With just two months since the 2010 championship season finished, the V8 Supercars Championship will be the first international touring car championship series to kick off its 2011 season, with the opening championship round on this weekend at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit.
As usual, Richard’s F1 will be bringing you all of the action from Australia’s major touring car championship series.
The off-season has been particularly busy for the V8 series, with plenty of movements in the driver market, changes to the tyre regulations, and also changes to the qualifying format for many events.
On the driver market front, newly-crowned champion James Courtney has moved from Dick Johnson Racing Ford to the TOLL Holden Racing Team, where he replaces Will Davison, who moves to Ford Performance Racing.
Davison replaces the semi-retiring Steven Richards at FPR, while Mark Winterbottom and Garth Tander remain where they are as Davison and Courtney’s new team-mates, respectively.
Courtney’s vacant seat at DJR is being taken over by impressive Development Series driver James Moffat, who is the son of former champion Allan Moffat.
Greg Murphy switches from Paul Morris Motorsport to the Kelly Racing team, where he will race a Pepsi-sponsored Holden. Also joining Kelly Racing is David Reynolds, making his return to the championship series.
The championship frontrunners, Team Vodafone, are one of the few squads to retain a completely unchanged driver line-up, keeping Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup (winner of both races here last year) on board for another season.
The other teams to field unchanged line-ups include Gary Rogers Motorsport (keeping Lee Holdsworth and Michael Caruso) and Stone Brothers Racing (who keep their threesome of Shane van Gisbergen, Alex Davison and Tim Slade).
Steve Owen, who impressively drove alongside Whincup during the endurance races of the 2010 season, earns himself a full-time berth in 2011, and he will replace Murphy at Paul Morris Motorsport.
On the rules front, the number of Top-10 qualifying shoot-outs has been reduced to just six rounds of the 2011 season: those being the street races and the Bathurst 1000.
Meanwhile, Dunlop continues its tyre supply deal with the championship, and has committed to supply more of its softer ‘Sprint’ tyre compounds to seven of the championship’s rounds, up from two last season.
It would be a surprise, however, not to see both driver pairings from HRT and Team Vodafone featuring once again in the championship fights, with Mark Winterbottom flying the Ford flag once again. Shane van Gisbergen and Lee Holdsworth could also be dark horses.
The season-opening event at Abu Dhabi will be the series’ second visit to the Gulf state, and the event will be run on a shorter iteration of the Hermann Tilke designed circuit used by the Formula 1 championship.
Drivers have taken the time to arrive early and acclimatise to the desert conditions, with many also sampling the Formula Rossa rollercoaster and the Ferrari World theme park, which is next door to the circuit.
To cater for the Australian TV audience demands, the event’s practice sessions are held a day early on Thursday. Qualifying and the first of two 43-lap races are held on Friday evening, with the schedule repeated for the second race on Saturday.