With the dust having just settled on the season-opening Clipsal 500 less than a fortnight ago, the V8 Supercar Championship runners grid up again, although this time they play a supporting role to the Formula 1 machinery at Albert Park over four non-championship races.
|Date:||13-16 March 2014|
|Free Practice Session 1||Thu 13:30-14:00|
|Free Practice Session 1||Thu 16:10-16:40|
|Race 1 (12 laps, 64km)||Fri 11:00-11:30|
|Race 2 (12 laps, 64km)||Fri 14:25-14:55|
|Race 3 (12 laps, 64km)||Sat 15:20-15:50|
|Race 4 (12 laps, 64km)||Sun 13:15-13:45|
* All session times are quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time (GMT +11:00 hrs)
A circuit made up mostly of public roads set around Albert Park’s lake, it has minimal elevation changes and features the usual hallmarks of a street circuit.
The dusty and slippery surface awaits drivers at the start of the weekend’s activities, the track gradually builds grip and is at its quickest during Sunday’s final race.
Certain section of the track offers little in the way of available run-off, and the cement walls are more than willing to guarantee plenty of panel damage if the drivers make a mistake. Historically, the race has claimed plenty of casualties and sometimes thrown up some surprise results.
The most popular section of the track is the high-speed Turn 11 and 12 sweeps at the back of the circuit, which are a quick directional change for the heavy touring cars.
The races at Albert Park are something of a curious affair, and while they’ve almost universally held non-championship status since the Grand Prix’s move to Melbourne in 1996, that doesn’t stop the drivers’ pulses from racing when the lights go out at each race.
“Whether you’re racing for points or not, as soon you put a helmet on you’re out there to win. Obviously you don’t want to damage the car, but it actually seems to trigger more aggression because the drivers don’t lose points either. Either way, I can take the same approach: there are four races to win, and it will be a tough weekend, regardless of there not being points on offer.” Ford Performance Racing’s Mark Winterbottom said.
James Courtney took a more forward approach when asked his opinion on seeing a championship round at the Australian Grand Prix in 2015.
“I think it would be great to have this as a championship round from 2015. It would certainly make it a bit more special for us, and it would be good in the future if the organisers could do that,” he told RichardsF1.com.
A major challenge this weekend will be how the races are started. After the controversy surrounding the race restarts at the Clipsal 500 a fortnight ago, organizers of this weekend’s round have declared that all races (and their restarts) will kick off with a double-file rolling restart – a decision that’s sure to test the patience of many drivers after the carnage witnessed in Adelaide.
“I got caught in the carnage and I need to stay out of this time by qualifying towards the front. We managed to get ourselves in trouble at Turn 1 with standing starts, so rolling starts may or may not make a difference. We saw last year with double-file restarts that it worked, but the single-file system used in Adelaide clearly didn’t. Given that this isn’t a championship round, I hope that everyone is sensible, but when the green flag waves, no one is ever sensible!” Garth Tander said.
Bottle-O Racing Ford driver David Reynolds shares a similar train of thought to Tander regarding the double file restarts.
“I’m not sure I’m a fan or not. It’s hard to balance between the spectacle and the drivers’ safety concerns, although it does great plenty of action. Certainly for us behind the wheel, there’s a lot more to take in from a tactics and racecraft perspective, but I’m sure the fans love it because it triggers a bit of carnage and overtaking. I know most fans would like it, but most drivers would be against it. The old system worked well – despite a few stuff-ups here and there – but we weren’t complaining about it at every race.”
With a single qualifying session and four races over the three days, consistency and keeping out of trouble will be the top priority, particularly with the second round of the championship, at Winton, being just a fortnight later. No one can afford to come away from this weekend with major damage, particularly when there aren’t any championship points on offer.
The format for this weekend will see Thursday have two practice sessions and a half-hour qualifying run to determine the grid order for Friday’s opening race – the finish order of which determines the grid order for the afternoon’s second race. Saturday has a single race (its starting order is determined by Race 2’s results), while Sunday’s finale will have its grid decided on the aggregated results of all three races.
Image via V8 Supercars Media