V8 Championship – Wide Open

As the wise Andy Williams once said; “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” No, not Christmas time ya dummies – It’s Pirtek Enduro Cup time!

This Saturday sees the first of the endurance races in the V8 Supercars championship – the Wilson Security Sandown 500.

It is a race run over 161 laps at the historic Sandown Raceway, just outside of Melbourne. It is the first race of the season to feature co-drivers from around the world, followed by the legendary Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and the Castrol Gold Cost 600. And it often marks the turning point in the season for the top drivers.

So lets look back on the season so far, and take a look a the teams to watch over the next three rounds.

This V8 Supercar season has been, like many seasons before it, dominated by one team and it’s two drivers.

Unlike seasons before, it isn’t Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup of Red Bull Racing Australia. This has been the season of Prodrive Racing Australia’s Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert.

In their new brand new Ford Falcon FG X’s, the two have dominated the ArmourAll Pole Position Award, with Mostert taking 10 of the available 23 pole positions this season, which has led on to 5 race victories and 2nd place on the championship table.

But leading the charge with 8 wins this season is Mark Winterbottom – the perennial bridesmaid of the V8 Supercars championship.

This season has seen Winterbottom dominate the Perth, Winton, Townsville and Ipswich races, but the last round at Eastern Creek was a disaster. A 2nd, an 8th and a 16th saw his lead in the series shrink with Mostert now only 174 points behind. These next 3 rounds could see a shake-up in the table.

Mostert is the reigning SCA Bathurst 1000 champion, and along with his co-driver Cameron Waters, will be looking to hold on to their titles.

But let us not forget the current series champion Jamie Whincup. He might be sitting 6th this season, but he hasn’t won 6 titles – 4 in succession – without just a little bit of talent. This season, as was the case last year, sees him paired with Paul Dumbrell forthe enduros. A partnership that saw them win the Sandown 500 and Gold Coast 600, and if it weren’t for running out of fuel, the trifecta of enduros would have been theirs.

But the points gained we enough to push Jamie to the top of the table. He stayed there. Expect him to challenge once again. He and Dumbrell are a formidable force, and co-drivers will play an integral part in these races.

In fact, co-drivers could be the winning or losing of races. For years we have seen “main game” drivers chances squashed by a co-driver mistake. Garth Tander never made the grid at Bathurst last year due to a massive crash in practice while hi co- driver Warren Luff was at the wheel.

In 2013, James Courtney was taken out of the race after his co-driver Greg Murphy crashed at the top of Reid Park. Even though he has years of experience, the fact he was out of consistent main game driving led to a lapse in concentration. The driver/co-driver pairings are vital.

Other than the Whincup/Dumbrell pairing, there will be a number of combinations that I reckon will push for the podium.

  • Car #888 with Lowndes and Steve Richards will be strong. Tonnes of experience between them, and some of the best strategic heads in their garage mean they will be strong throughout.
  • Cars #5 and #6 from Prodrive Racing Australia will be strong. Winterbottom and Mostert will look to keep the momentum rolling from their seasons. And with co-drivers Cam Waters and Steve Owen respectively, they will be hard to beat.
  • Car #2 from Holden Racing Team, driven by Tander and Luff, are always consistent, but luck will need to be on their side this year. The sister car #22 drive this weekend by Jack Perkins and Russell Ingall could be a dark horse. Normally driven by James Courtney, he has been sidelined by a freak accident at Eastern Creek involving a RAAF Helicopter and some poorly tied down signage. Expect him back for Bathurst and Gold Coast.
  • The Team Tekno Autosports team of Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb in car #97 was odds on to win Bathurst last year, but a stall in the pits from SVG meant the dream was dashed. This year, he’ll be back for redemption.
  • And don’t count out car #33 – Scott McLaughlin’s Volvo S60. His form this season has been up and down (mostly down) but the car is fast, and paired with Alex Premat, these boys would be worth a bob each way.

Then there is Nick Percat and Oliver Gavin in the Repair Management Australia/LDM Holden Commodore.

Percat placed third last year, and won the race in 2011 on debut. Fabian Coulthard and Jason Bright from Brad Jones Racing are a chance, as are David Reynolds and Dean Canto from Bottle-O Racing. There are 6-10 teams that could win these races. Something other motorsports could do well to replicate. *cough Formula 1 cough*

These three rounds could shape how the championship plays out. They could be the making or breaking of a new series champ. They could see the resurgence of an old head. At the least, these three rounds will see me pressing a butt-shaped imprint into the couch, and consuming too much Onion Soup and Reduced Cream dip. But really, how much is “too much” anyway?

By Daniel Olander

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