The Supercars pre-season test is over and the final countdown is underway to February, 28th and the season-opening Adelaide 500. The 2018/2019 off-season gave us one of the most seismic shifts in Supercars/ATCC history as the Ford Falcon gave way to the Mustang, but with the season now so close to being underway its time to finally see what Ford’s new challenger is made of. The answer to that, looks to be great stuff. The traditional pre-season test saw Cam Waters lead a Mustang clean sweep at the top of the timesheets whilst many people’s pre-season title favourites Triple Eight struggled. I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest talking points from the pre-season test below.
Mustang Clean Sweep
I’ve got to admit I was shocked to see a top three consisting of wholly Mustangs, with Tickford’s Cam Waters leading Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert by 0.01 and 0.2s respectively. 2018 was a tough year for Waters after the promise of 2017, and I mentioned in my Supercars end of 2018 review that 2019 was the year for him to step up and consistently challenge Mostert. Of course, this is just testing, and the real test will come in Adelaide in two weeks time at the season opener.
All six Mustangs were inside the top ten, a feat which marked a brilliant return to Supercars for Ford and put to bed some of the doubts that the car would be quick out the box. With will Davison ending the test 5th, McLaughlin 8th and Holdsworth 10th, Philip Island showed us that there’s plenty to be excited about for Ford fans in the coming year and the prospect of having any the Mustangs capable of winning a race and taking the fight to Triple Eight and Erebus is an exciting one. There are no prizes in testing, but it was a pleasant surprise to see the car so competitive and fast from the get to.
Troubles For Triple Eight
My pre-testing favourites for the title, Triple Eight were the other surprise package of testing, but for all the wrong reasons. Regulation changes over the summer break meant a move to a linear spring suspension for 2019, and for a team which had heavily relied on a twin set up for a number of years the move proved to a be a tough one. In their first appearance as a two-car outfit since 2015, Van Gisbergen finished 14th and Whincup 19th as the team struggled with set up of the car. Even without placing too much emphasis on the pre-season test, the day was a disappointing one for the team who would have no doubt expected be higher up in the standings. It was a shock for many who despite allegiances to other teams, still view Triple Eight as the team to beat.
Adelaide is circuit which shares few characteristics with Philip Island, and I do expect the team to be far stronger in two weeks time. The team is an ultra-professional one, and you can bet your last dollar that all efforts back at the factory will be focused on managing the switch to the linear spring suspension. Nevertheless, whilst you can’t discount them yet, it was a disappointing day for a team many thought would be topping the timesheets.
Erebus Set To Stay At Sharp End
After arguably their strongest season yet in 2018, Erebus look set to continue their strong run of form into 2019 despite being forced to leave the test 2 and a half hours early. With car noise exceeding 95 decibels throughout the test, the #9 and #99 Erebus Commodores were told to stop running by officials mid-test with both David Reynolds and Anton De Pasquale safely inside the top ten. Reynolds finished the day in 4th with De Pasquale 7th as Erebus cemented their position as top Holden runners in the test, Reynolds finishing just 0.001s behind the Mustang of Mostert.
Even without the full programme of running, I think we’ve seen enough in the test to tell us that Erebus are still going to be a threat going into 2019. With a title partnership announcement with Penrite now covering two cars, this is a team on their way to the top, and if Triple Eight can’t solve their set up problem fast enough, then it could well be Erebus flying the flag for Holden for the first part of 2019. I think the team is in for a really exciting year, and with his rookie season behind him, I think De Pasquale will be a regular feature inside the top ten this season.
Limited Progress From The Nissan Altimas
Anybody hoping that a new season would breathe a new lease of life into the four Kelly Racing-run Nissan Altimas will have been left disappointed, as the four cars finished 13th, 15th, 22nd and 23rd at Philip Island. With Michael Caruso now gone, the responsibility will fall to Andre Heimgartner to keep Rick Kelly honest in a year where I fear rookie Jacobson may struggle to get strong results.
I feel for Kelly Racing to make any significant inroads and progress up the grid, they can’t be in the Altima, a car which is now seven seasons old. With the Mustang looking strong, and Tickford looking to regain their place as one of the top teams in Supercars, I fear that the Kelly Racing quartet may fall even further down the pecking order in 2019. Running four cars without manufacturer support is no easy task, and even making it to the test with the same amount of cars as last year is a huge achievement.
What were your thoughts on the times from the test? Who impressed and who didn’t? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!