Apologies for the lengthy delay since the last article, it’s been a busy couple of weeks trying (and currently failing) to find a job after finishing University! There’s another incredible weekend of motorsport in store with the the Crownbet Darwin Triple Crown, European Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 hours and the BTCC at Croft all to look forward to, and I’m going to kick off my weekend previews with a look at some of the biggest talking points ahead of the Darwin Triple Crown in Australia’s Northern Territory .
Can PRA press on?
Supercars is arriving at the second of four tracks which should really suit the PRA Falcon’s (at least they did last year), and with the championship’s “Mr Form” now topping the table for the first time this season, 2015 champ Winterbottom will be eager to create some breathing space at the top of what is an incredibly competitive table. Winterbottom finished 2nd, 7th and 5th over the course of last year’s Triple Crown, but it was teammates Chaz Mostert and David Reynolds who muscled in on Frosty’s spoils, collecting four podiums between them.
Mostert was on fire last year in Darwin, and I wouldn’t bet against him adding his name to the 2016 winners list at a track which clearly suits car and driver well. Coming back from his huge Bathurst accident can’t have been easy, but if Mostert can put his car on the front row (which he should be able to), then a win could come calling. Reynolds’ replacement at PRA, Cam Waters got back to the sharp end of the field at Winton after a tough few rounds with a fine 5th place on Sunday and at a track which should suit the car down to a tee there’s a good chance we could see all three PRA cars up in the top five or six.
More from BJR?
No-one could have predicted that Tim Slade would do the double at Winton, but Hidden Valley is another track which BJR have been strong in the past, something compounded last year by Fabian Coulthard’s podium in race three. With Coulthard now at DJR Team Penske, Tim Slade is the lead driver at BJR and whilst not many will be expecting a repeat of Winton, he could yet find himself up on the podium again if he qualifies strongly. I’m sure Brad Jones will be quietly confident of a strong weekend, and I don’t think you could find many fans, red or blue, who would be unhappy to see Slade add to his tally of victories.
Slade’s teammate and series stalwart Jason Bright is a driver who should be looking at Darwin as an opportunity to get his season back on track. There’s been talk of Tander moving to BJR, and looking in the from the outside it’s difficult to know what kind of pressure Jason Bright would be under if Tander showed interest in the drive. Bright started strongly with good results at Clipsal , Symmons Plains and Philip Island but hasn’t featured in the top ten since. It’s been a while, but we know he’s a race winning driver. It’s just a matter of stringing together some consistency and some top ten results will surely follow.
Can Erebus outrace HRT again?
Reynolds’ drive to 6th in race two at Winton, and his pass on GT especially were among the highlights last time out, and after another engineering reshuffle the Triple Crown is yet another critical weekend for HRT. Already out of the championship race, Courtney and Tander need to salvage something from a horrible start to the season however it’s worth nothing that Hidden Valley has hardly been HRT’s standout track, although Tander did score some reasonable results back in 2014. It was a little more miserable for GT last year, with his results reading a 20th, 8th and 12th but surely a good result is in the pipeline? There’s been some massive changes at the team, and Adrian Burgess’ track record speaks for itself but I can’t see those results coming this weekend. Hidden Valley doesn’t seem to be a track which suits the Walkinshaw Commodore, but Townsville is just around the corner….
Anyway, back to Erebus.
Considering the team practically reinvented themselves over the off season I think Erebus have done a remarkable job to get the Penrite Oil entry of Reynolds up into 17th in the championship, and I also think the Reynolds is the perfect man to help drive Erebus forward now he’s freed from the more drilled and corporate Prodrive Racing Australia. Engineering mistakes will obviously be made, such as in Winton, but through a combination of practice and experience I think Erebus will eventually start to move forward. I’m not saying they will become a consistent race winning team to challenge the likes of Triple Eight and PRA, but regular midfield runners is an eventual possibility. Reynolds picked up his first win of the season in race three last year and with a little bit of luck he could push the top ten yet again in 2016.
**On a side note, I think Erebus could be well served by becoming one the first teams to switch to the Gen2 regulations – but more about that in a later post!
Still tight at the top
Just 86 points separates Frosty in 1st from Van Gisbergen in 5th, and it couldn’t be closer as we head into the crucial middle part of the season. It was during this next run of races that Winterbottom began to build his championship lead as Triple Eight struggled but with three cars still in the top five, Roland Dane will be keen to see a consistent challenge between now and the start of the Enduros. Triple Eight have always been strong over the Enduros and closing races, and if Whincup, Lowndes and SVG can stay in contention over the next few months then it’s a fair assumption that there will be at least one, most likely two Triple Eight run cars in the top three at the end of the season.
After Volvo’s withdrawal announcement a title for Scott McLaughlin and GRM would be a popular one throughout the paddock and the wider fanbase, and the #33 is still right in contention just 27 points behind Frosty in 2nd. McLaughlin had a relatively miserable time last year in Darwin, registering a DNF, 9th and 11th but four podiums from the last six races mean the Kiwi heads to the Triple Crown with a shot at victory.
With all that in mind here’s my roundup of some things I’ll be looking out for this weekend.
- Chaz Mostert’s first win of 2016
- PRA to take a pole position clean sweep
- Consistency from Lowndes and T8, and a top five for Slade