Symmons Plains in Tasmania plays host to races seven and eight of the 2019 Supercars season as a fierce debate about parity and performance plays out between the teams. Despite McLaughlin being in imperious form and winning five out of the first six races, he sits just 31 points ahead of nearest rival Whincup in the standings heading to a circuit where Triple Eight and the Holden Commodores have traditionally had the upper hand. It sets the scene for a fantastic weekend of Supercars action, and I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest things to watch out for ahead of the Tasmania weekend.
Will The Mustang Be Stung By Centre Of Gravity Changes?
Qualifying for Saturday’s race will show us just how much the performance of the Mustang and Commodore has been affected by the centre of gravity tweaks ratified by Supercars post-Melbourne. Both models have had their centre of gravity altered whilst the Nissan Altima remains unchanged, but we’ll see at Symmons Plains whether those changes have had any effect at all. It’s a big move to make changes like this to cars during the season, and a bold move by Supercars, too. All eyes will be on the relative performance of the Mustang and the Commodore in qualifying to see if the changes have had any effect, and if they have, I feel that this debate is far from over.
To be honest, I still expect the Mustang to be winning races, but this weekend will be a true test of just how the car stacks up against the Triple Eight Commodores. Symmons Plains is a track where Triple Eight and the Commodore have traditionally been strong, and if the Mustang can comfortably be top dog here it’s going to be tough to see where it can be beaten. Ford Performance, DJR Team Penske and Tickford have done a fantastic job on the engineering side, and I feel that the car will still the best on the grid.
McLaughlin To Continue His Hot Streak?
Scott McLaughlin’s form so far in 2019 has been nothing short of tremendous and if he hadn’t have made contact with Waters at Melbourne I’m convinced he would be sitting pretty on six race wins from six races. McLaughlin finished 9th and 2nd at Symmons Plains last year to add to a 14th and 2nd from 2017, so it’s safe to say it’s not a track where he has enjoyed consistent results at in the past. However, after taking his maiden title in 2018, he looks the complete driver in 2019 and that, coupled with the supremacy of the DJR Team Penske Mustang should hold him in good stead to win at least once this weekend.
Where Could The Challenge Come From?
Away from McLaughlin, on recent speed alone it’s hard to look past Tickford’s Chaz Mostert as his nearest potential on-track rival. However, Mostert despite scoring a 1st and two 2nds at Albert Park has had a disruptive start to the season. He will desperately be hoping for a trouble-free weekend at Symmons Plains as he looks to stake his claim to the 2019 title. On pure speed, I think Mostert has been up there as McLaughlin’s closest challenger for much of this season, however, consistency has let him down. His recent form at Symmons Plains hasn’t been scintillating, with two 5th placed finishes in 2016 and 2017 marking his best results at the circuit in the last three seasons. Mostert needs a good weekend to establish himself in the title fight, and I think he’s the driver who can push McLaughlin the hardest.
You can never discount Triple Eight, and Symmons Plains is a track the team have been strong at in the past. Whincup and Lowndes won last year, and Van Gisbergen also won a race in 2017 and 2016 to underline the team’s strengths at the circuit. Van Gisbergen, who entered Melbourne hot on the heels of McLaughlin in the title race had a horror-show weekend at Albert Park through no fault of his own and subsequently dropped to 11th in the championship. Of course, he’ll bounce back, but clawing back a 325 point deficit to McLaughlin won’t be easy, especially given how strong he looks. There’s plenty of time left in the season but a win in Tasmania would do SVG the world of good.
If there’s one driver you can count on to deliver results consistently, even when the car isn’t the best it’s Jamie Whincup, and Albert Park was a perfect example of that. Whincup finished 8th, 4th, 2nd and 3rd to move to 2nd in the standings and sits just 31 points off McLaughlin. Whincup won last year at Symmons Plains and in terms of racecraft and knowing what it takes to close out a title he’s the best in the field. I think we’re going to see Triple Eight a bit closer to DJR Team Penske this weekend, and the Holden outfit will be eyeing Symmons Plains as the circuit they open their win account for the season. They need to win quickly, as Phillip Island and Barbagallo up next have been happy hunting grounds for McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske in the past.
Who Could Spring A Surprise?
Tim Slade and Nick Percat are two drivers sitting inside the championship’s top ten after a fantastic start to the year. Brad Jones have started the 2019 season strongly and Slade finished on the podium last time out in Melbourne. The team scored a highest placed finish of 7th last year at Symmons Plains courtesy of Slade in Saturday’s race but based on current form they’ll be hoping to at least match that this weekend. The key for BJR will be keeping this form consistent over the course of the season and at every race track, something they haven’t managed to do in the past. But for now at least they look a threat, and they look capable of challenging the frontrunners, and Triple Eight for the mantle of top Holden team.
Cam Waters is a driver who should be sitting much higher in the table heading into Symmons Plains, and he would be if he hadn’t of ran into McLaughlin ahead of race three at Albert Park. Waters is having a brilliant start to the season in a Tickford Mustang and has been more than a match for Mostert on pace, but I think Mostert still has the slight edge overall. Waters has a highest career finish of 6th at Symmons Plains back in 2017 and he’ll certainly be looking to improve on that this weekend. He’ll be strong and a podium could well be on the cards should luck fall his way. A win would be fantastic, but it’s going to be seriously tough to beat McLaughlin and Mostert.
Who are you watching out for this weekend, and what do you think of the COG changes made by Supercars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!