At the time of writing the season-opening Superloop Adelaide 500 is just two months away, and it can’t come soon enough. With the arrival of the Ford and the Mustang, and the departure of Nissan as a constructor the 2019 Supercars grid will look very different when they line up in Adelaide. Craig Lowndes will no longer be lining up as a full-time driver, Mark Winterbottom will be in a Team 18 Triple Eight-built Holden and Triple Eight themselves will be reduced to a two-car outfit. With so much change there’s so much to talk about ahead of the new Supercars season, and I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest of these changes in my Supercars 2019, Preseason Talking Points.
Triple Eight Reset
Triple Eight will look a very different outfit in 2019 without Craig Lowndes behind the wheel. For the first time since 2004, they will be without Lowndes as a full-time driver and they will return to a two-car lineup for the first time since 2015. The Red Bull backing will continue, but it will be up to just Whincup and Van Gisbergen to fly the flag for the most successful team of the last two decades. Just how much Lowndes’s development and setup input is missed will become apparent over the early races of the season but the pressure is now firmly on cars #88 and #97 to deliver. The dynamic will be different, and strategy decisions will no longer be a three-car play. However Lowndes’ departure has been eased by the fact he will remain an enduro driver, and his background input will still be valuable.
There’s no reason why Whincup and SVG should struggle next year. In fact, if anything they should be stronger than in 2018. With a year of development work under their belt, the ZB Commodore should be an all-around better car than it was in 2018, and that should worry the opposition. There’s been no preseason testing yet but I think Triple Eight will be the team to beat in Adelaide, and they will be looking to take advantage of rivals’ unfamiliarity with the Mustang. The one criticism I have of Triple Eight is that they do sometimes, like everyone, make mistakes under pressure. The season-defining pitstop for SVG in Newcastle was a perfect example and I’m sure that’s something they’ll be trying to eliminate in 2019.
Battle Of The Changers
2019 will give us a fascinating battle between Winterbottom and Holdsworth, and come the end of the year there will be someone who has made the right choice. 2015 Champion Winterbottom makes the switch to Holden and a Triple Eight-built Team 18 Commodore whilst Holdsworth goes the other way to Tickford. Seeing Frosty driving a Holden is going to take some getting used to, but on paper, I think his move away from Tickford is a smart one. Following the technical alliance between Team 18 and Triple Eight, he’ll be in some of the best equipment on the grid and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the team emulate the Tekno Autosports of a few years ago. Frosty’s fortunes at Tickford have been on a downturn since mid-2016 and although it’s sad to see such a partnership come to an end, the reset might just be what he needs for next season.
Holdsworth, on the other hand, arrives at a team in the middle of their most difficult period for a good few seasons. Tickford were poor in 2018, and only Chaz Mostert could come out of the season with anything to shout about. The team were wholeheartedly replaced by DJR Team Penske as Triple Eight’s main challengers and the top Ford team on the grid, but Holdsworth will feel the pressure to perform straight away. There’s a certain level of expectation which comes with the Tickford drive and as we saw this year with Richie Stanaway, failure to meet those expectations can result in the loss of a drive. Whilst Frosty will take the time to build Team 18 around himself, Holdsworth will have immediate pressure from Mostert, Davison and Waters. There’s a lot going behind the scenes at Tickford, enough for even Chaz Mostert to claim that the Mustang won’t fix all their problems. If that’s true, I think Holdsworth might be in for a difficult season, and once which will make or break his chances of fulfilling his potential in Supercars.
What Can Todd Hazelwood Do?
Hazelwood went under the radar in his rookie season with Matt Stone Racing but 2019 will give us more of an idea of just how good he is. I rate Hazelwood highly. After all, you don’t finish 3rd and then 1st in Super2 without being a great driver. 2018 wasn’t the brilliant and pain-free rookie year that Hazelwood would have hoped for, as he finished 26th/26 full-time drivers in the standings. His season was disrupted by a car change from the Falcon back to the old VF Commodore for The Bend Supersprint ahead of a much anticipated technical alliance with Triple Eight this year. The team struggled for results in a Falcon without customer support, so the switch to becoming a Triple Eight customer team in 2019 is huge for everyone at Matt Stone Racing.
This season will show us what Hazelwood is about, and he will be coming off a high after securing a season-best finish of 13th on Saturday at Newcastle. In the VF Falcon, he was clearly in the slowest car on the grid. But I think this tie-up with Triple Eight will pay dividends and I’m expecting a huge improvement from Hazelwood in 2019. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end the season somewhere between 10th and 15th in the standings.
Critical Year For Coulthard at DJR Team Penske
I get the feeling 2019 is going to be a crucial year for Coulthard at DJR Team Penske. So often a match for McLaughlin in 2017, 2018 proved more difficult and Coulthard had a torrid season compared to his teammate. Sure, a change of engineer can’t have helped, but DJR Team Penske will be looking for two Mustangs to run right at the head of the field, not one. He finished 2018 9th in the standings with just one win at Winton and as much I rate Coulthard, I’m just not sure he can afford another season like that at the team he is in. I hope he does well because I do think he has the potential to win a championship. We saw in 2017 that he can push McLaughlin hard, and he’s been around long enough to develop some great racecraft.
With the Mustang coming in it’s a brilliant chance for a reset, and an opportunity for Coulthard to put 2018 behind him and push on into 2019. If there’s any team who can turn the Mustang into a winner its DJR Team Penske, and Coulthard needs to bag results early and quickly if he wants to mount a championship challenge. With the likes of Mostert already being talked about as a potential partner for McLaughlin in 2020, Coulthard needs to do all he can to put those rumours to bed early in the season so he can drive distraction-free.
What are your thoughts ahead of the 2019 season? Who are you looking out for, and who do you think will come out on top? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook.