After waiting for the better part of three months, the Supercars Championship returns to kick off the 2018 season around the streets of Adelaide. The spiritual season-opener this year celebrates its 20th year on the calendar, ushering in a new era of Australian motorsports.
|Adelaide street circuit|
|Location||Adelaide, South Australia||Circuit Length||3.219 km / 2.012 mi|
|Opened||1985||First ATCC Event||1999 (with championship status)|
|Direction||Clockwise||Lap Record||1:19.572 – Shane van Gisbergen (2017)|
Sadly missed by the Formula 1 circus since the Australian Grand Prix moved to Melbourne at the end of 1995, all eleven Grands Prix staged in the ‘City of Churches’ produced incredible drama.
And when in 1995 it emerged that Melbourne had snatched the rights to host the race, the city saw F1 off in famous style, with a world record crowd of 250,000 spectators turning up on race day to watch Damon Hill win by 2 laps! Who needs an Arabian ‘Tilkedrome’ when you’ve got Adelaide?
While no longer part of the Formula 1 calendar, a shortened version of the circuit lives on as one of the country’s showpiece events on the Australian touring car calendar and it remains one of the best street circuits ever and – unusually for a street circuit – it offers both challenging high-speed sections and plenty of overtaking opportunities.
A busy and technical circuit inside the cockpit, drivers are constantly on alert in their bid to deliver fast lap times and keep their cars away from the awfully-close walls. It’s rare not to have an event with several cars suffering major panel damage.
|2018 Virgin Australian Supercars Championship – Adelaide 500|
|Event Dates||02-04 March 2018||Format||SuperStreet|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 09:45-10:25||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 11:50-12:30|
|Race 1 Qualifying||Fri 15:50-16:10||Free Practice Session 3||Sat 09:50-10:10|
|Top-10 Shootout||Sat 11:55-12:25||Race 1 (78 laps)||Sat 15:20-17:20|
|Race 2 Qualifying||Sun 09:40-10:00||Top-10 Shootout||Sun 11:40-12:10|
|Race 2 (78 laps)||Sun 15:20-17:20|
Session times quoted in Australian Central Daylight Time (UTC/GMT + 10:30)
Rewind to 2017
Last year’s running of the Adelaide 500 saw Shane van Gisbergen start off his title defense in the best way possible as he completed a near perfect race weekend: two poles and two wins. His clinical domination over the weekend was unexpected and unfortunately didn’t last with the 2016 series champion having to wait another eight races until his next win.
Scott McLaughlin nearly got off to a perfect start with his new team in DJR Team Penske, setting a qualifying time only 0.0001 seconds slower than van Gisbergen but he only managed fifth in the Top-10 Shootout. Miscommunication in Race 1 saw him cop a pit-lane penalty after weaving under the Safety Car and while he led the closing stages of Race 2, a mistake under pressure allowed van Gisbergen to go past and take the lead.
Walkinshaw Racing’s James Courtney posted his only top five results for the year in both races, finishing third and fourth in Races 1 and 2 respectively. It was a decent weekend for supporters of the blue oval with Fabian Coulthard taking second on Saturday and Chaz Mostert standing on the last step of the podium after Sunday’s race.
Leaving the event, van Gisbergen lead the championship with a perfect 300, followed by Coulthard and Courtney who had identical points totals. The Prodrive (now Tickford) pair of Mostert and Cam Waters rounded out the top five.
New faces and new teams in 2018
Adelaide has proven itself as a trial by fire for the Supercars field, even the most experienced drivers. This weekend, five rookies will make their full-time debut in the main game, all of them graduating from the Super2 championship in one way or another.
Jack Le Brocq’s breakthrough came in 2016 when he joined Prodrive’s Super2 squad, coming agonisingly close to winning the title but being beaten by his teammate Garry Jacobson. Last season saw him move to the Matt White Motorsport team which fielded Nissan Altimas with Le Brocq becoming the first Super2 driver to win a race for the Japanese marque. He also featured as a wildcard driver in both the Darwin and Ipswich rounds.
James Golding is one of Garry’s boys, moving up through the ranks within Garry Rogers Motorsport both as a driver and a mechanic, learning his trade. In 2016 he placed fourth overall in the Super2 standings while also being James Moffat’s co-driver in the Supercars Enduro Cup races. Although he didn’t compete full-time in any championship last year, he again joined Moffat with the pair finishing fourth at the Sandown 500.
