For the first time in Supercars history, Australia’s premier tin-top series will be racing for championship points this weekend when they act as a support category to the Australian Grand Prix. While the racing will be just as feisty as in previous years, the risk and reward of racing for points should turn the heat up over the four races.
|Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit|
|Location||Melbourne, Victoria||Circuit Length||5.303 km / 3.296 mi|
|Opened||1985||First ATCC Event||1996 (non-championship status)|
|Direction||Clockwise||Lap Record||1:55.9682 – Craig Lowndes (2011)|
A circuit made up mostly of public roads set around Albert Park’s lake, it has minimal elevation changes and features the usual hallmarks of a street circuit.
The dusty and slippery surface awaits drivers at the start of the weekend’s activities, the track gradually builds grip and is at its quickest during Sunday’s final race.
Certain section of the track offers little in the way of available run-off, and the cement walls are more than willing to guarantee plenty of panel damage if the drivers make a mistake. Historically, the race has claimed plenty of casualties and sometimes thrown up some surprise results.
The most popular section of the track is the high-speed Turn 11 and 12 sweeps at the back of the circuit, which are a quick directional change for the heavy touring cars.
|2018 Coates Hire Supercars Melbourne 400 – Provisional Schedule|
|Event Dates||22-25 March 2018||Format||International SuperSprint|
|Free Practice Session 1||Thu 12:50-13:20||Free Practice Session 2||Thu 14:40-15:10|
|Race 3 Qualifying||Thu 16:20-16:30||Race 4 Qualifying||Thu 16:40-16:50|
|Race 5 Qualifying||Fri 13:50-14:00||Race 6 Qualifying||Fri 14:10-14:20|
|Race 3 (25 laps)||Fri 17:50-18:50||Race 4 (13 laps)||Sat 12:40-13:10|
|Race 5 (25 laps)||Sat 18:20-19:20||Race 6 (13 laps)||Sun 13:45-14:15|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Time (UTC/GMT + 11:00)
Rewind to 2017
The 2017 support races saw a clean sweep by the Blue Oval with Fords winning all four races over the weekend. Scott McLaughlin lead home Fabian Coulthard to take his first win for the team although it was unofficial due to the race being a non-championship round. The pair traded places in race two with Coulthard flying the flag for DJR Team Penske, again making it his first win unofficially with the team.
Jamie Whincup put himself between the two DJR Team Penske Falcons in the penultimate race and was in contention to win the final outing of the weekend until he, Coulthard and McLaughlin were hampered by tyre failures. This allowed Chaz Mostert to come through and take the win, his first since returning from injury sustained at Bathurst in 2015.
It’s hard to get used to what should have been in place right from the start but this weekend’s round being the first at Albert Park in championship history has been somewhat of a reward to teams and fans. Previously, the teams and drivers have put everything on the line for nothing more than bragging rights. Now with points up for grabs, you can imagine the level of competition will hopefully step up a notch. That’s not to say the drivers haven’t been trying in the past but now that a championship could potentially be on the line, they have everything to lose and gain.
After the ZB Commodore’s triumphant debut in Adelaide, the Ford and Nissan teams cried parity due to the Holden’s panels being made of a lightweight composite material rather than the typical sheet metal which have been used in years gone by. Ford’s teams have been approved to run lighter roofs and bonnets while Nissan only applied to change their roof. The lighter weight panels will not move the centre of gravity lower but will allow teams to move and apply more ballast in the cars.
The Melbourne Form Guide
If good racing is what you’re after, you’ll be in for a treat this weekend at Albert Park. The flowing street track is different to most of the circuits on the Supercars calendar and mixes characteristics of a few in to make it challenging in the brutal tin-tops.
Looking back at performances last year, both throughout the season and at the Melbourne circuit, it would be hard not to look past the pace of the DJR Team Penske Falcons, most notably Scott McLaughlin. Decent results in Adelaide will be a boost for him despite Fabian Coulthard’s car running the new lightweight panels.
As always, you can never overlook Triple Eight. Jamie Whincup’s DNF in the Sunday race at Adelaide would’ve been a disappointment but his outright pace and consistency means he is always a force to be reckoned with. Currently leading the championship standings, 2016 title winner Shane Van Gisbergen will be coming to Melbourne with a spring in his step, looking to perform consistently throughout the season.
The Prodrive entries of Chaz Mostert, Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway are always sure to shake up the front order while Mark Winterbottom, the most experienced driver on the team, will be the guinea pig for the composite panels at Prodrive.
Never rule out the dark horses like David Reynolds, James Courtney and even Will Davison, all of them being hungry for a win this year and trying to show the bigger teams they can still get amongst the action.
Looking to the skies will be crucial for teams and drivers as rain is expected on Saturday with the possibility of showers on Sunday. While this often makes the races more exciting to watch, it also allows those who are good in slippery conditions to show their mettle compared to their rivals.
|2018 Melbourne 400 Weather Forecast|
|Friday||19°C – 29°C||Saturday||18°C – 22°C||Sunday||10°C – 23°C|
Images via Ignite Image and Red Bull Holden Racing Team