Despite the event being just two years old, the Sydney Telstra 500 has quickly become one of the most popular events on the season calendar, and this weekend’s round will be a fitting way to bring down the curtain on another fine season of racing in the V8 Supercars Championship.
And, fittingly, we will see a championship showdown between the year’s two finest drivers: one is an experienced veteran who will be looking to deliver a knockout blow and claim a come-from-behind championship, while the other is an up-and-coming driver who is eager to claim championship success for a second time.
It promises to be a weekend of high drama, and there are plenty of talking points in our final preview article of the year…
|2011 SYDNEY TELSTRA 500
|Date:||2-4 December 2011||Lap Length:||3.450km|
|Race Lap Record:||1:30.8818, Lee Holdsworth (Holden Commodore VE) – 2009|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:35-11:05|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 11:55-12:25|
|Free Practice Session 3||Fri 13:15-13:45|
|Free Practice Session 4||Fri 14:55-15:25|
|Race 1 Qualifying||Sat 10:20-10:40|
|Race 1 Qualifying (Top-10 Shootout)||Sat 11:25-11:55|
|Race 1 (74 laps, 250km)||Sat 15:05-17:15|
|Race 2 Qualifying||Sun 10:40-11:00|
|Race 2 (74 laps, 250km)||Sun 15:05-17:15|
|Past Winners:||Paul Dumbrell (Ford Falcon FG)||2010 (Race 1)|
|James Courtney (Ford Falcon FG)||2010 (Race 2)|
Co-designed by former V8 Supercars champion Mark Skaife, the circuit is a huge challenge for drivers. Its bumps and camber changes are a nightmare to perfect set-ups, and its mixture or different corner types make it difficult to eke out a perfect lap around the circuit.
The track’s front straight will see drivers hit top speeds of 250km/h, while the close concrete walls and high-kerbed chicanes limit lap times to an average speed of just under 140km/h. It’s typically a car breaker (or a car-bender, if you collect the wall), and its past races have seen the highest rate of attrition in comparison to any other venue on the calendar.
A look back at 2010
The second running of the Sydney Telstra 500 proved to be a fitting finale to an exciting championship battle in 2010, which was decided in favour of Dick Johnson Racing driver James Courtney.
It was a weekend full of drama, with a downpour throwing Saturday’s race into chaos as no less than twelve cars slammed into the wall at Turn 5 after their drivers were caught out on the wet track running slick tyres.
Courtney was one of them to hit the concrete, but he limped his car back to the pits, and the desperate work of his mechanics meant that he rejoined the circuit and finished in 15th place to claim the title.
The race win went to Jonathon Webb, who claimed his maiden win and a record of winning from the lowest-ever starting position, 21st place.
Sunday’s race saw GRM Holden driver Lee Holdsworth claim back-to-back pole positions, and after a year of much promise, he finally broke through to claim his maiden V8 Supercars win, but only in the final corners of the last lap!
Stone Brother Ford driver Shane van Gisbergen had looked on course to claim his maiden win, but the Kiwi spluttered to a crawl with a few corners to go when his car ran out of fuel, gifting a thrilled Holdsworth the win.
The Players and Form Guide
The championship battle will finally be decided between Team Vodafone Holden drivers Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes this weekend, with the pair staging an exciting battle all year long.
It’s been a year of ups and downs for the championship combatants. Whincup stole an early lead and looked unassailable, but Lowndes has steadily plugged away, delivering a string of wins in the mid-season to close the gap.
After finishing second at the Bathurst 1000 (a race where Whincup hit trouble), Lowndes briefly claimed the lead, only to be struck by a disastrous weekend at the next round on the Gold Coast, where Whincup stole the march once again.
Whincup currently sits 188 points ahead of Lowndes in the championship race. Lowndes effectively needs to take a ‘win or bust’ approach this weekend, while a finishing place of 22nd or better in Race 1 will be enough to giver Whincup his third championship title.
There’s also a close battle for third place, with Mark Winterbottom (Ford Performance Racing) leading a tight fight with van Gisbergen and Garth Tander (Holden Racing Team).
This year’s championship has proven to be among the most lop-sided in the championship’s ‘Holden vs Ford’ era, with Holden winning 23 of the 26 races so far this year – this repeats a similar rout Holden enjoyed in 2002, when it won 25 of the 29 races that year.
Street circuits are funny beasts, and there are several drivers in the field who are masters of street circuit environments.
Two to keep an eye on this weekend will be last year’s near-winner, Shane van Gisbergen (Stone Brothers Ford) and Sydney’s front-row specialist, Lee Holdsworth (GRM Holden).
Holdsworth has never qualified off the front row at Homebush, and in his final race with Garry Rogers’ outfit (before he moves to SBR as van Gisbergen’s team-mate), he’ll be desperate to end his long stint with the team on a high.
This weekend will also mark the final championship outing for Paul Dumbrell (Bottle-O Racing Ford) before he heads into retirement. It will be the 29-year-old’s 129th championship round since he made his debut in 1999, and he has claimed two pole positions and one race win. An outspoken character who has often (and unfairly, it should be said) been cast as a rich-boy racer, his absence will be felt next year.
This weekend’s entry list reads as follows:
|Team / Entry||Driver|
|1.||TOLL Holden Racing Team / Walkinshaw Performance||James Courtney|
|2.||TOLL Holden Racing Team / Walkinshaw Performance||Garth Tander|
|3.||Wilson Security Racing / Tony D’Alberto Racing||Tony D’Alberto|
|4.||Irwin Racing / Stone Brothers Racing||Alex Davison|
|5.||Orrcon Racing / Ford Performance Racing||Mark Winterbottom|
|6.||Trading Post Racing / Ford Performance Racing||Will Davison|
|7.||Jack Daniel’s Racing / Kelly Racing||Todd Kelly|
|8.||Team BOC / Brad Jones Racing||Jason Bright|
|9.||SP Tools Racing / Stone Brothers Racing||Shane van Gisbergen|
|11.||Pepsi Max Crew / Kelly Racing||Greg Murphy|
|12.||Westrac Racing / Triple F Racing||Dean Fiore|
|14.||Jana Living Racing / Brad Jones Racing||Jason Bargwanna|
|15.||Jack Daniel’s Racing / Kelly Racing||Rick Kelly|
|16.||Stratco Racing / Kelly Racing||David Reynolds|
|17.||Jim Beam Racing / Dick Johnson Racing||Steven Johnson|
|18.||Jim Beam Racing / Dick Johnson Racing||James Moffat|
|19.||Mother Energy Racing Team / Tekno Autosports||Jonathon Webb|
|21.||Fair Dunkum Sheds Racing / Britek & Brad Jones Racing||Karl Reindler|
|30.||Gulf Western Oil Racing / Lucas Dumbrell||Warren Luff|
|33.||Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport||Lee Holdsworth|
|34.||Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport||Michael Caruso|
|39.||SuperCheap Auto Racing / Paul Morris Motorsport||Russell Ingall|
|47.||Lucky 7 Racing / Stone Brothers Racing||Tim Slade|
|49.||VIP Petfoods Racing / Paul Morris Motorsport||Steve Owen|
|55.||Bottle-O Racing Team / Rod Nash & FPR||Paul Dumbrell|
|61.||Bundaberg Racing / Walkinshaw Performance||Fabian Coulthard|
|88.||Team Vodafone / Triple 8 Race Engineering||Jamie Whincup|
|888.||Team Vodafone / Triple 8 Race Engineering||Craig Lowndes|
* Subject to final confirmation
[Images via Fox Sports, Team Vodafone]