2012 ITM 400 Hamilton Preview

The championship action in this year’s V8 Supercars title race gets underway once again with the season’s third round, the ITM 400 held this weekend (for what will be the final time) in the New Zealand city of Hamilton.

It’s not yet known if the championship will return to New Zealand’s shores after series officials and the city’s council opted to terminate the race contract early, but there’s little doubt that everyone will want to make this a send-off to remember.

Let’s take a look at our preview of this weekend’s event…

The Circuit

2012 ITM 400 HAMILTON 
Hamilton circuit map
Date: 20-22 April 2012
Lap Length: 3.400km
Race Lap Record: 1:22.8973, Jamie Whincup (Holden Commodore VE II) – 2011
Event Schedule: Free Practice Session 1 (lower 50% in points table) Fri 10:40-11:10
Free Practice Session 2 (all drivers) Fri 12:05-12:35
Free Practice Session 3 Fri 13:45-14:15
Free Practice Session 4 Sat 15:25-15:55
Race 1 Qualifying Sat 11:10-11:30
  Race 1 Qualifying Top-Ten Shootout Sat 12:20-12:50
Race 1 (59 laps, 200km) Sat 15:05-16:45
Race 2 Qualifying Sun 12:05-12:25
Race 2 (59 laps, 200km) Sun 15:05-16:45
2011 Winners: Rick Kelly (Holden Commodore VE) 2011 (Race 1)
Shane van Gisbergen (Ford Falcon FG) 2011 (Race 2)

The Hamilton street circuit event has proved to be a generally popular stopover with drivers and fans since its debut four years ago, although it’s frankly a poor cousin – when we talk about wheel-to-wheel racing – when one compares it with the Adelaide and Gold Coast street circuits

Historically, the 3.4-kilometre circuit has provided rather processional racing. On paper, it’s passing-friendly appearance is anything but, and that laughable chicane on the back straight destroys the flow of the circuit.

A car needs to be well set up to provide good traction from the slower corners, but also compliant enough to deal with the track surface’s bumps and high chicane kerbs, which can unsettle the cars.

It’s not unusual to see a few safety car interruptions in the race as cars get into strife with the walls (or each other). A good result here will very much be dictated by the ability to keep out of trouble and play a flexible strategic hand.

Rewinding to 2011

Last year saw Rick Kelly claim a surprise win in his Jack Daniel’s Commodore in the opening race. The result was unexpected to say the least: not only on account of his patchy form over the previous twelve months, but also on account of the fact that he was racing in an older-spec chassis after his regular car had been damaged at the non-championship races at Albert Park in the lead-up to this.

The result marked his first win since 2008, and it was made all the more special by his brother and team-mate Todd finishing in third place – his one decent result of what was a terrible season for him. The pair was split by TeamVodafone driver Craig Lowndes.

Van Gisbergen claimed his maiden V8 win on home soil last yearSunday’s race finally gave the local crowds the result they had craved: a homegrown driver claiming victory. After showing so much promise, Shane van Gisbergen finally broke through to claim his maiden championship win in his Stone Brothers Ford, just managing to hold off street circuit specialist Lee Holdsworth (GRM Holden) for second place. Garth Tander claimed an excellent third, having qualified a dreadful 19th on the grid.

Facts, Stats & Predictions

As we mentioned before, this weekend’s event will bring down the curtain on the championship’s five-year association with the city of Hamilton.

Perhaps what’s of greater concern is the unknown future of the championship in New Zealand. Could this be the last time in a while that we venture to the shaky isles, or are the rumours of a return to Pukekohe Raceway going to turn into reality?

And for this weekend’s round, it’s not unreasonable to expect the usual suspects – TOLL HRT, Team Vodafone and Ford Performance Racing – to feature at the sharp end of the field, with the races no doubt promising plenty of fender-bending action.

FPR has been the pace-setting team this season, but Hamilton has proven to be something of a bogey circuit for the squad. Only once has any of its drivers managed a top-ten qualifying appearance, as historically the team has struggled generating tyre temperature in what is one of the coolest events on the calendar.

TeamVodafone endured their worst weekend of the 2011 season here, with their races blighted by on-track and pit stop dramas. Series leader Jamie Whincup enjoys by far the better record here, but you can never discount the wily Craig Lowndes, who will be keen to bounce back from his retirement at Symmons Plains.

Will a new chassis help James Courtney find some form?The factory TOLL HRT outfit is producing its last-ever Commodore VE chassis (before next year’s ‘Car of the Future’ models are rolled out) ahead of this weekend, which it will give to the struggling James Courtney to use. He 2010 champion has had a nightmare start to his season, and one would hope that he demonstrates an immediate improvement in his pace with this brand-new car.

Perhaps the only other outfit in with a realistic shot of victory this weekend will be Stone Brothers Racing, which has defending race-winner van Gisbergen on its books, along with noted street circuit specialist Lee Holdsworth. The team has consistently been the second-best Ford outfit behind the FPR effort, and it could snatch a win here.

Outside of these top-four outfits, it’s difficult to foresee a serious challenge from any of the other teams, unless rain intervenes or someone can make a blinding strategic call in either race.

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

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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.