The twelfth round of this year’s Supercars Championship marks the start of the Pirtek Enduro Cup, a four-race endurance series within the regular season to see who is best across the three biggest rounds of the year.
Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway has hosted the first Enduro Cup race since 2013 and now enters its third year as the venue of the Supercars ‘Retro Round’ where teams and drivers acknowledge the sport’s past while making their own history.
|Sandown International Raceway|
|Location||Melbourne, Victoria||Circuit Length||3.104 km / 1.928 mi|
|Opened||1962||First ATCC Event||1964|
|Direction||Anticlockwise||Lap Record||1:09.0987 – Chaz Mostert (2017)|
For the seventh year in a row, Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway plays host to the traditional 500-kilometre race that acts as the curtain-raiser to next month’s iconic Bathurst 1000.
Located about 25 kilometres south-east of Melbourne’s city centre, the circuit is an institution on the Australian motorsport landscape. Along with the racing circuit, the facility also houses Sandown Racecourse, Melbourne’s second-largest horse-racing facility.
The circuit was first opened in 1962, the track played host to the non-championship Australian Grand Prix on six occasions. In 1964, the venue staged a six-hour international touring car race, which would eventually gain fame as the Sandown 500.
Featuring two long straights, the track is known for its high speeds and great slipstreaming battles, with the best overtaking spots being at the Turn 1 and Turn 9 left-handers, which are the track’s heaviest braking zones.
As it’s built within the confines of the horse-racing facility, its safety barriers are positioned very closely to the margins of the circuit at some points, and circuit run-off is limited. A high-speed shunt will guarantee a hefty repair bill and in response to a succession of heavy accidents at Turn 6 in recent years a number of safety improvements have been made for this year’s race.
|2018 Australian Supercars Championship – RABBLE.club Sandown 500|
|Event Dates||14-16 September 2018||Format||Enduro Cup|
|Free Practice Session 1*||Fri 10:45-11:30||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 12:30-13:00|
|Free Practice Session 3*||Fri 15:35-16:05||Free Practice Session 4||Sat 10:10-10:25|
|Race 24 Qualifying||Sat 11:40-12:00||Race for Grid 1 (20 laps)*
|Race for Grid 2 (20 laps)
||Sat 16:15-16:50||Race Warm-Up||Sun 10:15-10:35|
|Race 24 (161 laps)
*Denotes co-driver only sessions
Session times quoted in Australian Central Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 09:30)
|2018 Australian Supercars Championship – Pirtek Enduro Cup Entry List|
|#||Team / Entry||Driver||Co-Driver|
|1.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Jamie Whincup||Paul Dumbrell|
|2.||Walkinshaw Andretti United||Scott Pye||Warren Luff|
|5.||Tickford Racing||Mark Winterbottom||Dean Canto|
|6.||Tickford Racing||Cameron Waters||James Moffat|
|7.||Nissan Motorsport||Andre Heimgartner||Aaren Russell|
|8.||Brad Jones Racing||Nick Percat||Macauley Jones|
|9.||Erebus Motorsport||David Reynolds||Luke Youlden|
|12.||DJR Team Penske||Fabian Coulthard||Tony D’Alberto|
|14.||Brad Jones Racing||Tim Slade||Ashley Walsh|
|15.||Nissan Motorsport||Rick Kelly||Garry Jacobson|
|17.||DJR Team Penske||Scott McLaughlin||Alexandre Prémat|
|18.||Charlie Schwerkolt Racing||Lee Holdsworth||Jason Bright|
|19.||TEKNO Autosports||Jack Le Brocq||Jonathon Webb|
|21.||Tim Blanchard Racing (BJR)||Tim Blanchard||Dale Wood|
|23.||Nissan Motorsport||Michael Caruso||Dean Fiore|
|25.||Walkinshaw Andretti United||James Courtney||Jack Perkins|
|33.||Garry Rogers Motorsport||Garth Tander||Richard Muscat|
|34.||Garry Rogers Motorsport||James Golding||Chris Pither|
|35.||Matt Stone Racing||Todd Hazelwood||Bryce Fullwood|
|55.||Tickford Racing||Chaz Mostert||James Moffat|
|56.||Tickford Racing||Richie Stanaway||Steve Owen|
|78.||Nissan Motorsport||Simona de Silvestro||Alex Rullo|
|97.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Shane van Gisbergen||Earl Bamber|
|99.||Erebus Motorsport||Anton de Pasquale||Will Brown|
|230.||23Red Racing||Will Davison||Alex Davison|
|888.||Triple Eight Race Engineering||Craig Lowndes||Steven Richards|
Rewind to 2017
Sandown’s notorious Turn 6 has claimed its fair share of victims over the years and last year’s running of the 500-kilometre classic was marred by two major crashes. The first occurred in the first qualifying race, for co-drivers only, on Saturday when an overambitious move from Tekno’s Jonathon Webb on Brad Jones Racing’s Todd Hazelwood up the inside saw the pair make contact. Hazelwood went backwards into the tyre barrier, launching the car up and tumbling over before coming to rest in the mud. Neither driver was hurt and Hazelwood climbed aboard his Super2 car a short while later.
