Apologies for the length of time since my last post. I’ve been away in the Pyrenees for the last 10 days or so without internet but coming back to race five of the V8 Supercars championship was the perfect homecoming present! Whilst Saturday at Philip Island didn’t have the same drama as Saturday in Tasmania the switch to the new Super Sprint format is certainly paying dividends and I think and I’m already looking forward to qualifying for race six. There were some standout drives and some huge disappointments over the opening 27 laps at Philip Island and below you can find some of the biggest talking points from the race.
A Welcome Return for Volvo
Volvo/GRM enjoyed one of their best races in recent memory with Scott McLaughlin returning the Volvo S60 to the top step of the podium for the fist time since Philip Island 2014. McLaughlin led from the front throughout Saturday’s race and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in and around the top five (or even higher) again tomorrow. It was a welcome return to the winners circle for GRM, who have often just lacked the final details in order to turn the Volvo S60 into a regular race winner over the last season or so, however I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping to see a few more victories for GRM over the course of the coming races.
GRM’s pace at Philip Island was further confirmed by James Moffat’s best result of his Volvo career. After struggling in the first few races of the season Moffat treated everyone to glimpses of his potential with a fine drive, holding off Tim Slade in the last few laps to bring the car home in 7th place. Having both cars finish regularly in the top ten would be a huge boost for McLaughlin in terms of taking points off his championship rivals and a massive boost for GRM whose Volvo contract has still not been renewed.
Sterling drive from Fabian Coulthard and DJR
I think both DJR Team Penske Falcons had a much better race pace and although Coulthard was fortunate to benefit from Mostert’s tyre failure on the last lap he had elevated himself to 4th place on the road from 9th on the grid on pure pace alone, with some great overtaking manoeuvres on Lowndes, Winterbottom and SVG. A large part of being a top race team, and indeed a championship player is making the most of opportunities even when your car is perhaps not the fastest in the field and DJR showed again on Saturday just how much progress they’re making in their transformation back into a V8SC powerhouse.
Coulthard’s teammate Pye was another driver making great progress through the field during the race and was unfortunate to lose eighth place after a dramatic tyre failure at turn one, although you could argue that he was extremely lucky to avoid a major accident. Nevertheless, in the longer race tomorrow I expect we’ll see two strong performances from the Pirtek Racing Falcons and if they qualify well then a podium could well be on the cards.
Strong strategy again from BJR
BJR proved their strong Tasmania strategy calls were no one off with a long first stint helping Slade move from 12th to 8th and Jason Bright from 15th to 10th to bring home another double points finish on a day when some other big names had disappointing runs (see my next point). Despite their small budget BJR frequently punch above their weight and as Tim Slade fully beds himself into the team I wonder if they can sneak a podium or two this season?
It won’t be as easy to repeat the race victories from previous seasons, largely due to the increased amount of competition from the sport’s top few teams however if BJR continue to make inspired strategy calls then podium finishes could certainly become a possibility, especially in the more chaotic races. That being said, it seems the majority of the field has now realised that running long in the first stint of the new Super Sprint format is probably the way to go so it will be interesting to see what BJR can do in race six tomorrow and at Barbagallo in a couple of weeks time.
Disappointment again for HRT
It honestly does pain me to see HRT trundle around at the back of the field. I’m no die hard HRT fan but it would nice to see a team of their stature, heritage, driver quality and budget to consistently be one of the sport’s top teams. Plus, it would make for a great battle with Triple Eight for the status of being Holden’s top factory team.
GT’s recovery drive to finish 8th at the checkered flag will be a meagre consolation for the squad who left the Clipsal 500 with so much promise and they’ve struggled just as much at Philip Island as they did in Tasmania a couple of weeks back. 14th for Courtney and 18th for Tander in qualifying are disappointing results for a team who are frequently touted among the biggest and best supported in the V8 Supercars championship and I’m sure many motorsport fans would like to see HRT challenging on more than a “flash in the pan” basis.
Both Tander and Courtney are great racers, and they frequently battle their way back from poor qualifying positions to finish races inside the top ten however much more consistency and pace in qualifying is needed if they really are to make progress from the last few seasons. Courtney’s race was compromised by some mechanical gremlins so a stronger qualifying tomorrow should hopefully see improved results for both HRT cars.