I absolutely love back to races, and this weekend’s Phillip Island SuperSprint represents the first back to back Supercars round of 2019. Just a few days on from Symmons Plains where Scott McLaughlin took victory on Saturday and Shane Van Gisbergen won on Sunday, the grid goes at it once again at Phillip Island, one of the most spectacular settings for a race track anywhere in the world. After dominating the opening two rounds in Adelaide and Melbourne, there was a momentum shift last time out in Tasmania as the pendulum swung in Holden’s on Sunday for the first time this season. Phillip Island is a track which is very different to Symmons Plains, and the pre-season test saw four Mustangs finish in the top five cars, a result which both DJR Team Penske and Tickford will be keen to replicate this weekend. As the grid prepares to do it all again this weekend, I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest talking points ahead in my Phillip Island Supersprint weekend preview.
Whilst Symmons Plains has always been a strong track for Holden teams, Phillip Island has been somewhat of a Ford track the last two seasons, and a Scott McLaughlin track in particular. McLaughlin has won four out of the last six races at Phillip Island, doubling up in 2016 in the Volvo S60 and again last year for DJR Team Penske in the Falcon. 2017 was also a Ford year, with Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert winning a race apiece to underline the manufacturer’s superiority on the fast, flowing circuit.
Any hopes of Holden fans that a new car for Ford would dent their form at Phillip Island were put to bed at the 2019 pre-season test where the six Mustangs finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th on the timesheets. I think despite the centre of gravity changes made after Melbourne the Mustang is going to be too strong for the Commodore this weekend, and it’s going to be a challenge to topple DJR Team Penske and Tickford. Tickford, in particular, will be keen to bounce back after a tough Tasmania weekend, and for Mostert and Waters, two drivers with ambitions of challenging for the Supercars title, this weekend’s Supersprint represents a perfect chance to get back onto the podium.
Pit Lane Trials
Following on from the drama in the pit lane in Adelaide, Supercars will trial closing the pitlane under the safety car this weekend. It is hoped that eliminating stacking when the safety car is called will improve safety and remove the need to the field to rush into the pits all at once to take a pitstop.
Not being able to pit under the safety car provides a fascinating new strategic element to this weekend’s races at Phillip Island, especially with the longer race on Sunday. With the advantage of being able to pit under the safety car now gone, it is possible that the optimal strategy will include pitting as early as possible and it adds a level of uncertainty into the race. It’s uncertainty which can be reduced and managed with strategy, but I can’t help but feel that if a safety car comes out, an eventual winner could be helped by a little bit of luck.
Reset Time For Whincup?
Going into Tasmania I thought that Symmons Plains was going to be Whincup’s weekend, but an uncharacteristically tough Saturday and Sunday saw him score just a 25th and a 5th place finish. He fell to 3rd in the standings, 160 points off McLaughlin but Phillip Island is a track he scored 2nd at in 2016 and 2017 and Whincup will be keen to ensure that he regains momentum going into an important part of the season.
His race pace on Sunday at Symmons Plains was strong, and he rose from outside the top ten to 5th at the flag but the key for Whincup at Phillip Island will be qualifying strongly, something which he failed to do last time out. If he qualifies well, then you can count on to be near to or on the podium at the end of the race. But qualify poorly, and he risks being swallowed into the mid-pack for another weekend and losing valuable ground in the championship.
Milestone Weekend For Scott Pye
Race nine of the season on Saturday will mark Scott Pye’s 200th main game start of his career, a run stretching back to his enduros debut with Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport in 2012. To mark the achievement, Pye will race with the #200 on the car instead of his regular #2, but he’s one driver who I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of yet in Supercars.
A tough start to 2019 sees Pye enter Phillip Island 16th in the championship standings with just two top ten finishes all season. However, Symmons Plains saw him run consistently in the top on Sunday and he has had success at Phillip Island before, with a podium finish for DJR Team Penske in 2016. Pye has comprehensively beaten his teammate James Courtney at Walkinshaw for each of the last two seasons and finished 2018 a fantastic 7th in the standings. Given the pace of the Mustang at Phillip Island earlier this year, it’s unlikely that Pye will be repeating his 2016 achievements at the circuit. However, two top ten finishes would represent a brilliant result, and signal that his 2019 season is finally heading in the right direction.
What are your thoughts ahead of the Phillip Island SuperSprint? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!