There were just way too many points from the Clipsal 500 to cover in just one post so I want to use this post to cover some of things I didn’t get a chance to mention yesterday in my Clipsal 500 Report Card. I touched upon a couple of the points towards the bottom of my report, and I want to expand on those further first, along with addressing some other stand out conclusions from the weekend.
The rise of DJR Team Penske
I have to say, DJR far exceeded expectations (well , my own anyway) at the weekend yet still I have to say they left the Clipsal 500 as surely the unluckiest team of the weekend. Pole position for Pye in race 1 ended in an unfortunate 12th place finish and Fabian Coulthard’s pole position for race 3 ended in a 16th place as failure to comply with the fuel drop saw DJRTP lose out on a double podium finish. Despite the underwhelming results which leave Pye and Coulthard 16th and 17th in the championship table, I think DJR can take some serious positives from the Clipsal weekend, after all, every team has bad weekends. The Shell Helix Falcons were consistently among the fastest four or five teams across the course of the weekend and to be honest, with the amount of change that happened at DJRTP over the winter, they were bound to encounter some minor operational problems at some point.
I’m sure their less than stellar efforts in the pit lane over the weekend will addressed before Tasmania, and I think everyone at DJR will be glad to get their operational nightmares out of the way in round one. Not getting the in the minimum amount of fuel, double stacking when it wasn’t necessarily needed and letting Scott Pye off the jacks too early all hampered their points haul but I can’t see a team of their status making those same mistakes more than once (or twice).
Nevertheless, DJRTP can only get stronger, which should be a huge warning to the rest of the grid. You have to admire just how seriously the team are taking V8 Supercar racing and they’ve morphed into an ultra professional outfit, but yet again what would you expect from a team who have won 94 Sprint Cup races, 16 Indy 500’s and 13 Indy Car Championships (and that’s just the beginning). Team Penske has been a Goliath of American motor racing for well over 20/25 years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them replicate that success in Australia sooner rather than later.
Strong(ish) Start For Team Vortex
In a similar vein to DJRTP, Craig Lowndes and Team Vortex had a mixed weekend in Adelaide, but I think they too can take take positives from the weekend. 7th, 10th and 13th place finishes leave Lowndes in 14th place in the championship on 143 points, still well within striking distance of his Triple Eight teammates in 2nd and 3rd, so no need for concern yet.
However, Mark Dutton highlighted a series of operational inefficiencies which included the wrong springs being fitted to #888, leaving Lowndes in 17th place on grid for race three. Despite overtaking some cars after they entered pit lane, Lowndes’s rise from 17th 1st place showed that the Vortex Commodore does have raw pace, and if it wasn’t for the chaos on Sunday I think Lowndes would have had a great chance of finishing on the podium.
Lowndes traditionally goes much better on circuits than street tracks (from what I’ve seen anyway), so I think at Albert Park and Symmons Plains will see a much stronger overall performance from the two time champion, and he’s close enough to the top of the table to still be a major contender for the title this season.
Difficult Weekend for PRA
I know Mostert scored a pole position and a podium in race two, but I expected PRA to enjoy a much stronger weekend than they did, especially as the defending champions. Their four car outfit leaves Adelaide 7th (Waters), 12th (Winterbottom), 22nd (Mostert) and 25th (Pither) in the championship….hardly the best start to their season. I know last year PRA didn’t really get going until the Australian Grand Prix, but I highly doubt Triple Eight will be caught napping two years in a row and with DJRTP on the rise, repeats of Adelaide could see PRA being knocked off their perch as the top Ford team.
I know he crashed out in race three, but for me, it’s between Chaz Mostert and Cam Waters as to who was PRA’s top performer in Adelaide (I’m going to go with Waters), and I think Chaz is arguably Prodrive’s best bet for a championship challenge this year, if he can iron out the race ending crashes. Had Mostert not been forced to sit out the remainder of 2015 I’m sure we would have seen an incredible tussle for the title between him and Frosty. I’m not taking anything away from Winterbottom because he is a top, top driver and thoroughly deserved the championship but I think Mostert just (and only just) has the edge, pace wise.
I know that may be controversial, however we can also see from championships all the around the world that the fastest driver doesn’t necessarily win the title. Sometimes they do, but a large part of becoming a series champion is about consistency and thats what you get with Frosty. I can think of two examples outside V8SC last year when consistency was a large part of winning the title, Gordon Shedden in the BTCC and Wehrlein in the DTM. Neither won the greatest amount of races in their respective series, but both won the title due to their incredible, consistent results. For Mostert to really become a championship contender, he needs to focus on finishing and scoring points in every race possible.
Frosty struggled all weekend with car set up, and he said that although the car was good in the wet, the decision to start the race on slicks cost them, which it did. I don’t think you can blame Frosty and his engineer for that one (sorry I’m not sure of his name off the top of my head – is it Jason Gray?), if the track was dry enough for slicks they would have been hailed as genius’s and being so early in the season, it was worth taking the risk. Even if the vast majority of the field switched to wet tyres.
Moffat can only improve in the GRM Volvo
It’s safe to say that James Moffat endured a tough start to his time at GRM, with a 17th, 15th and 22nd leaving him down in 19th in the table. I know a mechanical failure put an end to his hopes of qualifying for top ten shootout on Sunday but would Moffat have made the top ten on outright pace? Probably not. I see on the V8SC website that someone has suggested GRM fitted old power steering hoses to the #34 Volvo. If so, that may go a small way to explaining why Moffat was so far off McLaughlin but I doubt it accounted for the whole deficit. I’m unsure whether the power steering issue is true by the way. It’s does seem feasible however it was only mentioned in the comments section on the V8SC website. The GRM Clipsal race report makes no mention of the power steering, just to let you know.
Obviously you can hardly expect Moffat to match McLaughlin’s pace on his first weekend in the Volvo S60 and I do expect him to move closer to his teammates pace over the next few races. Despite struggling a little in the Nissan last year, Moffat has arrived at Volvo with a good reputation and I’m sure Garry Rogers is expecting both drivers to regularly feature in the top ten, something which they have failed to do over the last two years. Obviously I don’t want to cause needless worry and my next point is purely speculation but Volvo are now funding factory efforts in the STCC, WTCC and V8 Supercars. Motorsport is expensive and Volvo’s foray into V8SC has certainly been a great success, but underachievement will give Volvo a reason to question their support of GRM and in today’s cutthroat motorsport environment it’s essential that Moffat quickly gets up to speed with the S60.