Barbagallo Raceway in Perth plays host to races 11 and 12 of the 2019 Supercars season but for the first time in its history, the races will be held under the lights as the Perth SuperNight gets underway this weekend. It’s been a controversial two-week break since Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard stormed to victory at Phillip Island to make it nine Mustang wins from ten races, and both sides of the argument are bound to rear their head this weekend at Barbagallo. As the series prepares for a historic weekend in Western Australia, I’ve given my thoughts on the biggest talking points ahead of the 2019 Perth SuperNight.
Can Anyone Stop McLaughlin at Barbagallo?
You have to go back to 2016 to find any name other than Scott McLaughlin in the winner’s books at Barbagallo as the defending champion has set about making the Perth track his own in both 2017 and 2018. McLaughlin has been fantastic at Barbagallo over the last two seasons and despite the aero changes made to the Mustang ahead of this weekend he still goes into Perth as my pre-race favourite.
McLaughlin was strong at Phillip Island but is facing tougher internal competition in the form of Fabian Coulthard who has performed strongly at recent rounds at Symmons Plains and Phillip Island, beating him on track at both meetings. With a championship advantage of 124 points, McLaughlin arrives in Perth knowing that he has a reasonable cushion at the top of the standings however one DNF could change the whole dynamic of the championship fight. If his previous form is anything to go by then you would be hard-pressed to find someone who would bet against McLaughlin this weekend, and if a challenge is to come, it’s likely to come from the other side of the DJR Team Penske garage.
More Changes For The Mustang
It’s impossible to preview the weekend’s action without drawing attention to the controversy which has gripped Supercars in recent weeks. Post-Phillip Island both DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing were forced to make changes to the Mustang including a reduction in the dimensions of the end plate, a lowering of the height of the rear wing gurney flap and a reduction in length of the front undertray extension.
Whilst Ford accepted the changes alongside stating their disappointment at being required to make them, I’ve seen the fan outrage across the forums the move has caused. The Ford Mustang was signed off at a Supercars Controlled Aerodynamic test by all homologating teams including rivals Triple Eight and Kelly Racing, and whilst I can understand the pressure Supercars must be under to keep manufacturers happy and the series competitive, penalising Ford and bringing the Mustang down to the level of its competitors instead of encouraging further development of the Commodore and the Altima seems a little crazy to me.
Whilst DJR Team Penske are in supreme form at the moment, to me at least I feel that if the Mustang had an unfair advantage then we would be seeing six Mustangs in the top six of the championship. Ahead of Perth, there are actually more Commodores in the championship’s top ten than Mustangs, and I think some of the perceptions that the Mustang has an advantage are actually just down to the incredible job DJR Team Penske and Scott McLaughlin, in particular, are doing.
To be honest, I still expect the Mustang in the hands of McLaughlin and Coulthard to be the car to beat this weekend. DJR Team Penske look a team on top of their game at the moment, and for the first time in a number of years, they are giving Triple Eight a real and sustained challenge at the top of Supercars. The pendulum will always swing between different cars and teams at different tracks, but I firmly believe it’s down to rival teams to catch up rather than pegging back faster cars designed firmly and signed off within the rules.
Urgent Reset Needed At Triple Eight
I touched on it above, but for the first time in their illustrious Supercars history, it feels like Triple Eight have a competitor team who are capable of challenging their dominance over a number of consecutive seasons. So long used to dominating the series, DJR Team Penske’s emergence as a Supercars powerhouse means that Triple Eight have to step up their game, and based on results so far in 2019 it appears that they have some way to go in their quest to re-establish their superiority.
Triple Eight have been strong at Barbagallo in the past, scoring podiums with Shane van Gisbergen and Craig Lowndes in 2018, Jamie Whincup in 2017 and a memorable 1, 2, 3 in 2016. After a Phillip Island where the team fell behind not just DJR Team Penske but Tickford and Erebus too, Triple Eight will be eyeing the Perth SuperNight as a chance to return to the podium and ideally, the top step.
If anyone knows how to win titles and bounce back from tough weekends it’s Triple Eight and Whincup, in particular, needs a good set of results after troublesome rounds at Symmons Plains and Phillip Island have seen him drop to 9th in the championship. It’s too early in the season to discount Whincup in the title fight yet, however, it’s critical that he bounces back at Perth with a strong set of results to avoid being cut off from the title fight before the Enduros have started.
Who Else Could Be A Threat For Victory?
The winner’s circle has been dominated by Triple Eight and DJR Team Penske in recent seasons however Erebus will be one team looking to continue their upturn in form at Barbagallo. David Reynolds finished 4th and 11th at Phillip Island but the real star of the show was Anton de Pasquale who took his maiden Supercars podium in Sunday’s race. A strong qualifier in his rookie season, de Pasquale has improved his race pace no end in 2019 and has looked a real match for Reynolds in the last few races. I don’t expect him to match his more experienced teammate all season long, however more podium finishes are a real possibility and regular top ten finishes should be the expectation for a driver who looks to have a very bright future in the main game. Reynolds finished 2nd in Sunday’s race at Barbagallo last season, and will be looking at the podium as a target for this weekend. Given Triple Eight’s issues, it’s totally possible that Erebus could roll out in Perth as the fastest Holden team. However, I don’t think it will be as clean cut as it was at Phillip Island.
Tickford seem to have fallen back a little bit from DJR Team Penske since the start of the year, but they remain the last team other than DJR Team Penske or Triple Eight to win a race at Barbagallo courtesy of Mark Winterbottom’s Sunday victory back in 2016. I think it’s going to take a bit of luck for Tickford and misfortune for their rivals if they are to score their second race victory of 2019, but all of Mostert, Davison and Waters will be well-placed to take advantage of the situation should it materialise. Whilst all three have struggled for consistency in the opening rounds of the year, I think they are close when it comes to raw race and qualifying speed, and any one of them could seize the advantage on race day.
I’m finding it hard to look past either Scott McLaughlin or Fabian Coulthard for the race victories at Barbagallo this weekend, even with the new changes made to the Mustang. Triple Eight will be close, and once again I think Van Gisbergen will have the upper hand over Whincup, but it’s going to be hard to beat DJR Team Penske and I think Triple Eight, Erebus and Tickford will be scrapping over the final place on the podium.
Andre Heimgartner will be one to watch. Coming off a fine 3rd place at Phillip Island I think he’ll be best of the
What are your thoughts head of the Perth SuperNight? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!