2012 Falken Tasmania Challenge Preview

After action-packed rounds at Adelaide and Melbourne (the latter, admittedly, being non-championship rounds), the V8 Supercars Championship kicks back into action with this weekend’s Falken Tasmania Challenge at Symmons Plains Raceway.

And after 2011 was hallmarked by Holden’s near whitewash of all events, the start of the 2012 season has been almost exclusively an all-Ford affair. Who will come out on top this weekend, and over the remainder of the season?

Let’s take a look at our preview of the Falken Tasmania Challenge…

The Circuit

Symmons Plains Circuit Map
Date: 30 March – 01 April 2012
Lap Length: 2.410km
Race Lap Record: 51.4713s, Rick Kelly (Holden Commodore VE) – 2009
Event Schedule: Free Practice Session 1 (lower 50% in points table) Fri 13:00-13:30
Free Practice Session 2 (all drivers) Fri 14:10-14:30
Free Practice Session 3 Fri 14:40-15:00
Free Practice Session 4 Sat 10:10-10:40
Race 1 Qualifying Sat 13:25-13:45
Race 1 (59 laps, 140km) Sat 16:10-17:30
Race 2 Qualifying Sun 13:00-13:10
Race 2 (84 laps, 200km) Sun 15:35-17:30
Past Winners: Jamie Whincup (Holden Commodore VE) 2011 (Race 1)
Jamie Whincup (Holden Commodore VE) 2011 (Race 2)

Located about 30 kilometres south of Tasmania’s second-largest city, Launceston, Symmons Plains Raceway has been the premier motor-racing facility on the ‘Apple Isle’.

Aside from Sandown Raceway, Symmons Plains is the second longest-serving circuit in the combined history of the Australian Touring Car and the V8 Supercars Championships, and this year’s event will be the 40th time that the touring cars have come to the venue.

The track played host to rounds of the championship every year between 1969-99 before dropping off the calendar and returning in 2004. Ahead of its return, the circuit received a $3 million upgrade that saw some modifications to the track’s layout – primarily being a relocation of the start/finish line to being opposite the pits.

The Brambles Hairpin is an iconic corner This narrow rifle-shaped circuit is a popular venue for drivers and teams, and despite its short layout and tight confines, the track presents two very good overtaking opportunities each lap. Its extremely tight and (unusually) banked hairpin bend, known as Brambles Hairpin, is one such spot, although it relies on the driver ahead cooperating with the move. The second main passing spot is into the penultimate corner after the cars blast along the circuit’s long sprint between Brambles Hairpin and Turn 6.

The heavy stopping points place a premium on brake wear.

Rewinding to 2011

In recent years, the Tasmanian round has usually be scheduled towards the end of the championship season, so it’s position so early in this year’s championship could carry some fresh challenges.

The 2011 round saw Jamie Whincup claim a whitewash en route to securing his championship title in his TeamVodafone Commodore.

Whincup won the opening race, finishing 8.7 seconds ahead of teammate and championship rival Craig Lowndes. Starting from tenth, Toll Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander made up crucial places in the early part of the race and capitalised on a collision between Ford Performance Racing teammates Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison to claim the final podium spot.

On the Sunday, Whincup claimed victory, despite some pressure from Will Davison. Whincup went on to win the 200-kilometre race by 1.7 seconds, with Winterbottom rounding out the podium.

Facts, Stats & Predictions

Last year’s championship season was all about the dominance of Holden – and in particular, TeamVodafone.

But the 2012 campaign has seen the resurgence of Ford, with the factory Ford Performance Racing team showing massive improvement in two key areas in which it was weak in 2011: soft-tyre performance and fuel economy.

Will Davison almost claimed a famous win in the opening race of the Clipsal 500, but sought redemption with a fine run to victory in Sunday’s second race, putting him on top of the championship table.

Then, at the non-championship support races during the Australian Grand Prix weekend, Ford claimed victory at every race. Mark Winterbottom claimed the spoils in the first three races, while Shane van Gisbergen gave rival outfit Stone Brothers Racing victory in the final race of the weekend.

James Courtney will be hoping for an improvement in his results after a tough Adelaide campaign Several other outfits and drivers will be looking to stage turnarounds after poor starts to the year. In particular, the Holden Racing Team has plenty of work to do, and particularly in James Courtney’s side of the garage. The former champion endured a rough start to his second season with the factory squad, and he’ll be looking to treat this weekend as his launchpad to a successful championship season.

The weekend will also have special significance for Lee Holdsworth and Rick Kelly, with the pair making their 200th and 300th championship starts this weekend, respectively.

To-date, Kelly has racked up twelve race wins – his two standouts being wins at the 2003 and 2004 Bathurst 1000 events – which included three race wins in 2011, at Hamilton, Hidden Valley and Sandown.

Despite winning the first ‘return’ race here in 2004, Symmons Plans has remained something of an unlucky circuit for the Kelly Racing driver, and he’s not finished inside the top-ten at any of the last three events held here.

Meanwhile, Holdsworth (Stone Brothers Racing) will be looking to add to his tally of two race wins at his 200th start. The new Ford signing had a solid first outing with the team at Adelaide and currently lies sixth in the championship standings.

In all, it looks set to be an action-packed and intriguing weekend in Tasmania – make sure you keep visiting RichardsF1.com for all of the latest news and analysis from Tasmania!

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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.