The outcome of this year’s V8 Supercars Championship could become clearer this weekend as the title battle gears up for its penultimate chapter at the WD-40 Phillip Island Super Sprint.
|2015 V8 Supercars Championship – WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint|
|Date||20-22 November 2015||Lap Length||4.445km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 12:20-13:20||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:35-15:35|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 11:10-11:25||Race 31 Qualifying||Sat 12:45-12:55|
|Race 32 Qualifying||Sat 13:10-13:20||Race 31 (14 laps)||Sat 15:10-15:45|
|Race 32 (14 laps)||Sat 16:55-17:30||Free Practice Session 4||Sun 11:00-11:15|
|Race 33 Qualifying||Sun 12:00-12:20||Race 33 (45 laps)||Sun 14:10-15:35|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time (GMT +11:00)
Located some 130km south-east of Melbourne the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit was originally designed in 1956, but it underwent extensive rework ahead of the track’s rebirth as an international motorsport venue in the late 1980s.
Perhaps better known as a motorcycle racing venue – it hosts international rounds during the World Superbike and MotoGP championship seasons – the circuit’s flowing, undulating nature presents a stern test for any vehicle, be it two- or four-wheeled.
The lap opens on the downhill Gardner straight which feeds into a punishing right-hander called Doohan Corner, ahead of the track’s ‘Southern Loop’, a tight left-hander. Drivers then steadily build speed through the long left-hand sweep that is Turn 3, before braking heavily at the lap’s first proper overtaking spot, Honda Corner, a near-hairpin taken in second gear.
The middle part of the lap is rather ‘follow my leader’ stuff through the sweeps of Siberia and Lukey Heights, before the track plunges into the tight Turn 10, another tempting corner for drivers to try – and rather often, not succeed – another passing attempt. The speed then builds through a seemingly never-ending double left-hand sequence that makes up the final corners of the 4.445-kilometre lap.
Rewind to 2014
Last year’s visit to Phillip Island saw Jamie Whincup claim a record-breaking sixth Drivers’ Championship title, with a third place and a victory in the Saturday sprint races giving him an unassailable points lead.
Scott McLaughlin won the first of the Saturday races ahead of Red Bull Racing duo Craig Lowndes and Whincup, while Whincup’s closest championship rival, Mark Winterbottom, finished twenty-fourth after going off the circuit.
Winterbottom recovered to finish third behind Whincup and Lowndes in the second race, claiming first podium finish since Hidden Valley. New Zealand duo Shane van Gisbergen and Fabian Coulthard endured a difficult day after a collision in qualifying damaged both of their cars, causing them to start from the back of the grid for both races.
Sunday’s race looked set to see Garth Tander return to victory lane in his HRT Commodore, only for it to stutter on the final sprint to the finish as as it ran out of fuel. A disbelieving Scott McLaughlin snatched his second win of the weekend, while Tander limped across the line to finish in second place ahead of Winterbottom and Whincup.
The Form Guide
Championship leader Mark Winterbottom suffered a bit of a wobble last time out at Pukukohe Raceway, but still remains in the pound seats to secure a maiden championship title.
After being tipped into a spin in Sunday’s Feature Race, the damage could have been much worse, but thanks to a DNF for title rival Craig Lowndes in one of the Saturday sprint races, Winterbottom’s points’ lead was only given a tiny dent.
‘Frosty’ sits out in front with a 239-point lead over his Prodrive Racing stablemate David Reynolds – who will race this weekend with a collapsed bone in his right foot – with Lowndes a further point back.
If Winterbottom can actually extend his points margin over the pair to 62 points of more, he’ll actually sew up the crown before next month’s season-ending Sydney 500. He’ll need to win all three races with Reynolds or Lowndes no better than fifth place in each in order to do it.
On the flipside, another slip-up could put the title fight on a knife-edge and put the pressure on all three drivers heading into the season finale at Sydney Olympic Park. Recent form suggests that might be more likely, as Winterbottom has struggled for form in the last few rounds and hasn’t finished on the podium since the Bathurst 1000.
That being said, Winterbottom has form at Phillip Island, with two wins and seven podiums in his last ten races here; Lowndes has a similar tally of podiums in the same period.
Images via MotoGP, V8 Supercars Championship