The 20th Adelaide 500 plays host to the first round of the 2019 Supercars Championship this weekend and its a weekend I’ve been looking forward to since Newcastle at the end of last year. So much has changed in the offseason, as we’ve said goodbye to the Ford Falcon and hello to the Mustang, and with a host changes in personnel up and down the grid, the Supercars entry list has a very different feel to it this year. With series stalwarts like Lowndes, Tander and Caruso no longer on the grid, Nissan no longer a manufacturer and the likes of Winterbottom and Stanaway in cars which you would have never dreamed of seeing them in this time last year, the opening weekend in Adelaide is going to be a cracker. I’ve picked out four of the biggest things to watch out for ahead of this weekend’s season-opening Adelaide 500.
Are Triple Eight Really In Trouble?
The switch from a twin spring back to a linear spring for 2019 meant that Triple Eight struggled with car setup at the Philip Island test with neither car finishing inside the top ten. So long one of Supercars’ powerhouse teams, it was a shock to see the team struggle so much even if it was just in testing. Russell Ingall was clued up on the fact that Triple Eight were the one team who could really make the twin spring system work, but until practice at Adelaide, we’re left guessing if that lack of speed at Philip Island was a one-off or something bigger to worry about.
Triple Eight, and more specifically Shane Van Gisbergen have won the last four races in Adelaide. You have to go back to Nick Percat’s victory in race three in 2016 to find the last time someone else won. If there’s one team who know how to set up a car for success around the streets of Adelaide’s East End it’s Triple Eight, and if the team are still struggling through practice and qualifying then that will be an indication that the issue is something more serious. I still wouldn’t bet against them this weekend, and both Whincup and SVG as up there among my favourites to continue their success at this event.
A Massive Season For Boost Mobile Racing
One of the off-season’s more surprising stories revolved around Tander’s ousting at Garry Rodgers Motorsport with the 2007 champion replaced by Tickford outcast Richie Stanaway. The move shocked many, especially after the troubles Stanaway endured in his rookie season and the way in which his relationship with Tickford broke down as the season progressed. He’s been given a lifeline by Garry Rodgers in 2019, and I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that this season is make or break for Stanaway’s Supercars career.
I worry for GRM this season if I’m honest. Losing Tander who finished 9th and 13th in the standings in 2017 and 2018 means that not only do they lose valuable experience on the track, but they also lose his engineering and setup input in the garage. With Tander now at Triple Eight his ties with GRM are well and truly cut, and the team fields a very talented but also inexperienced driver lineup in James Golding and Stanaway. Golding and Stanaway finished 12th and 21st in the preseason test and the pair managed just a 19th and 20th between them last year in Adelaide on their first attempt. GRM are a team who I expect to improve slowly as the year progresses, but I fear that this weekend will be a tough one and I can’t see them near the top ten, unfortunately.
All Eyes On The Mustangs In Adelaide
There will be no escaping what has been one of the biggest talking points of recent seasons, the Mustang’s return to top-level Australian motorsport. Its been a monumental effort from everyone at Ford Performance, DJR Team Penske and Tickford to design, build, homologate and prepare six Mustangs ready to race at Adelaide and eyes of touring car fans all over the world will be watching to see how they fare. The car’s pace at the preseason test was a pleasant surprise with all six cars featuring in the top ten, including a top three lockout.
A repeat of the standings at the preseason test in Adelaide would be nothing short of spectacular but all drivers, most notably Scott McLaughlin who is out to win back to back titles will need a repeat of that strong Philip Island form to kick off the 2019 campaign on the front foot. I’m convinced DJR Team Penske were holding something back in the preseason test and it’ll be fascinating to see after qualifying if that was the really the case. I’m backing McLaughlin to be even stronger this year after his maiden title in 2018, and if the Mustang is really as quick as we think it is, the only driver I can see coming close to him is Chaz Mostert of Tickford.
There’s huge pressure on Tickford this year to bounce back after a tough couple of seasons, and although Holdsworth and Davison are experienced drivers in their own right, I think that th championship challenge (if any) from the team will come from Mostert, and maybe Cam Waters. The signs are there that there are some shoots of recovery, but we’ll know how far they have to come when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.
Multiple Drivers Can Threaten The Top Step
There are so many threats to the top step of the podium this weekend, and two drivers not mentioned above who I think stand a real chance of winning on Saturday or Sunday are David Reynolds and Scott Pye. Its got to the stage for me where Erebus can no longer be considered underdogs, and I actually believe they have a real chance of starting 2019 as the top Holden team if Triple Eight are struggling. Reynolds finished 5th in the championship last year and won the final race of the season. That, along with the new naming rights deal from Penrite and strong performance in the preseason test means that there is real momentum in the squad and for me, they arrive in Adelaide as big players. I expect Anton De Pasquale to really push on this season after a strong rookie year with top ten finishes the target from the get-go.
Scott Pye has been steadily outperforming Courtney over at Walkinshaw for the last couple of seasons, and that’s a credit to Pye more than a disserve to Courtney. His 2010 title proves he is up there among the very best but for whatever reason, the last two years Pye has had the better of him. Courtney scored a podium finish in Adelaide last year as he started the season strongly before taling off in the midseason. I still rate Courtney very highly and I think on his day he’s certainly one of the best. However, starting at Adelaide he needs to deliver the performances we know he can. Nevertheless, its Pye who looks to have the edge at the moment and I think he could steal at least a podium and possibly a win this weekend if his luck holds out.
I think we’ll see a familiar pecking order at the head of the field with DJR Team Penske edging it ahead of Reynolds and Triple Eight who will fall backwards slightly. Tickford will be better, but for me, the jury is out on them until we see the results of the first race. I expect Coulthard to be closer to McLaughlin this weekend, but both will have raised their game during the offseason.
Most Likely To Win? Tied between McLaughlin and Reynolds
Most Likely To Struggle? Kelly Racing in ageing Nissan Altimas
Most Likely To Surprise? Either Triple Eight to be slower than we think, or Percat or Slade in the top finishers.
Who do you think starts the season as the favourite, and who do you expect to see come away from Adelaide with a full trophy cabinet? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!