Richie Stanaway is the driver with all eyes on him this weekend and is tipped to be the best of the rookie bunch this season. The Kiwi has a swag of experience in open-wheelers, his career highlight thus far being a win at the Monaco Grand Prix in the Formula 2 category back in 2015. He made his Supercars debut in 2016 as co-driver to Chris Pither in the Enduro Cup races, stunning the paddock with his car control on a wet track with slick tyres. His only Super2 round came last year at Sydney Motorsport Park, winning the final race of the weekend. He then went on to win the Sandown 500 a few weeks later with Cam Waters in the Supercars championship.
Todd Hazelwood will be looking to transfer his Super2 success to the main game this year as he enters the season with Matt Stone Racing. Driving Scott McLaughlin’s 2017 Falcon Supercar this year, the reigning Super2 champion will be looking to show the quality that comes out of the feeder series. Winning two rounds on the way to the title last year, Hazelwood fought off more experienced competitors like Paul Dumbrell to take the championship in the final round. He showed his determination to win after suffering a horrifying crash in qualifying for the Sandown 500 last year, rolling at the end of the back straight. After mandatory medical checks, he was back in his Super2 car and took third place for the round.
Anton de Pasquale may not have been on the radar before the end of last year but, together with Erebus Motorsport, is aiming to have his name known by season’s end. The young gun is another driver who tried his hand at open wheelers, winning the 2014 Formula Renault 1.6 NEC title but returning to Australia in 2016 to race for Paul Morris Motorsport in 2016. Two round wins last year helped him secure fourth in the championship and despite not having any starts in the top flight Supercars series before, he was signed by Erebus to race for them this season. With a teammate who is going to be a dark horse for the championship in David Reynolds, de Pasquale can learn a lot from his stable mate.
The 2018 Season Form Guide
The biggest change going in to this season is the retirement of the VF Commodore, Holden’s most successful model, which has been replaced with the ZB Commodore. Based on the Opel Insignia, the road car is the first Commodore to be foreign made although the race car is made by the teams here in Australia.
It’s the first hatchback to race in the Supercars championship and gives Holden its first major bodywork update in the Car of the Future era. While the V6 twin turbo engine will feature this year as a wildcard, the classic Chevy pushrod V8 stays as the powerplant. While Triple Eight Race Engineering was behind the homologation of the ZB, different teams running the car have made some of their own parts. Teething issues were on show at the pre-season Sydney Motorsport Park test with some teams like Garry Rogers Motorsport having issues with their new front splitter. Tim Slade ended up topping the time sheets, gaining momentum before Adelaide.
Another major change from last year is to do with the four sticky bits holding the car to the ground. After multiple failures at some of the high-speed circuits – notably Phillip Island – on the new-spec 2017 tyre, Dunlop and Supercars have introduced another control tyre for this year which is a compromise between the safe 2016 and the quick 2017 tyres. It’s hard to read who is quick on the new tyres as it’s unknown from the pre-season test as to who was driving on what rubber.
Jamie Whincup starts season 2018 as a seven-time champion, breaking his own record for titles in the series. His title defense this year will arguably be harder than ever, not only due to racing a new car but the increasing professionalism in the category. He faces stiff competition within his own garage, his teammate Shane van Gisbergen won the 2016 championship and will be looking for a second after a mediocre 2017.
DJR Team Penske now holds the first garage spaces thanks to winning the Teams’ Championship last year despite missing out on doing the double and securing the drivers championship. Scott McLaughlin will be looking to get over the heartbreaking disappointment of losing the title in the last race last year, aiming to learn from his mistakes to take home a maiden title come December. Fabian Coulthard too will be looking to improve on last year, leading most of the season and showing consistency but ultimately lacking the speed to get the job done.
A few pits down is the stacked team of Tickford, formerly Prodrive/Ford Performance Racing. In the “main” garage is 2015 champion Mark Winterbottom and 2014 Bathurst winner Chaz Mostert, sharing a pit bay for the first time since 2015. The last time this pair was stationed together they nearly went one-two in the championship until Mostert suffered a season-ending crash at Bathurst. Their two other cars, driven by Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway, will be just as quick. As last year’s Sandown 500 winners, the pair sure know how to drive for young blokes but it’ll be minimising the errors which will determine how well they do in the championship overall.
The dark horse of the year will undoubtedly be Erebus’s David Reynolds. The lovable larrakin enters 2018 as the defending Bathurst 1000 champion, winning with Luke Youlden in quite typically average Bathurst weather. Reynolds showed he can be a title contender after taking third in the 2015 championship before defecting to Erebus. His mentality and that of the team is to have fun but hopefully do it while winning; it would be surprising if he didn’t finish in the top five of the championship this year and get some wins in the bag too.
|2018 Adelaide 500 Weather Forecast|
|Friday||16°C – 30°C||Saturday||15°C – 27°C||Sunday||13°C – 23°C|
Images via Motorsport.com, Red Bull Holden Racing Team and Supercars Championship