The switch from V8 Supercars to the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship seems to have happened earlier than everyone expected, yet there will be no change in the competitiveness and ferocity at which VASC rolls into Winton Motor Raceway this weekend. So far, 2016 has proved to be one of the closest, and most tightly fought seasons in recent memory and the impressive victories for Craig Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom last time out in Perth whilst consigned to the history books, will on doubt be on everyone’s mind as the two championship stalwarts look to close out the first third of the season with a fine performance at Winton. Below, you can find my assessment of four of the biggest talking points ahead of the Woodstock Winton SuperSprint.
Can Barbagallo be a springboard for PRA?
Prodrive Racing Australia were the form team at Winton in 2015, with Mostert taking victory in race one and Frosty following up with wins in races two and three. After a couple of rounds where PRA looked to be lacking in ultimate pace, taking pole position on both days in Perth, and the race win on Sunday was a surefire way of making their presence felt at the top of the championship table with the #1 Bottle O Falcon of Mark Winterbottom now sitting just 78 points Craig Lowndes in 4th place. Tyre life seems to have been a major sticking point for Tim Edwards’ four car outfit over the opening third of the season, and both Mostert and Waters have often fallen backwards in races despite having blistering single lap pace.
However, the way in which Winterbottom nursed his tyres home on Sunday in Perth will no doubt be a huge encouragement to Mostert who took his first 2015 win at Winton last year and with Waters coming off the back of his maiden pole position at Barbagallo I would’t be at all surprised to see all three PRA run cars in the top ten during qualifying at least. It’s also worth mentioning what a round Chris Pither had last time out at Barbagallo. After a torrid start to the season Pither put in four great drives in both qualifying sessions and races and should be looking to make serious headway on the likes of Percat, Moffat and Blanchard, all who sit above him in the championship table.
It’s business as usual over at GRM
The news that Garry Rodgers has ceased contract negotiations with Scott McLaughlin until after Bathurst should be a warning sign to the rest of pitlane that GRM are taking their assault on the 2016 title very seriously indeed. And that’s despite not currently having any cars or engines to run in 2017. It would be huge shame to see the two Volvo S60’s depart the grid after the end of the season and I’m sure I’m not the only fan who is confident, and hopeful that both Garry Rodgers, VA Supercars and Polestar will reach an agreement before the year is out.
McLaughlin’s podium in Perth was the perfect result for the driver who finished 25th, 9th and 9th over last year’s races at Winton but with a much improved car/engine package, and arguably the strongest momentum in the championship another podium this weekend is well within reach for the Kiwi. After a signs of progress at Philip Island, James Moffat struggled to make an impression on the top ten at Barbagallo but returning to the scene of his first and only series victory back in 2013 (that seems an awfully long time ago now) should see the #34 Volvo closer to the sharp end.
A podium finish for Nissan?
Winton has been a happy hunting ground for Nissan over the years, and both Caruso and Rick Kelly scored strong podium finishes in races one and two last year. Despite not having race winning pace, Nissan have been extremely consistent over the course of the seasons opening races and the two Kellys and Caruso occupy spots 9, 10 and 11 in the championship table. Much has been made of the improved engine performance seen from the Nissan Altima in recent races and with Russell Ingall on board to test before the enduros, an extra pair of championship winning hands to lend advice will be a welcome addition to the Nissan Motorsport garage. Nevertheless, with the level of competition as high as it’s been for many seasons a podium finish this weekend would be a fantastic result, but I wouldn’t bank on it happening.
Just where will HRT fit into the mix?
HRT, like many other teams ran a test day at Winton before heading cross country to Perth however Adrian Burgess has played down their chances of success this weekend. It’s been clear for a while that HRT’s Achilles heel is their poor qualifying pace but the word is from the HRT camp is that they’ve had their eureka moment, and they’re making progress in their quest to make the Holden Commodore more drive-able on the limit. Considering their qualifying position, GT and JC had good races on Sunday in Perth but the pair managed just one top five finish over the weekend’s three races in Winton last year. The sharp end of the grid is horrendously competitive, and only time will tell if a HRT sized gap remains up at the top, but qualifying inside the top ten for both races is a must for HRT. Especially when Holden’s plans for next year are still undecided.