This season is going so fast. I can’t believe we’re already at round six! I think its really too early to start thinking about any runaway championship leaders in 2018, I guess we’re going to have to wait until after the enduros to get a real picture of how the title battle will shape out. But Scott McLaughlin’s form looks ominous, and I really don’t think you can write off either SVG or Whincup.
It’s this year’s current championship top two who shared the spoils at Winton in 2017, with DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin scoring pole and the victory on Saturday, and another pole for McLaughlin and victory for Shane van Gisbergen in Sunday’s race. Coming into Winton on the back of a phenomenal four-race winning streak, McLaughlin will be well among everyone’s favourites to reach the podium some point during the weekend, despite finishing 15th during the dry running on Friday. But with teams like Nissan who historically run well at Winton, and the likes of David Reynolds consistently challenging for race victories I think we could see a surprise or two.
Another Weekend of Struggle For Tickford Racing?
Tickford have failed the reach the heights of 2015 since Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert swept the floor with the field in the early and middle parts of the season. After a tough 2017, the start of 2018 hasn’t exactly been plain sailing. With the addition of Richie Stanaway, I can’t have been alone in thinking that Tickford boasted the strongest driver stable on the grid with Mostert, Winterbottom, Waters and Stanaway all behind the wheel. However, luck and speed have been two elements missing from the Tickford Falcons so far this season, with Winterbottom’s podium in Perth the only silverware of the campaign. Chaz Mostert, Tickford’s most likely challenger to the championships top five remains the only driver in the top nine of the table without a visit to the podium.
With Winterbottom failing to reach the heights of 2015, Waters not replicating his brilliant 2017 form and Stanaway yet to start firing on all cylinders I think Mostert remains Tickford’s best chance of silverware this weekend. A thought backed up by his 7th place finish in Friday Practice.
Good News For Nissan. Maybe?
In a week where Nissan finally announced their withdrawal from Supercars at the end of 2018, the series arrives at perhaps what could represent one of their strongest weekends of the season so far along with Philip Island. It’s a shame to see Nissan go, but to be totally honest I’m hardly surprised. Two race victories and a handful of podiums across four cars after five and a half seasons of racing isn’t a great return, even with the Nissan Altima being such a tricky project, to begin with.
Michael Caruso led a surprising Nissan one-two in Friday practice. Whilst I’d be pleasantly surprised to see them remain there after qualifying, I think that on a track where Nissan have traditionally been strong there’s every chance of a podium finish if things go their way. However, with only Caruso and Kelly looking capable of running near the sharp end of the grid they face stiff competition and might require a lot of luck to fulfil their potential this weekend.
Can Coulthard Step Back Up?
It must be tough seeing your teammate sweep the last four races in what is essentially the same machinery. After starting 2017 so strongly and falling off towards the end, the first part of 2018 has been anything but plain sailing so far for Fabian Coulthard. An 8th and a 16th last time out in Perth see Coulthard sit 9th in the championship table, 438 points behind the flying McLaughlin. Things can change quickly in Supercars, but another two rounds like the last two could see Coulthard all but out of realistic championship contention. Coulthard finished 3rd in both races last year at Winton, something that if replicated this weekend could prove very welcome.
With the DJR Team Penske Falcon jostling for status as the fastest car with Triple Eight’s Commodore, both Coulthard and McLaughlin have some of the best equipment available for them to do their job. Unfortunately, it’s been only McLaughlin with all the luck so far. I rate Coulthard as an extremely fast driver, something which he showed us last year. But it’s important he has a strong weekend to keep pace with his rivals at the top of the table.
Familiar Faces at the Front
Anyone hoping to spring a surprise result at Winton is going to have to better the familiar faces we’ve become so accustomed to seeing at the sharp end of the grid this year. McLaughlin, Whincup, SVG, Lowndes and Reynolds. The championship’s top five drivers have been in a class of their own at times this year, and I think it’ll take a mega effort to stop them taking the share of the spoils at Winton this weekend.
My prediction? I’m going to go with one race win apeice from DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight, with the potential of Mostert or a WAU Commodore sneaking onto the podium.
Let the action begin!