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Supercars Mid Season Review, Prodrive Racing Australia

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After a consistent first half of the season Frosty remains the only PRA driver in with a shout at challenging for this year’s title. Image – http://www.newsapi.com.au

I’m going to be working my way through and analysing the performances of every VASC team and driver over the course of the summer break. Triple Eight were the first team to feature a couple of days ago, and below I continue working my way down the pit lane by reviewing the efforts of Prodrive Racing Australia, Winterbottom, Waters and Mostert.

The Team 

I think it’s been a difficult few months for PRA, but I also think we should of all seen that coming. The Pepsi Max Falcon’s were all conquering during the the middle part of 2015 but towards the end of the year they gradually began to get outpaced once again by Triple Eight. Losing Mostert at Bathurst effectively ended PRA’s hopes of occupying the number one pit boom for 2016 and in the ever so tight battle between Tim Edwards’ squad and Triple Eight so far this year it’s been their long time rivals who’ve more often than not had the upper hand. That being said, it’s worth remembering that PRA are now an independent entry racing without factory support, and to still remain streaks ahead of the chasing pack is an achievement nonetheless.

Tim Edwards will surely be disappointed that only one of his drivers remains in championship contention with so much of the season left to run, especially when Mostert has suddenly hit top form in recent races but the team still have speed to find if they are to keep the #1 for another season. A string of fantastic pole positions has, for the most part failed to convert into race pace and victories with the #1, #6 and #55 all frequently falling down the order in races, and mechanical failures, bad luck and unreliability have robbed Mostert and Waters of big points on more than one occasion this year.

My verdict? A very strong, yet unspectacular start to the year for the defending drivers champions. I’m sure many expected more than just the one race win from the team which dominated the mid part of last season but they need to put all their eggs in one basket and back Frosty 100% for the title. They have everything they need to challenge Triple Eight, but still lack a little on outright pace.

The Drivers 

Mark Winterbottom 

Championship Position: 3rd     Race Wins: 1 

Frosty has been by far and away PRA’s standout performer in 2016 and the defending drivers champion has led by example by being a measure of consistency, delivering strong points finishes and podiums all season long (barring that disastrous weekend in Darwin). Speaking of Darwin, Sunday’s race (and potentially Saturday in Perth) remains the only black marks in Frosty’s book this season and we’ve had the occasional glimpse of a more aggressive and committed Mark Winterbottom on more than one occasion – I’m thinking back to his great battle with SVG in Tasmania.

His one race win came on Sunday in Perth, after a brave and committed strategy call saw Frosty hold onto shredded tyres to lead the Volvo of Scott McLaughlin home by a cats whisker, but it’s been Frosty’s ability to bring the car home on the podium time after time this season which has kept him in the championship race. The one lap pace has certainly been there but unlike his teammates Winterbottom has managed to limit the damage of not having the fastest race car, and in doing so has reminded us all once again just why he claimed last year’s championship.

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Frosty leads McLaughlin home in Perth. Image – http://www.prodriveracing.com.au

My thought on his chances for this season? To be honest, I think PRA have got a mammoth task to get Frosty to the head of the championship race given the scintillating recent form of Triple Eight. The top two teams have shown their class at Townsville and QR but at Queensland Raceway especially, PRA’s task was thrown before everyone to see. They are so so close to Triple Eight, but just lack that final piece of the jigsaw. Getting a solid run through the enduros is going to be critical for Frosty. He has the ability, experience and consistency to take the battle to Whincup, SVG and Lowndes, but it’s going to take more than a little luck along the way.

Chaz Mostert 

Championship Position: 9th   Podiums: 3

It’s tough to be too critical of Mostert given his mammoth accident at Bathurst, but he looks to be hitting form too late in the season to mount any form of championship challenge. I’ve said time and time again however, that a strong Chaz Mostert is vital if Frosty is going to challenge for the championship and a string of solid finishes in recent races has helped Winterbottom who has often been the lone Ford fighting in a sea of Holden’s at the front this season. Mostert was unlucky to be robbed of a podium at Philip Island following a tyre blowout and there’s been a couple of other occasions this year when back luck and unreliability has let the #55 team down. In terms of a general trend, Mostert has been a little better than his championship position suggests.

With a whole host of different winners already this season, what are Mostert’s chances of adding his name to the 2016 roll call? If you’d told me at the start of the year that we’d have reached the halfway point without a Chaz Mostert victory I wouldn’t have believed you, in fact, I wouldn’t have believed we would see so many different winners and just one victory for a Ford. With Triple Eight coming on strong I think Mostert’s chances of winning a race are still strong, but slimming and the deeper we get into a full championship battle, the more important Mostert’s role will become to Frosty.

Fast, but marred by bad luck, slower race pace and inconsistency are the words I’d use to describe Mostert’s season so far, but when you take into account his accident you can’t be too critical. He’s lost none of his speed, and just needs a few consistent weekends to bag that race victory.

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The Supercheap Auto Falcon is one of the best looking cars on the grid this season, but Mostert hasn’t had the results bring home it’s maiden race win. Image – http://www.foxsports.com.au

Cam Waters 

Championship Position: 18th    Top Ten Finishes: 4

One of PRA’s biggest weaknesses when comparing the team to rivals Triple Eight in 2016 becomes apparent when you look at the championship table, they’ve not had all three cars running at the front. I rate Waters highly, and I do think in time and with experience he’s going to mature into a very solid top tier driver, but I’m sure that the 2015 Dunlop Series champion hasn’t had the rookie season he was hoping for. If I remember correctly, at one point during Sunday’s race in Tasmania Cam Waters was on course to finish the day in 4th place in the championship table, and when I look back and try to pinpoint a moment when the rookie bubble burst, it was there. Waters eventually retired on Sunday at Symmons Plains through mechanical issues and since has finished inside the top ten just twice, although that run of races did include a memorable pole position in Perth.

All things considered however, I don’t think Waters has driven poorly at all so far, but like Mostert has often been on the receiving end of some of the bad luck during the races. Of course, there’s certainly room for improvement though, and I did expect Waters to be faster on tracks which the Dunlop Series also visited in 2015. It would be nice to see more than a handful of top tens before the season’s out, and the Monster Energy Falcon certainly has the speed to run at the front – it’ll also be incredibly exciting to see how Waters and LeBrocq match up against the rest of the field in the Enduros, that’s once driver combo I can’t wait to see.

I think it’s been a steady start to Waters’ PRA career, but one which has shown us enough to see rare glimpses of the driver which won the 2015 Dunlop Series title. He’s only going to improve, but it’s important to see some stronger results before the season’s end.

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From pole position on Saturday to dead last on Sunday, Waters struggled with the Monster Energy Falcon in Perth but has seen some stronger results since then.

 

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