For me at least, it’s been far too long since Queensland Raceway and as we begin to head into the business end of the 2016 season there’s been some monumental changes in the Supercars landscape. With HRT as we know it effectively in it’s final campaign, Holden continuing to commit a factory effort to Supercars and Nissan’s future still undecided there’s a whole host of talking points in my plan to address in the coming weeks, but ahead of this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park I’ve given my take on what are four of the biggest talking points before we get down to qualifying on Saturday.
Queensland Raceway Form Looks Set To Continue
It was at QR last time out that we finally began to see the first signs of what looked like a breakaway from VASC’s top two teams, Triple Eight and Prodrive. Anyone outside those top two teams, and by that I mean Scott McLaughlin and Will Davison are effectively now rank outsiders to take this season’s crown, as given Triple Eight’s (and particularly Lowndes’s) superb form over the closing stages of last season it’s difficult to see the title going anywhere but #1, #97 or #888. That being said, with Mostert now seemingly back on song Frosty has a powerful ally at the front of the field and after closing last season’s championship in the final round of the season there’s evidence to show that he knows what it takes to win. A thorn in the side of Triple Eight for as long as I can remember, Frosty can’t be discounted in this season’s championship race and could well be advantaged if infighting in the Red Bull garage ever does rear it’s head.
Despite difficult and greasy conditions on the Sunday last year in Sydney, the form book was perhaps unsurprisingly dominated by Triple Eight and PRA with Whincup, Mostert and Winterbottom sharing the majority of the spoils before a strong showing by Brad Jones Racing on the Sunday secured the Albury outfit a double podium finish.
DJR Team Penske’s Hurry Up
I happened to come across what looked like a very public hurry up from Roger Penske over on motorsport.com this morning, with the Captain stating that his VASC squad “needs to win a race” to rediscover their early season form. He’s not wrong. After a phenomenal two car debut at the Clipsal 500 there was talk of DJR Team Penske being outside threats for the title but after a strong showing at Philip Island where the team scored two podium finishes results have taken a pretty unsavory nosedive and Coulthard and Pye sit in 14th and 16th in the championship table. Of course, being just a year and half into what looks to be a multi year, very committed programme DJRTP can hardly be thrown under the bus but for a team of their resources and expertise it’s important that results improve before the end of the year.
With Scott McLaughlin joining at the end of the season it’s vital that in 2017, DJR Team Penske give the young Kiwi and Fabian Coulthard a car capable of matching their talent and challenging for race wins to keep the critics at bay. Pye finished 9th, 22nd and 17th over the course of the weekend last year at SMP in a round which marked the start of a slow turnaround in fortunes for the 2010 drivers champions. With Coulthard showing strong form here in the past Sydney represents a great chance for DJR Team Penske to start the second half of the season with a clean slate.
How Will HRT Respond?
Holden’s decision to recommit to Supercars although a welcome one was not without it’s sadness as they announced the withdrawal of funding, and with it the Holden Racing Team name from Walkinshaw, who incidentally have been Holden’s factory team for as long as I’ve been alive. When all the dust had settled from a racing, and business perspective it’s not difficult to see why Holden made the choice they did, after all in reality Triple Eight have been the strongest Holden team for some time now, but it’s still going to be strange as after the checkered flag falls in Sydney in December the VASC landscape will change forever.
How HRT (Walkinshaw) respond on track during the next few months is arguably now more important than ever, and with Ryan Walkinshaw committing to running two cars in 2017 the need to find sponsors and plug the huge funding gap Holden will leave will become critical. There’s been talk of HRT becoming the HSV Dealer Team which I think is a great idea, especially when it comes to drumming up potential sponsorship money but for the sponsors to come running it will be important to keep top name drivers. Ryan Walkinshaw has stated he wants to 100% keep James Courtney, but in order to do so the team needs to start providing JC and Tander with a strong car as soon as possible, especially with other teams beginning to circle.
Courtney was absent, recovering from his horrific injuries at SMP last season and Tander’s 18th, 11th and 12th place finishes hardly set the world alight. It’d be great to see a HRT response where it matters most, on track but given previous performances this season I think getting both cars into the top ten in qualifying would be a good place to start.
All Hail Craig Lowndes
In the years to come, when the history of touring car racing is discussed on forums and trackside you can be sure that Craig Lowndes will be mentioned more than once. Over 100 main game race wins, three championships and now over 600 race starts firmly cements Lowndes’s place in not just Australian, but global touring car history. Here in the UK Jason Plato recently reached the 500 race landmark, and won it from pole position to put the cherry on top and along with Lowndes is perhaps the only other driver currently on that same still driving, but already a touring car legend level!
What’s equally impressive about Lowndes (and Plato) is that despite all the young drivers making their way into Supercars and the BTCC both drivers still remain at the very top of their game, and challenge consistently for championships year after year. Whereas Plato divides opinion here in the UK, and from what I’ve gathered also the world over Craig Lowndes is perhaps one of the most unanimously liked racing drivers I’ve ever come across and I don’t think there would be too many people disappointed to see Lowndes lift the title in 2016 after coming so close once again last year.
CL finished 5th, 10th and 10th at SMP last year and after having by far and away the strongest car at QR last time out Lowndes took victory on Sunday after a fantastic start off the line and now sits in 4th place in the championship, well within striking distance of the top. I thoroughly expect Lowndes to bag at least one podium finish on what is another landmark weekend in his career and given the formidable car/race engineer combo chugging away in the background in the garage during races it looks to be another strong weekend for the TeamVortex Commodore.
- Whincup to bag his 100th win
- Lowndes on the podium at least once
- Surprise (or not so surprise) win for Mostert
- BJR will be strong