The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship returns from a short break to take on the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit this weekend. After drama in Tasmania which left teams scrambling to get their cars, and drivers, ready for the assault on the Island, the full field will take to the track across the three days of running.
Phillip Island is a fast and flowing track, the most “European” style on the calendar. Notably used for the MotoGP and World Superbikes, it is a track which shows up the well balanced touring cars from those which still need some adjustments.
|Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit|
|Location||Phillip Island, Victoria||Circuit Length||4.445 km / 2.762 mi|
|Direction||Anticlockwise||Lap Record||1:32.0246 – Jamie Whincup (2013)|
Located some 130 kilometres south-east of Melbourne, the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit was originally designed in 1956, but it underwent extensive rework ahead of the track’s rebirth as an international motorsport venue in the late 1980s.
Perhaps better known as a motorcycle racing venue – it hosts international rounds during the World Superbike and MotoGP championship seasons – the circuit’s flowing, undulating nature presents a stern test for any vehicle, be it two- or four-wheeled.
The lap opens on the downhill Gardner straight which feeds into a punishing right-hander called Doohan Corner, ahead of the track’s ‘Southern Loop’, a tight left-hander. Drivers then steadily build speed through the long left-hand sweep that is Turn 3, before braking heavily at the lap’s first proper overtaking spot, Honda Corner, a near-hairpin taken in second gear.
The middle part of the lap is rather ‘follow my leader’ stuff through the sweeps of Siberia and Lukey Heights, before the track plunges into the tight Turn 10, another tempting corner for drivers to try – and rather often, not succeed – another passing attempt. The speed then builds through a seemingly never-ending double left-hand sequence that makes up the final corners of the 4.445-kilometre lap.
|2017 Virgin Australian Supercars Championship – WD-40 Phillip Island 500|
|Event Dates||21-23 April 2016||Format||Super500|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 12:30-13:10||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 15:15-15:55|
|Race 5 Qualifying||Sat 12:45-13:05||Race 5 (57 laps)||Sat 15:45-17:25|
|Race 6 Qualifying||Sun 10:50-11:10||Race 6 (57 laps)||Sun 13:50-15:30|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (GMT + 10:00)
Rewind to 2016
Last year’s running was a great weekend for Scott McLaughlin and Garry Rogers Motorsport, completing a clean sweep of the round. After taking his first pole of the year in Saturday qualifying, McLaughlin converted it to a win with relative ease. Ford runners Scott Pye and Chaz Mostert both suffered tyre failures, the latter happening on the final lap which dropped the Prodrive racer from third to 23rd place. Jamie Whincup and Fabian Coulthard rounded out the podium, the first for DJR Team Penske in 2016.
Sunday saw McLaughlin again take pole, the Volvo obviously working well around the flowing circuit. He lined up on the grid alongside Whincup, the pair going wheel-to-wheel through turn one with McLaughlin prevailing. Mostert’s woes continued after being spun at Turn 4 on the first lap. As the first pit stops were completed, McLaughlin remained in the lead. Whincup went longer on his second stint to shorten the final stint and have better tyre condition.
Cam Waters had a tyre failure coming down the front straight, being hit by Andre Heimgartner in the process. The safety car came out to clean up the debris. The race resumed with seven laps to go, Mark Winterbottom slotting in to second with Pye behind him thanks to Whincup running wide coming on to the straight. McLaughlin stayed at the front to take the flag, the first driver of the year to win two races. Before the field arrived at the next round, it was announced Volvo were pulling support for 2017.
The Form Guide
So far it’s been a Kiwi domination this year with Shane van Gisbergen winning three races (two for points) and Fabian Coulthard taking victory at the last race in Tasmania. You can expect things to stay the same as the DJR Team Penske cars are getting faster and faster with their drivers becoming more confident behind the wheel.
McLaughlin has to be the safe bet this weekend after having great form at the track over the past few years. His domination last year coupled with the speed of his Falcon, and the lack of a win this year, means he is the safe bet this weekend. Coulthard is just as likely to perform well.
Don’t rule out Whincup as the six-time champion is lacking a victory this year, something which must be boiling his blood as his teammate and reigning champion leads the points table.
Will Davison will be looking for a solid result after sitting out Tasmania thanks to the crash in the Saturday race which saw him taken to hospital. A big congratulations to his TEKNO team as well as so many other squads in the pack who had to repair their mangled cars to turn up this weekend.
2015 champion Mark Winterbottom has endured a below average year so far, as well as a lacklustre title defence last year. His form has been less than expected as he has been out-paced by team-mates Cam Waters and Chaz Mostert who sit fifth and sixth in the standings respectively.
With typical Melbourne weather expected, it should be a good weekend of racing at the gateway to hypothermia.
|2017 WD-40 Phillip Island 500 Weather Forecast|
|Friday||14°C – 19°C||Saturday||14°C – 19°C||Sunday||12°C – 18°C|
Images via Garry Rogers Motorsport and Red Bull Content Pool