best. His best at Ipswich was 21st and the highlight was an 18th in race one. Slade seems to fighting a lone hand for BJR this season, and Blanchard can’t match Bright in the mid-pack. His best finish was 11th in Adelaide and has rarely got near the ten since. He needs to have a good run at SMP to prove he is worth the keys to the #21. Anything better than 15th will be a pass mark.
Championship: Slade 8th, Bright 15th, Blanchard 22nd.
Rick Kelly’s performance has dropped off in the past few events, which is disappointing. He struggled all weekend at Ipswich, with an 8th place the highlight on the Saturday. He needs to have another few good results to ensure Nissan’s development is on the right track and to push the case for more funding from Nissan HQ. He’s a chance for top 10 at SMP, but I think Caruso will be more likely to get it done.
Caruso was Nissan’s top performer with a great 4th place on Sunday at Queensland Raceway. He qualified in the top 10 for both races and is Nissan’s main man this season. He has finished in the top 10 in 8 of the last 10 races, demonstrating good pace at a variety of circuits. He’s one to watch at SMP and is a sneaky chance to split the T8 and PRA monopoly of the podium.
Todd Kelly is having the best season he has had in years, so I believe the calls to replace him with someone else should be directed at Dale Wood instead. He had two poor qualifying sessions, but recovered to score a 12th and 9th in the races. He will continue to circulate in the mid-pack with the chance of a top 10 if things go awry for those in front of him at SMP.
The #96 of Dale Wood continues to make up the numbers. A best qualifying of 18th and race result of 17th are as good as it got for Wood. I’m scratching my head to think of a drive other than his two 14th places at Winton that is of note. He needs to put some results on the board to justify having the keys to the #96. If Nissan is serious about their future as race winners in Supercars, they would have to consider the future of Wood at their funded team.
Championship: Caruso 7th, R Kelly 11th, T Kelly 13th, Wood 21st.
David Reynolds continues to ply his trade in the Erebus car that they are developing. His race results don’t do him justice and he is better than the sum of his results. The best it got in the races was 21st in the Saturday sprint. I can’t help but wonder if the Merc would have been better this season than the undeveloped WR Commodore.
He’s a chance to push into the teens, but anything better than 18th would be a good result for the team.
Aaren Russell out, Craig Baird in at Erebus was what happened at Ipswich. Baird did a solid job and kept out of trouble, but was off the pace all weekend. He will be better at the enduros alongside Reynolds, but you could see he had been out of the cars for a while.
Shae Davies will take the reigns of the #4 Commodore at SMP, and on debut, keeping out of trouble and the car on track should be his focus. There should be little expectation on Davies as he embarks on his first full main game weekend.
Championship: Reynolds 17th, Davies (Debut)
LUCAS DUMBRELL MOTORSPORT:
Townsville wasn’t great for LDM, and Ipswich wasn’t much better. Percat continues to struggle in qualifying and can’t seem to make enough moves or race pace within the races to move up significantly.
It was said on Inside Supercars that he is thought to be going to BJR for 2017, and it could be a good move for the South Australian. He is stagnating at LDM, and needs a decent seat to prove his worth.
SMP promises to be more of the same for Percat. He has had good results in Sydney during the past, but a finish better than 20th would be a good result for the battling squad.
Andre Heimgartner is beating Nick Percat occasionally since Campbell Little came on board as his engineer. While his results show a little of the picture, he is racing quite well beyond his results. A best finish of 15th smashed Percat and showed that it isn’t going to be all one way traffic this season at LDM as many predicted. I’m backing him in to beat Percat two race events in a row and really shake up the team and its hierarchy.
Championship: Percat 24th, Heimgartner 25th.
Will Davison’s weekend at Ipswich was a wasted opportunity. His best qualy result of 10th combined with a best finish of 7th isn’t good enough. The pace he had earlier in the season was nowhere to be seen in Ipswich and he will need to turn it around if he is to mix up the top five. He should be better at SMP, but needs to qualify better. Hard to see him cracking a top five in both races, but in one of the races would be a pass mark.
Championship: Davison 6th.
CHARLIE SCHWERKOLT RACING:
Kurt Kostecki had a rough weekend at Ipswich, but he will have learnt a lot. Karl Reindler has replaced him in the #18 until regular pilot Lee Holdsworth returns for the enduros. Karl impressed alongside Blanchard during last year’s endurance races and should keep it off the walls and on track at SMP. He should aim to beat Davies and the LDM cars to mark the weekend a success.
Photos: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images AsiaPac (Unless Stated otherwise)