The V8 Supercars Championship heads to the business end of the season, kicking off this weekend with the first of the season’s three all-important Pirtek Enduro Cup rounds at Sandown Raceway.
|2015 V8 Supercars Championship – Wilson Security Sandown 500|
|Date||11-13 September 2015||Lap Length||3.104km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:10-10:40||Free Practice Session 2*||Fri 12:30-13:00|
|Free Practice Session 3*||Fri 14:35-15:05||Free Practice Session 4||Sat 10:20-11:00|
|Preliminary Qualifying||Sat 12:20-12:40||Co-Driver Race (20 laps)||Sat 14:00-14:35|
|Main Driver Race (20 laps)||Sat 16:10-16:45||Sunday Warm-Up||Sun 10:20-10:40|
|Race 24 (161 laps)||Sun 13:25-16:55|
* Open to Pirtek Enduro Cup co-drivers only
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (GMT +10:00)
For the fourth year in a row, Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway plays host to the traditional 500-kilometre race that acts as the curtain-raiser to next month’s iconic Bathurst 1000.
Located about 25km south-east of Melbourne’s city centre, the circuit is an institution on the Australian motorsport landscape. Along with the racing circuit, the facility also houses Sandown Racecourse, Melbourne’s second-largest horse-racing facility.
The circuit was first opened in 1962, the track played host to the non-championship Australian Grand Prix on six occasions. In 1964, the venue staged a six-hour international touring car race, which would eventually gain fame as the Sandown 500.
Featuring two long straights, the track is known for its high speeds and great slipstreaming battles, with the best overtaking spots being at the Turn 1 and Turn 9 left-handers, which are the track’s heaviest braking zones.
As it’s built within the confines of the horse-racing facility, its safety barriers are positioned very closely to the margins of the circuit at some points, and circuit run-off is limited. A high-speed shunt will guarantee a hefty repair bill.
Rewind to 2014
Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell dominated last year’s Wilson Security Sandown 500, securing pole position and leading all but 11 of the 161 laps on their way to victory.
The two Holden Racing Team cars completed the podium, with James Courtney and Greg Murphy finishing ahead of Garth Tander and Warren Luff.
The race was another troubled one for championship hopeful Mark Winterbottom, fell to third in the standings behind Craig Lowndes after he and co-driver Steve Owen could only finish tenth; Lowndes and his co-driver Steven Richards finished fourth.
The race was marred by a high-speed crash for Lee Holdsworth when his Erebus Motorsport Mercedes suffered a component failure on the back straight which sent him into a heavy collision with the tyre barriers. A wheel was ripped off his car and sent into the path of Jason Bright’s BOC Holden, which retired as a result of the contact.
Facts & Stats
- Red Bull Racing Australia is aiming to become the first team in history to win the race five times in a row. Triple Eight Race Engineering has won the last five pre-Bathurst 500-kilometre endurance races covering Phillip Island (2010/2011) and Sandown (2012-2014).
- Victory for the team’s #1 Holden Commodore entry of Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell would mark three years on the trot where they have won, a feat never previously achieved since the Sandown 500 became a two-driver event in 1984.
- Nine current drivers are former Sandown 500 winners – Craig Lowndes, Todd Kelly, Jason Bright, Mark Winterbottom, Jamie Whincup, Warren Luff, Paul Dumbrell, Marcos Ambrose and the returning Russell Ingall. Lowndes, Whincup and Dumbrell are the event’s only multiple winners.
- Craig Lowndes has won eight of the annual pre-Bathurst 500-kilometre endurance races – the Sandown 500 (1996, 1997, 2005, 2007, 2012), Phillip Island 500 (2010, 2011) and the Queensland 500 (2000).
- As he steps out of retirement to replace the injured James Courtney in the #2 HRT Holden Commodore, Russell Ingall will extend his record of the most Australian touring car event starts to 248.
- Wilson Security GRM driver Scott McLaughlin will notch up his 100th V8 Supercars Championship race start this weekend. The young New Zealander made his debut as Jonathon Webb’s co-driver at the same event in 2012.
- Lucas Dumbrell Motorsports co-driver Karl Reindler (co-driver to Tim Blanchard) will make his 50th career V8 Supercars Championship race start this weekend. It will be the West Australian’s first V8SC race start since he co-drove at the 2013 Gold Coast 600.
The Form Guide
Over the next three rounds, a maximum of 900 championship points will be up for grabs over the three endurance events at Sandown Raceway, Mount Panorama and Surfers Paradise. Success or failure over these events can make or break a championship campaign, while perhaps also setting up some less-fancied drivers for a late surge at the title.
With 14 race wins out of the 23 held to-date this season, Prodrive Racing Australia clearly heads into this weekend as favourites to break the Triple Eight Racing stable’s stranglehold of this event.
V8 Supercars’ visit to Melbourne’s famous Sandown International Raceway signifies the start of the business end of the season with 900 points to play for at Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast events.
Championship-battling teammates Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert, partnered by proven co-drivers in Steve Owen and Dean Canto, will no doubt produce another exciting battle in their see-sawing inter-team battle for the title. Recent momentum has been with Mostert, who moved into second place in the Drivers’ Championship standings with a strong weekend last time out at Sydney Motorsport Park. By contrast, Winterbottom had a shocker and saw his title lead eroded to 174 points over his young teammate.
Lead-up form is never a brilliant predictor of success when you factor in the added elements of a vastly longer race distance and the reliance on the co-drivers to keep it clean.
The Triple Eight stable has enjoyed great success here over the years, and it will be hard to discount reigning champion Jamie Whincup and co-driver Paul Dumbrell from claiming their third Sandown 500 win on the trot. The pair will debut a brand new chassis this weekend, which encountered numerous teething problems during a pre-event test this week, however…
Whincup’s teammate Craig Lowndes and his co-driver Steve Richards are another driver combination to watch out for, as will be the third Prodrive-run Ford of David Reynolds and Dunlop Series points’ leader Cameron Waters.
This weekend will also see the return of two former champions. Russell Ingall will step out of retirement to co-drive for the Holden Racing Team alongside Jack Perkins while main driver James Courtney continues his recuperation after his freak pit lane accident in Sydney.
The other former champion making his racing return is Marcos Ambrose, who will act as co-driver to Scott Pye in the #17 DJR Team Penske Ford, which will be resplendent in the green hues of Xbox this weekend. The Tasmanian was set to drive full-time this season, but abruptly stepped down early into the season.
The field will see four overseas co-drivers join an impressive 25-car line-up. Headlining the quartet is four-time Champ Car World Series title-winner Sébastien Bourdais, who will be paired alongside Lee Holdsworth in the #18 Walkinshaw Racing Holden. The Frenchman has tasted victory before in his occasional co-driver outings, with wins in 2011 and 2012 at the Gold Coast 600 with Triple Eight Racing.
Bourdais will be joined by his compatriot Alexandre Prémat, who will have his second run in the Pirtek Enduro Cup as co-driver to Scott McLaughlin in the #33 Polestar Volvo.
They will be joined by two Brits, with Nissan factory driver Alex Buncombe and sports car veteran Oliver Gavin serving as co-drivers to Todd Kelly (#7 Nissan Motorsport) and Nick Percat (#222 LDM Holden) respectively.
The co-drivers will have two dedicated practice sessions on Friday to finalise their preparations, while Saturday will feature a preliminary qualifying session followed by two Qualifying Heat Races – one for the co-drivers, followed one for the main drivers – to determine the final starting order for Sunday’s 161-lap race.
Images via V8 Supercars Championship