The 2015 V8 Supercars Championship season draws to a close with this weekend’s Coates Hire Sydney 500, where Mark Winterbottom and Craig Lowndes will go head-to-head to be crowned this year’s champion.
|2015 V8 Supercars Championship – Coates Hire Sydney 500|
|Date||04-06 December 2015||Lap Length||3.420km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:25-10:55||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 12:10-12:40|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 13:40-14:10||Free Practice Session 4||Sat 09:55-10:15|
|Race 34 Qualifying||Sat 11:35-11:45||Race 35 Qualifying||Sat 12:00-12:10|
|Race 34 (37 laps)||Sat 14:15-15:20||Race 35 (37 laps)||Sat 16:50-18:00|
|Race 36 Qualifying||Sun 12:10-12:30||Race 36 Top-10 Shootout||Sun 13:30-14:00|
|Race 36 (74 laps)||Sun 15:45-17:50|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time (GMT +11:00)
Carving its way around the streets that surround the complex that played host to the 2000 Olympic Games, Sydney’s Olympic Park street circuit is a challenging mix of corners and changing track surfaces.
Co-designed by former V8 Supercars champion Mark Skaife, the circuit is a huge test for drivers. Its bumps and camber changes are a nightmare to perfect set-ups, and its mixture or different corner types make it difficult to eke out a perfect lap around the circuit.
The track’s front straight will see drivers hit top speeds of 250km/h, while the close concrete walls and high-kerbed chicanes limit lap times to an average speed of just under 140km/h. It’s typically a car breaker (or a car-bender, if you collect the wall), and its past races have seen the highest rate of attrition in comparison to any other venue on the calendar.
Rewind to 2014
Last year’s season finale was effectively a ‘dead rubber’ thanks to Jamie Whincup claiming enough points at Phillip Island to claim a sixth V8 Supercars Championship crown.
He may have been thanking his lucky stars that it was the case given the Sydney 500 was a near-total washout after two of the weekend’s three races had to be red-flagged just after half-distance thanks to terrential thunderstorms lashing the circuit.
Former series champion Marcos Ambrose was awarded a wildcard entry ahead of what ultimately turned out to be a very short-lived comeback to the championship. He proved to be out of his depth, running off the pace in practice and crashing out – alongside Craig Lowndes – in the opening qualifying session.
His accident brought out the red flags and gave Erebus Motorsport’s Will Davison a surprise pole position – and the team’s maiden P1 start – ahead of Whincup’s Red Bull Racing Holden. Whincup won the opening race ahead of Tim Slade and David Reynolds.
Having qualified fourth-fastest for Saturday’s second 125-kilometre race, Whincup took the lead at Turn 1 thanks to a blistering getaway. He controlled proceedings at the front before thunderstorms lashed the circuit and forced the race to be red-flagged after 19 laps. The race was then restarted and ran under Saqfety Car conditions in order for enough laps to be completed so full championship points could be awarded; Whincup was declared the winner ahead of Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin.
McLaughlin claimed pole position for Sunday’s 250-kilometre finale – his tenth of the season – but could only manage to finish the race in eighth position after becoming one of a number of drivers to be caught out in more torrential rain. The race was red-flagged after 44 of its scheduled 74 laps and eventually abandoned altogether, leaving van Gisbergen as the winner ahead of the HRT Commodores of Garth Tander and James Courtney. The result was enough to see van Gisbergen vaulted to runner-up spot in the championship standings ahead of Mark Winterbottom and Craig Lowndes.
The Form Guide
Just two contenders are left in the championship fight after an eventful round a fortnight ago at Phillip Island which saw David Reynolds controversially knocked out of the title hunt after being punted into a spin in Race 1, while a near-faultless weekend for Craig Lowndes allowed him to trim his points’ deficit to Mark Winterbottom to 179 points. With a maximum of 300 points up for grabs, there’s still plenty to play for.
Despite a less-than-stellar second half of the season, Winterbottom remains the favourite to claim a long overdue maiden championship title, having fallen at the final post in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Top-15 finishes across all three races would be enough to do the job to achieve his life-long dream.
That being said, the Sydney Olympic Park street circuit has a habit of throwing up some very unpredictable results thanks to its punishing layout and often changeable weather conditions.
That means Lowndes will theoretically remain a major threat to pull off one of the most impressive title fightbacks in Australian touring car history. That he was over 400 points in arrears after September’s Sandown 500 should be enough of an indicator that the series veteran cannot be discounted to pull off a major upset.
The Red Bull Racing driver will need to out-score Winterbottom by at least 30 points over Saturday’s two 125-kilometre races in order to stay in the hunt for Sunday’s 250-kilometre finale, where 150 points will be on offer. Whatever the result, it is sure to be a thrilling climax to the season.
The event will mark the final hit-outs for a number of drivers who will take up residence in different teams during the off-season. Former Sydney 500 race-winner and street circuit ace Shane van Gisbergen will be looking to go out on a high in his final hit-out with TEKNO Autosports ahead of a move to the Triple Eight stable, while the Kiwi’s much-criticised replacement, Will Davison, will look to give the Erebus Motorsport team a more competitive showing on a circuit where the E63 AMG Mercedes’ lack of grunt will be less of a handicap.
The three-car Brad Jones Racing outfit will be farewelling two of its drivers (Fabian Coulthard is off to DJR Team Penske and Dale Wood heads to Nissan), while Nissan Motorsport (losing James Moffat), Volvo Polestar Racing (David Wall), Lucas Dumbrell Motorsports (Tim Blanchard), Walkinshaw Performance Racing (Tim Slade) and Rod Nash Racing (David Reynolds) will also bring down the curtain on their respective drivers’ stints with them.
This weekend sees two more driver changes in the lower midfield. After being forced to withdraw from racing at Phillip Island, Nick Percat remains too unwell to compete in Sydney and will hand over the controls of his #222 LDM Holden Commodore to Jack Perkins, who has been released by the Holden Racing Team this weekend. Perkins previously stood in for James Courtney during the mid-season after Courtney suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung during the series’ last visit to Sydney in August.
Another Pirtek Enduro Cup co-driver stepping into the breach is Alex Davison, who will take over Ash Walsh’s #4 Erebus Motorsport AMG while the team rests its struggling rookie driver for the second round in a row. Davison raced for the team alongside his brother Will in this year’s endurance races and it is hoped that his prior experience will help the team with its development program as it prepares for 2016.
Images via Christian Hartung, Motorsport.com
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