Winton Raceway plays host to the V8 Supercars this weekend

The fifth round of the 2011 V8 Supercars Championship season gets underway this weekend, with the teams heading to rural Victoria’s Winton Raceway for the traditional Winton 300.

It’s a track familiar to much of the grid, with almost two-thirds of the field calling this their home test circuit, including all of the grid’s Melbourne-based teams. The 3-kilometre clockwise circuit will see the series return to its usual two-race format, with Saturday seeing a 40-lap race, and Sunday seeing a 67-lap race, with the grid for each race being determined by separate twenty-minute qualifying sessions.

Let’s take a look at the form guide and some of the talking points leading into this weekend’s event…

Winton Raceway The Winton circuit features a good combination of tight, twisty corners and some decent straights for overtaking. A top speed of 225km/h can be achieved on the main straight. It’s one of the slower tracks on the calendar, and the track’s layout guarantees close racing throughout the field.

Series leader Jamie Whincup is enjoying almost a 150-point lead in the championship, and a similar points spread covers the rest of the top ten.

And as if to highlight just how competitive the V8 Supercars Championship series has become, there have been eleven different race winners in the last fifteen races. Only Whincup (four wins) and James Courtney (two wins) have been multiple race-winners during this time.

A hard-charging drive from Craig Lowndes in 2010

The driver with the best record at Winton is probably Craig Lowndes, who won both races here in 2009 and and finished runner up to the winner of both of last year’s races, James Courtney. Despite his impressive record at Winton, Lowndes has never qualified on the front row at this circuit.

Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander also enjoys another excellent record at Winton, with four race wins and six front-row starts (never a pole position, however). The season-opening round in Abu Dhabi, Tander has enjoyed a solid run over the next three rounds and now lies third in the championship. Expect him to feature prominently again this weekend.

The other major story that will be a hot topic of discussion will be the recent major sale of the V8 Supercars’ commercial rights, a story we covered in more detail here.

Fundamentally, the sale guarantees the long-term future of the championship, which is looking to expand its market overseas and attract at least one new manufacturer.

Another issue needing some attention in the coming months – an issue that some of our readers have also raised – is to do with a long-term planning governing the TV coverage of the sport in Australia.

The championship has been broadcast on the Seven Network for the last few years since it secured the rights from Network Ten. However, the consensus among many fans is that the quality of Seven’s race broadcasts has deteriorated markedly, with races mostly being shown on a delayed broadcast that is subject to strict scheduling restrictions. It has not been uncommon for the broadcast to be cut away to another show before the end of particular races that have run overtime due to safety car interruptions and the like.

Seven has recently entered into a bid to take on major broadcasting rights of the Australian Rules Football championship, and many are questioning whether it will be able to properly devote resources and air time to the V8 Supercars as well. Certainly V8 Supercars has indicated that it only wishes to deal with broadcasters who will provide it with decent exposure, and the word on the street is that the marriage with Seven could be coming to an end…

[Image via Flickr]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.