With the final two races of the endurance season almost upon us, the 2018 Gold Coast 600 marks the end of the Enduros as we know it. As the championship battle hots up and the PIRTEK Enduro cup reaches its climax, the streets of Surfers Paradise will play host to races 26 and 27 of the season, and the final Gold Coast weekend where the races are split between Saturday and Sunday. Just 19 points separate Shane Van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin at the top of the championship table and with only six races left in 2018, consistency is becoming more and more important. Before two, 300km races this weekend on a circuit where even the smallest of errors can result in a DNF, I’ve looked at some of the biggest talking points ahead of the Gold Coast 600.
Can Anyone Stop Lowndes and Richards?
The Enduro Cup’s form duo Lowndes and Richards sit 60 points clear at the top of the standings and given their recent form will be favourites to secure the trophy in Lowndes’s final year as a full-time driver. 3rd at Sandown followed by a historic 1st at Bathurst ensure that the pair are in the driving seat but you have to go back to 2015 to find the last time they finished on the podium at the Gold Coast. 7th and 4th in 2017, and 6th and 4th in 2016 suggest that Lowndes and Richards won’t have it all their own way this weekend, even with the speed of the Triple Eight Commodore.
That being said, both are class operators and if you had to bet on any pairing making it through the inevitable chaos destined for both races Lowndes and Richards would be high on anyone’s list. With the championship effectively out of reach, the Enduro Cup represents Lowndes’s final chance at winning a big trophy as a full-time Supercars driver and if they can stay out of trouble, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finish off the podium, but still secure the Enduro Cup.
How Will Erebus Bounce Back?
It was brutal to watch the closing laps at Bathurst from an Erebus point of view. The strongest car and driver combo all weekend, Reynolds and Youlden looked set to secure historic back-to-back victories on the mountain before leg cramps in the closing stages of the race caused the pair to fall to 13th, and Lowndes to win a 7th Bathurst title. Strong at both Sandown and Bathurst, Reynolds/Youlden and Erebus are enjoying a solid Enduro Cup run despite sitting 9th in the standings. After a blistering start to the year the podiums tailed off between Townsville and Sydney Motorsport Park, however, the recent upturn in form will leave Erebus confident for this weekend, and the remainder of 2018.
With the pain of Bathurst behind them, everyone at Erebus will be keen to bounce back in style. Reynolds and Youlden finished 17th and DNF on the streets of Surfers Paradise last year after winning at Bathurst, and will be hoping for a reversal of fortunes this time out. I think they’ll be strong, and with nothing left to play for except trophies between now and the end of the season they could well be the strongest Holden’s this weekend.
Time For Ford To Step Up?
After winning both the Gold Coast races last year, Ford teams will be confident of finishing the Falcon’s final endurance event on a high. Tickford and DJR Team Penske scored a win apiece in 2017 with Mostert/Owen winning on Saturday and McLaughlin/Premat on the Sunday. Of all the Ford drivers, it was Mostert and McLaughin who fared the best at Bathurst finishing 4th and 3rd respectively, and I fully expect them to be Ford’s top drivers again this weekend.
Mostert/Moffatt were the only Tickford cars in the top ten last time out, and McLaughlin/Premat finished strongly on the podium. With success on the Gold Coast fresh in their memory I wouldn’t be surprised to see both drivers on the money and well inside the top ten. On a track which is tough to pass, on a smart strategy, call could see a victory for either driver pairing. Mostert won the Enduro cup last year alongside Owen, and although he and Moffatt are too far back to challenge this time around, I think the Gold Coast represents Tickford’s best chance of a race win for the rest of the year.
With the championship to think about it’s tough to tell just how aggressive McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske will be. They have kept in touch in the title race through a period of Triple Eight and Holden dominance, but it will take something special from both if they are to wrest this year’s championship away from Shane Van Gisbergen.
The Rest Of The Pack
After winning at Sandown, and being among the fastest at Bathurst it’s somewhat surprising to see Whincup/Dumbrell 102 points off the top of the Enduro Cup standings, but it’s crazy what a loose wheel can do! I fully expect both Red Bull cars to be on the pace this weekend and given their recent form I wouldn’t count them out for a race win. Whincup/Dumbrell have finished on the podium in three out of the last four races at Surfers Paradise and like Reynolds/Youlden, will be desperate to make up for the disappointment of Bathurst.
Walkinshaw are another team who have always gone well on the Gold Coast and with Pye/Luff fresh off a 2nd at Bathurst hopes will be high that they can go one further this weekend. Courtney/Perkins have tasted victory at this circuit in 2015 and with the speed of the midfield Commodores outstripping most of the Fords, I’m expecting top-six finishes at the very least for one of the WAU cars.
Rick Kelly and Nissan will keen to bounce back from a poor Bathurst weekend on which they expected to score heavily. Kelly/Jacobson were the highest finishers in 11th, with the rest of the Nissan entries finishing 14th, 16th and DNF.
I’m going to go all out and predict a Ford to win at least one race. Following on from a 3rd at Bathurst and victory at Surfers Paradise last year I think we’ll see McLaughlin/Premat on the top step of the podium on Saturday or Sunday, with Mostert/Moffatt and Winterbottom/Canto also performing strongly.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lowndes/Richards wrap up the Enduro cup, and I think SVG/Bamber and Whincup/Dumbrell will also feature heavily and get to the podium. Walkinshaw are my dark horses, and the team I expect to be around should trouble hit any of the main contenders.
What are your predictions for the final Gold Coast 600? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!