This weekend sees the Supercars paddock arrive at Phillip Island for 500 kilometres of hard racing over two days. Held at the Grand Prix circuit which also hosts the World Superbikes and MotoGP, expect plenty of great wheel-to-wheel action at the flowing, European style track.
|Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit|
|Location||Phillip Island, Victoria||Circuit Length||4.445 km / 2.762 mi|
|Opened||1956||First ATCC Event||1971|
|Direction||Anticlockwise||Lap Record||1:31.2142 – Scott McLaughlin (2017)|
Located some 130 kilometres 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.
|2018 WD-40 Phillip Island 500 – Schedule|
|Event Dates||20-22 April 2018||Format||Super500|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 11:25-12:05||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 14:35-15:15|
|Race 9 Qualifying||Sat 12:05-12:25||Race 9 (57 laps)||Sat 15:45-17:25|
|Race 10 Qualifying||Sun 10:40-11:00||Race 10 (57 laps)||Sun 13:50-15:30|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 10:00)
Rewind to 2017
Saturday’s race in 2017 saw one of the most controversial and confusing Supercars races in recent history. Dunlop’s new 2017 spec tyre went well in qualifying but an incident the day before when Craig Lowndes had a failure coming up to Lukey Heights proved a sign of things to come.
Almost half the field suffered tyre blowouts in the opening race, significantly shuffling the order. Some drivers who didn’t have tyre dramas had issues in the pit lane, crossing the line between the working lane and the fast lane at pit entry.
The most important of those who was punished was Scott McLaughlin; all drivers who crossed the line had to take a pit lane penalty apart from Jamie Whincup whose indiscretion went inexplicably unnoticed by the stewards.
Despite being one of the first cars to encounter dramas, Fabian Coulthard’s pace meant he won the opening race; his car showed the battle scars of having to limp around a whole lap with no front tyre early on in the running.
With the issues attributed to excessive and aggressive camber, most teams dialled back their settings on Sunday to make it to the finish. The more conservative set-ups meant slower lap times but all teams bar one made it to the end without further dramas.
Looking to capitalise on everyone else playing it safe, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team cars went aggressive and ran more camber than the day before. Both Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen had blowouts while in a position to win the race.
Chaz Mostert went on to claim victory, taking his first victory since 2015 at Sydney Motorsport Park. His post-race celebrations included a burnout at the end of the start/straight, which earned him a $3,000 fine even though it was performed off the track proper.
Fans of the Blue Oval were jumping for joy this week with the announcement that Ford will return to Supercars, re-entering the sport next year with a new car.
Similar to arrangements with the AMG Customer Sport and Audi Sport teams in GT racing, Ford’s return to Supercars will be through the Ford Performance brand who will be bringing in high-performance cars to Australia, separate from the Ford brand proper. This deal is similar to the Walkinshaw owned HSV road cars division now bringing in the Silverado and Camaro from the United States.
Ford is looking to capitalise on the success of the Mustang by homologating it as the Supercar of choice next year to take on Holden’s Commodore and Nissan’s Altima.
It will be the first time since 1986 that a Mustang has been run in Australia’s premier touring car series with homologation being given to DJR Team Penske and engineering mastermind Ludo Lacroix.
The Phillip Island Form Guide
Flowing tracks like Phillip Island usually suit drivers who have some sort of European experience or driving style. Scott McLaughlin has always been good here, taking a race win in 2014 and clean-sweeping the round in 2016. He also took both pole positions at the Island in 2017 but wasn’t able to convert them to a race win.
Craig Lowndes will be another to watch, especially after his drought-breaking win at the last race in Tasmania. He has gelled well with the new ZB Commodore as well as the return to the 2016-spec Dunlop control tyre. His teammates will be a bigger focus, however as they are the only two drivers to lead the championship this year.
As usual, expecting dark horses like David Reynolds in the Erebus Commodore and Scott Pye in the Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden to perform well is where the smart money is. Reynolds is good around this circuit, as is Pye – fighting near the top of the championship standings – who has a podium here in the past and used to be a single-seater ace in Europe.
Tickford Racing will want to find a way to cure their Tasmania woes with poor results hampering their visit to the Apple Isle. Last year’s winner Chaz Mostert is the best hope for the team as Richie Stanaway will be looking for a top-15 finish after struggling more than anyone so far this year.
|2018 Phillip Island 500 Weather Forecast|
|Friday||12°C – 17°C||Saturday||13°C – 19°C||Sunday||12°C – 18°C|
Images via Edge Photographics and Ford Performance