Supercars arrives in Melbourne for round two of the 2019 championship with the same driver, but a new car to beat. Almost 10 days on from Scott McLaughlin’s assured performance in Adelaide, it’s game on again over four races in Melbourne’s Albert Park for races 3, 4 5 and 6 of the season. 2019 will be the second year that Melbourne counts for championship points, and therefore it promises to be a critical weekend in the championship race. With 300 points on offer for the driver who manages to win all four races this weekend represents a brilliant chance for Scott McLaughlin to open up a sizeable championship lead. But will he have it all his own way? I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest pre-race talking points below.
Will There Be A WAU Fightback?
Scott Pye and James Courtney will never have arrived at Adelaide two weeks ago expecting to dominate proceedings, but the season-opening Adelaide 500 was a disappointing weekend for Walkinshaw Andretti United. Often inside the top ten in 2018 and always strong on street circuits, Pye and Courtney managed just one top-ten finish between them in Adelaide courtesy of Courtney’s 10th place in race one.
With Melbourne next on the calendar, the team returns to the circuit where they took their only race win last year, which also happened to be Scott Pye’s first in race three of the Melbourne weekend. Pye finished 6th, 11th, 1st and 5th over the four races in Melbourne last year, and will be looking for a repeat performance this season as he looks to get his up and running.
I think it’s going to be a struggle for Pye or Courtney to replicate the success of last season and take a victory, especially given the how strong the Mustangs looked in Adelaide. However, they remain an outside bet for a podium should they be able to get to the bottom of their slow-ish Adelaide form.
How Will Triple Eight Respond?
Despite three podium finishes, Triple Eight left Adelaide thoroughly second-best and Melbourne will give us the chance to see just how the team can respond to McLaughlin’s impressive form. Jamie Whincup was the man to beat last year in Melbourne, scoring a 2nd, 1st, 2nd and 3rd over the four races to come away with the most points from the weekend.
But just how close can Triple Eight come to reeling in the DJR Team Penske Mustangs? It was interesting to hear Dave Cauchi’s immediate comments post-race in Adelaide where he predicted that DJR Team Penske could be even further ahead at Albert Park. Of course, comments immediately post-race can be taken with a pinch of salt and with a week of development and setup work in between, the real answers will come on Thursday when the cars hit the track for qualifying for races three and four of the season.
I think it’s still going to be close between the two teams, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to see DJR Team Penske still have the edge. The margins are so fine at the head of the field, but from what we saw in Adelaide, the DJR Team Penske Mustang is so good that it’s going to take more than a few days of work to decisively reel it in.
Tickford To Stake Their Claim?
For all the strong speed Cam Waters, Chaz Mostert and Will Davison showed in Adelaide, to come away with just the one podium finish for Cam Waters in race two was something of a disappointment for Tickford. Mostert looked really strong in both races, as did Davison and I’m sure that all three drivers will head into the Melbourne weekend knowing that podiums at least are well and truly within their reach.
Mostert had a good run in Albert Park last season with 5th, 6th, 10th and 4th place finishes, with Waters and Davison not so lucky. However, with the car looking strong and the shoots of recovery and optimism seeming to sprout at Tickford, reaching the podium should be the minimum target this weekend. As Triple Eight-boss Roland Dane alluded to in his post-race interview, the fact that there weren’t more Mustangs on the podium in Adelaide was more down to other factors than not having the car speed. I’m sure everyone at Tickford will be well aware of that, and whilst I still think DJR Team Penske will have a clear edge, Tickford have the capacity to push Triple Eight all the way to be their closest challengers.
Whilst Waters, Mostert and Davison all showed brilliant turns of pace in Adelaide, Lee Holdsworth didn’t fare as well, coming away from the weekend with a 21st and an 11th. Holdsworth might take more time to bed in and get up to speed with a new car and a new team than his teammates, but will no doubt be keen to at least match them this weekend.
Who Else Could Threaten The Podium?
All of Fabian Coulthard, David Reynolds and Nick Percat were strong in Melbourne last year, and I have no reason to think that 2019 will be any different.
For all the speed he showed in Adelaide, Coulthard had a tough time of it to come away with just a 6th and a 20th from the weekend. Qualifying on Saturday showed us that he was more than a match for McLaughlin pace-wise, although I do believe that McLaughlin would have had the edge in a straight fight between the two in race trim. That being said, had everything gone Coulthard’s way last time out, he would have had at least two 2nd places to show for it, and I think he comes into the Melbourne weekend with a clear aim, and a need to bag consistent results. With McLaughlin in such strong form, Coulthard can’t give away too much ground this early in the season. He finished 3rd, 3rd, 12th and 6th last year at Albert Park, and I thoroughly expect him to better that this time around.
Like, McLaughlin, Whincup and Pye, David Reynolds was another winner at last year’s Melbourne 400 and will start this weekend looking to kick his season off on the right foot. I was surprised that Erebus struggled so much in race-trim at Adelaide, and they have a real fight on their hands this season to stay as best of the rest with a resurgent Tickford outfit. But Reynolds knows what it takes to win at Albert Park, and it will be fascinating to see if the team have improved since the opening races of the season. I’d love to see Erebus succeed, but personally, I have my doubts that Reynolds will be able to repeat the race-winning form of last year. However, a podium would be an achievable target, but both car and driver will need to be on top form to get that.
Nick Percat finished 9th, 7th, 3rd and 2nd last year in Melbourne. Add that to a great weekend in Adelaide where he finished 7th and 5th, I think Percat has an outside chance of reaching the podium should anything happen to the top few cars. Brad Jones Racing confuse me sometimes, in the fact they can blow so hot and cold over consecutive race weekends, but if they can string together some consistent performances it would great to see Percat or Slade battling with Tickford and Erebus for those mid-top ten places on a regular basis. As I mentioned above, I can’t see Percat beating DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight on outright pace, but he should be considered a threat for the podium should BJR nail their car setup, and Percat have a consistent trouble-free weekend.
What are your thoughts ahead of the Melbourne 400? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!