The qualifying races saw the young pairing of Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway take pole for Sunday’s race, breaking Scott McLaughlin’s pole streak with the Kiwi and his co-driver Alexandre Prémat starting second.
Onboard the #6 Prodrive Falcon, Stanaway led the opening stanza but a red flag came out on Lap 1 for Taz Douglas who suffered a puncture heading into Turn 6. The incident took over an hour to clean up and fix the barriers, forcing the race into a time-certain finish for the second year running.
Stanaway started to get in to a groove throughout the race, holding off the more experienced drivers like Paul Dumbrell and Prémat behind him. He completed his minimum 54 laps and handed the car over to Waters in the lead with some strong drivers still in their wake.
A charge from both Red Bull Holden cars was put to an end with Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen both suffering tyre failures, similar to earlier in the year at Phillip Island. While Whincup was challenging for the podium earlier on, he dropped down the order and finished sixth at the end.
McLaughlin in the #17 Falcon started to apply pressure to Waters in the closing laps but couldn’t mount a challenge to the Prodrive car. Waters won by under a second, making it his and Stanaway’s first win in Supercars. McLaughlin’s second meant his championship lead was stretched further while Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen’s third place made it an all-Ford podium.
The Form Guide
The inaugural round at The Bend last time out shook up the championship order with Shane van Gisbergen now leading the title race, overtaking Scott McLaughlin who has led the way from Phillip Island onwards.
Van Gisbergen and the Red Bull Holden Racing team are finally hitting their stride in the new ZB Commodore after having some struggles earlier in the year. His pairing with fellow Kiwi Earl Bamber, a two-time Le Mans 24 Hours winners and World Endurance Champion, will make them a potent pairing even though Bamber has only had limited seat time in the car this year.
Now entering their fourth year of marriage after a one year split in 2016, McLaughlin is again joined by Alex ‘Frenchie’ Prémat. The duo were teammates at Garry Rogers Motorsport in 2013 before the Frenchman stepped back to be a co-driver for McLaughlin in 2014 and 2015 at the team before he was poached by Triple Eight in 2016 to drive with van Gisbergen, winning the Enduro Cup and his first race that year.
He and McLaughlin reunited last year, taking victory in the second Gold Coast race. Prémat has good form in Supercars and importantly has experience compared to rivals like Bamber while McLaughlin will be looking for consistent but strong finishes to get his title charge back on track.
The reigning Enduro Cup champions of Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen have been split up this year with Owen dropping in with 2017 Sandown 500 winner Richie Stanaway while Mostert is paired with James Moffat after the second-generation racer stepped away from full-time driving at the end of last year. Tickford Racing hasn’t yet won a race this year and has an embarrassingly low number of podiums, something they’ll be wanting to change at their home track.
This year’s Sandown 500 is also the last in which Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards will be paired together after Lowndes announced his retirement from full-time racing at the end of this year. The duo has had a successful couple of years together after first joining forces in 2014, winning the 2015 Bathurst 1000. It’ll be a big turnout to see the two veterans come together for the last time with the big question of who Lowndes will co-drive with in 2019 getting louder as the season starts to near the end.
Images via Auto Action, LAT and Supercars Championship