2015, and judging by his pace at Albert Park you’d be hard pressed to bet against him finishing on the podium again this weekend, if he qualifies well that is. Whincup took victory on Sunday at Symmons Plains last year, and with a win in race one in Adelaide under his belt already for 2016, the six time champ would be a safe bet for podium or two this weekend. With there being one less race than in 2015, the chance does remain for a Ford or Volvo upset in one of the weekends two races but going by the form Triple Eight have shown over the last two rounds, I’d be surprised if Ford or Volvo won both races this weekend and I still think Nissan lack the outright pace to take a win on speed alone. Let me know if you disagree!
And now we get to the three other Holden drivers most likely to challenge Lowndes and Whincup this weekend, SVG, Courtney and Tander. Perhaps the biggest threat Lowndes and Whincup face in Tasmania comes not from the rival Holden Team, but from within Triple Eight itself in the form of new teammate Shane Van Gisbergen. SVG was on fire last time out in Melbourne and he looks to have got to grips with the Red Bull Racing Commodore much faster than some were anticipating, but yet again he was pretty good at Clipsal considering the car “wasn’t to his liking”. 3/4 wins in the V8 Supercar Challenge sent a clear signal to the rest of the field that SVG is fully expecting to challenge for the title this season whether he admits that or not, and getting ahead of Whincup in the championship this weekend would be a strong early statement of his intentions. SVG scored a third place in race three here last year, behind Whincup and Mostert.
I think this is the round where we can start to get a clearer idea of how much HRT’s switch to a two car set up is paying off. Courtney was fast at Clipsal taking a 2nd and a 1st before the chaos hit on Sunday however HRT were let down by their qualifying performance at the Grand Prix where Courtney qualified 9th and Tander 15th. Courtney and Tander raced up to 4th and 6th by the end of race four in Melbourne however if HRT are the team to take the fight to Triple Eight this weekend then they need to be qualifying on the the first two rows for both races. There’s no use having strong car pace if you’re qualifying down the bottom end of the top ten. Both Courtney and Tander raced extremely well in both Adelaide and Melbourne and if they can get to the front of the field I think they may be difficult for Triple Eight to dislodge, especially considering both are extremely good wheel to wheel racers, probably among the best in the field.
Who Else Can Challenge?
Taking T8 and HRT out of the equation, from the first few races of the season it seems DJR, PRA or the Volvo of Scott McLaughlin are best placed to steal a victory away from Holden. DJR Team Penske have got themselves up to speed much faster than many people (myself included) expected and Coulthard and Pye will be gunning for victory in what will be DJR’s 800th race . Interestingly, Dick Johnson Racing also made their ATCC debut at Symmons Plains (according to v8supercars.com.au). How fitting would it be for DJRTP to take their maiden victory as the newly evolved outfit in Tasmania this weekend, and I’m sure Coulthard in what will be his 300th V8SC race will have his eyes firmly set on the top step of the podium.
DJRTP have shown great pace over the last two rounds, and Coulthard was arguably the closest Ford to the Triple Eight Holdens last time out, although it should be noted that he did turn around Frosty very early on and write off his weekend. Their expansion to a two car set up for 2016 encountered some early operational problems such as needless double stacking in race three in Adelaide however I think we can all expect a team of their professionalism to overcome those extremely quickly. Roger Penske has his eyes firmly set on the top of V8 Supercars and it seems that they certainly have the budget and personnel to take the fight to Triple Eight.
PRA have had an odd season so far, and I’m sure they’ll be looking to kick start their season at a track where they scored two podiums last season. Chaz Mostert has been quick both at Adelaide and Albert Park but consistency has once again let him down a little when it comes to finishing races (I’m thinking back to race three at Clipsal). To come back from such a horrific crash to score a pole position at the Clipsal 500 is a remarkable achievement and I’m sure Mostert has all the hallmarks of a future champion, if he can turn in some more consistent performances. Frosty struggled at Clipsal and it was difficult to see just how much pace the Bottle O’ Falcon had in Melbourne before he was turned around by Coulthard in race one, although a strong qualifying showed the Falcon FGX’s can still take the fight to Triple Eight on single lap pace. Prodrive’s season didn’t really get going until Perth in 2015 but I think with the form Triple Eight and DJR and showing they can’t afford to have too many low scoring weekends.
What about Volvo or Nissan?
Scott McLaughlin is another driver who is more than capable of taking victory this weekend, and one which will be long overdue. Despite improving reliability since the start of last season, from what we’ve seen so far the GRM Volvo S60 is far from bullet proof and I’m worried that reliability will let again let McLaughlin down. Moffat has yet to get up to speed with his new machinery however plenty of people are backing him to be quick when he does, and I’m inclined to agree, I just hope for Garry Rodgers’ sake it happens sooner rather than later. It’s about time we had two competitive Volvo’s in and around the top five/ten.
I’m sure no-one at Nissan was expecting to leave Adelaide leading the championship and as much as it would be awesome to see, I don’t think we’ll be leaving Tasmania with the same championship leader. Nevertheless, Caruso and the Kelly brothers have finally got a car which can regularly run inside the top ten and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least two of the Nissan Altimas still inside the championships top ten at the end of Sunday, I hope so for the sake of my already flagging Fantasy V8 League team!
Elsewhere down the field it’ll be interesting to see how Davison and Tekno get on over the course of the weekend. Following in the footsteps of SVG is never going to be an easy task and Davison is yet to find the same level of comfort in the ex-Triple Eight commodore as Van Gisbergen did. However his past credentials somewhat speak for themselves and it can surely be only a matter of time before Davison starts running closer to the front.
Practice One for the Tasmania Supersprint starts at 11:25am on Friday 1st April.