For the first time in seven years, the Supercars Championship field will race under lights this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park.
The Western Sydney venue hosted a night race in 1996 and will now be the home of the SuperNight race, a 300-kilometre single-driver event.
Teams have adopted reflective paints to make their cars stand out as much as possible, racing under the bright floodlights for the first time since 2011 in Abu Dhabi.
|Sydney Motorsport Park|
|Location||Eastern Creek, NSW||Circuit Length||3.930 km / 2.440 mi|
|Opened||1990||First Supercars Event||1992|
|Direction||Anticlockwise||Lap Record||1:30.1577 – Chaz Mostert (2017)|
Located in Sydney’s outer western suburbs, the Sydney Motorsport Park is Australia’s only FIA Grade 2 International licensed permanent circuit. The track staged both motorcycle and car races for many years, hosting high-profile events such as the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and three rounds of the A1 Grand Prix championship.
The track quickly became a favourite amongst riders and drivers alike, the circuit offers a variety of challenging and technical corners on a layout that offers a number of passing opportunities around the lap.
The circuit first hosted the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1992 and it remained on the calendar for all but two years until 2008. Dropped from the calendar in 2009, it made a last-minute return to the roster in 2012.
In 2013, the circuit received $7 million worth of government funding to co-finance a major upgrade of the circuit which reconfigured it into four layouts with a maximum lap length of 4.5 kilometres. The extended ‘full’ circuit layout included an 830-metre ‘Brabham Loop’, which has not been used since the circuit returned to the Supercars Championship calendar in 2014.
|2018 Australian Supercars Championship – Red Rooster Sydney SuperNight 300|
|Event Dates||03-04 August 2018||Format||SuperNight|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 18:00-18:40||Free Practice Session 2||Sat 13:20-13:50|
|Qualifying Session (Part 1)||Sat 16:20-16:30||Qualifying Session (Part 2)||Sat 16:35-16:45|
|Qualifying Session (Part 3)||Sat 16:50-17:00||Race 21 (77 laps)||Sat 19:20-21:40|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 10:00)
Rewind to 2017
Last year’s event at Sydney Motorsport Park was a traditional round with a 120-kilometre race on Saturday followed by a 200-kilometre race to finish off the weekend on Sunday.
Scott McLaughlin took pole for both races, giving himself the best chance to continue his championship assault. His Saturday pole earned him the pole award for the year, given no one could catch him for the rest of the season. McLaughlin led for a majority of the race from Shane van Gisbergen until a late Safety Car interruption bunched the field back up.
At the restart, van Gisbergen got alongside McLaughlin and started bumping him down the main straight, taking the lead into Turn 1. McLaughlin returned serve at the hairpin, spinning van Gisbergen. David Reynolds rear-ended McLaughin with Jamie Whincup doing the same to the Erebus race. McLaughlin let teammate Fabian Coulthard through to take the lead and was hit with a time penalty at the end of the race.
Post-race, both McLaughlin and van Gisbergen were handed equal time penalties for their actions at the restart; van Gisbergen with 33 seconds added to his race time and McLaughlin having 18 seconds added to his original 15-second penalty. The Triple Eight driver dropped to 24th while McLaughlin ended up 22nd.
In Sunday’s race, McLaughlin had a tardy start, dropping from first to fifth by Turn 1 while Chaz Mostert shot to the lead. An undercut from Whincup saw him take the lead after the first pit stops, dropping just behind teammate van Gisbergen when they took their second stops. A lack of pace from the Kiwi saw the pair swap spots at the front as Whincup then checked out.
Van Gisbgergen had to fight to keep the train of the two DJR Team Penske cars as well as Mostert at bay. A late battle saw Coulthard get past for second but van Gisbergen was able to hold off McLaughlin and Mostert for the last podium spot.
Up front, Whincup won the race, his 106th victory which surpassed his and Craig Lowndes’ record for wins in the championship. Finishing ahead of McLaughlin also helped his run to a seventh championship.
The Form Guide
After Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen took home the same amount of points last time out at Queensland Raceway, the championship battle is now effectively a two-horse race.
There’s a lot on the line for the SuperNight round with full round points on offer for the single 300-kilometre race. While this is no different to the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 endurance races, being a single-driver event makes it arguably the most important weekend of the year.
McLaughlin has good form at Sydney Motorsport Park, taking both poles last year and a victory in 2014 with Volvo, his first win on a Sunday. A crash at Turn 1 in pre-season testing this year rattled his cage but given his recent form, it’d be hard to write him off to perform well this weekend, notwithstanding a mechanical issue.
Van Gisbergen’s speed and consistency over the past few rounds has seen him reel in McLaughlin in the championship standings, now coming to within a round of the points lead. The ZB Commodore may not have performed as well as Triple Eight had have hoped at other European-style tracks like Phillip Island but upgrades throughout the year may see the car do better in Sydney.
Whincup has a good history in Western Sydney, taking his 100th and 106th career wins at the venue in 2016 and 2017 respectively. He may effectively be out of the title race this year but that won’t stop him trying to get up the front this time around. The same goes for his pseudo teammate Lowndes, now getting to the pointy end of his farewell tour. Lowndes won the last night race at Eastern Creek in 1996, going on to win his maiden title that year.
David Reynolds has seemingly slipped away this year but will want to come back to the fore after struggling in recent rounds. He has pace but needs to qualify well to challenge the front-runners for wins. Chaz Mostert has been suffering a similar problem, dropping off the radar for most of the year but two podium finishes at Queensland Raceway, as well as a good history in Sydney, might see him feature at the front again.
Images via Keith McInnes Photography and Nissan Motorsports