Following a lengthy four-week break in the wake of a Ford-dominated round at Winton Raceway, the V8 Supercars Championship field grids up once again this weekend and heads to the ‘Top End’ for the SkyCity Triple Crown at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway.
|2015 V8 Supercars Championship – SkyCity Triple Crown|
|Date||19-21 June 2015||Lap Length||2.870km|
|Free Practice Session 1*||Fri 11:00-12:00||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 13:45-14:45|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 08:55-09:10||Qualifying – Race 13||Sat 11:30-11:40|
|Qualifying – Race 14||Sat 11:55-12:05||Race 13 (21 laps)||Sat 14:25-15:00|
|Race 14 (21 laps)||Sat 16:45-17:20||Free Practice Session 4||Sun 09:35-09:50|
|Qualifying – Race 15||Sun 11:05-11:25||Race 15 (70 laps)||Sun 13:45-15:20|
* Pirtek Enduro Cup co-drivers can participate in this session.
Session times quoted in Australian Central Standard Time (GMT +09:30)
A 2.9-kilometre anticlockwise circuit located on the fringes of the city of Darwin, Hidden Valley Raceway is known for its high speeds and fast lap-times. It’s been on the V8 Supercars calendar since 1998, and it’s the region’s biggest sporting event all year.
For a V8 Supercar to be quick around here, it needs enough mechanical grip to handle the circuit’s 14 turns, as well as plenty of top-end speed to manage the 1.1-kilometre main straight.
Turn 1 – a left-hand hairpin that tightens as it goes on – is the best spot for overtaking, but the gravel trap lining its outer edge has played host to many drivers who have left their braking far too late in trying to pass a rival. Passing opportunities also exist at Turns 5 and 6, while the rest of the lap is rather more ‘follow the leader’ until the cars hit the start/finish straight once again.
Qualifying is important at Hidden Valley, with over two-thirds of races here being won from the front row.
Rewind to 2014
Triple Eight Race Engineering dominated Saturday’s two races, with Jamie Whincup taking pole position and leading home Craig Lowndes in each sprint race. It was an all-Holden affair on the podium, with Shane van Gisbergen and Fabian Coulthard completing the podium in each respective race.
Lowndes took pole for Sunday’s feature 200-kilometre race, which saw a variety of strategies used by the teams. After running an alternate strategy and starting on hard tyres, as opposed to the soft Dunlop tyres used by most of the frontrunners, Lowndes and Whincup tried to carve their way up the field in the middle section of the race. For Lowndes, however, the plan backfired: he made contact with the rear of Chaz Mostert’s Ford, puncturing his tyre and dropping him down the order. He finished in seventeenth place.
Having run on sift tyres throughout the race, Mark Winterbottom led in the closing stages, but was coming under increasing pressure from the chasing Whincup and van Gisbergen, who were on fresher soft tyres. Whincup let van Gisbergen through into second place to try to catch Winterbottom, but the Kiwi was unable to do so and so ‘Frosty’ held on for a well-deserved win to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to 161 points.
Incredibly, Winterbottom would see his points’ lead evaporate in the following races, with this win kicking off a run of fourteen consecutive failures to even finish on the podium – Whincup, the eventual champion, would claim six wins and a further two podium finishes in the same period to put a sixth championship title almost beyond doubt.
The Form Guide
With four wins in the last six races, the championship momentum is with series leader Winterbottom, who heads to one of his most successful circuits on the calendar with a slender 12-point lead over Craig Lowndes. The Prodrive Racing driver is enjoying some red-hot form at the moment, and with the Ford Falcon FG X proving to be the class of the field, it will take a superb effort from rival teams and drivers to topple him.
Perhaps Winterbottom’s biggest threat will come from the other side of the Pepsi Max Crew garage. Teammate Chaz Mostert has proven to be the quicker driver in sheer one-lap pace – the youngster has claimed five pole positions in the last six races – but he still needs to polish his racecraft if he’s to mount a serious challenge to his veteran stablemate, as was evidenced by a wild slide into the tyres in the Winton Feature Race.
The other major player this weekend will be David Reynolds in the Prodrive-run Bottle-O Racing Ford. The charismatic driver has always enjoyed solid form at this circuit, and after topping both of Friday’s practice sessions, he looks to be the early ‘form driver’ this weekend.
Reigning champions Red Bull Racing did not enjoy a successful round at Winton, with Lowndes’ third-placed finish in the final race proving to be the team’s sole podium finish of the weekend. Qualifying pace is proving to be a problem, with defending champion Whincup, in particular, seeming to struggle. Given the importance of qualifying at this circuit, he will need to get his act together this weekend if he’s to remain in the championship hunt.
Images via V8 Supercars Championship