Shane Van Gisbergen made it three from three after topping all the practice sessions at Sydney Olympic Park at the Coates Hire Sydney 500. With title rivals Winterbottom and Lowndes hovering around the base of the top ten throughout the day, Saturday qualifying could produce some title deciding results. SVG has been in fine form around Homebush and the outgoing Kiwi looks set to leave Tekno Autosports in the finest possible way, an Armour All pole position and a podium at the very least.
Frosty and Lowndes will be desperate to avoid the midfield mayhem. Homebush has thrown up it’s fair share of incidents since it’s inclusion at the end of 2009, and the title rivals will be keen avoid the first lap mayhem if they qualify outside the top few positions. As Mark Skaife rightly pointed out in his preview on this weeks inside V8 Supercars, the narrowing of the track just before turn one is a hotspot for first lap incidents. Frosty needs to just finish 7th or above in all three races to take the title regardless of where Lowndes finishes but should he be the victim of the inevitable first lap carnage, the championship race could be thrown wide open come Sunday. The same goes for Lowndes who will be keen to avoid the squeeze into turn one.
With the top 16 covered by less than 1 second in sessions one and three, qualifying will be even more important at Homebush. A return to street circuit racing coincides with a return to qualifying being critical to a good weekend, more so than at Pukekohe and Philip Island. The walls are everywhere in Sydney, and just one botched overtake, one moment late on the brakes, or one lock up could send a car careering into the wall and subsequent retirement. On the last weekend of the season, no one will want to end the year in the wall and leave their team with a costly repair bill over the winter.
How much can Steve Owen help Winterbottom? Looking back, there is a strong case for calling Mostert’s horrific crash at Bathurst the turning point in the 2015 championship. Since Bathurst, Prodrive have spent the remainder of the races with just one car at the front of the field and the Red Bull Holden’s edging closer and closer with every passing race. The absence of a backup driver to help take points off Frosty’s title rivals has hurt Prodrive no end, not just in the the chase for the drivers title, but also in the teams championship race. Owen put in some strong performances during the enduro’s but he will struggle to make the top ten over the course of the weekend and will have little influence on the championship battle, leaving Winterbottom and Reynolds to fight the rising tide of Holden Commodores.
Jason Bright could throw at cat amongst the pigeons on Saturday. Two second places and a fourth on Friday represent an extremely strong result for Bright and BJR. His last race victory came at Pukekohe back in 2014 and the V8 Supercars veteran will not let a chance for victory pass him by over the weekend. Of course, the more drivers and teams which can finish above both Winterbottom and Lowndes mean Frosty will have to score less points to secure his maiden V8SC title and all eyes will turn back to Sydney Olympic park in just a few hours time as the season finale of the 2015 V8 Supercars season gears up for fireworks on Saturday.