Melbourne is set to roar to the sound of the Supercars again as Australia’s top touring car championship again supports Formula One at the Australian Grand Prix.
Now in its second year as an official championship round, the ATCC has been on the support bill for Formula One in Australia since the first World Championship Grand Prix back in 1985.
It’s a big weekend for Supercars, not only with 400 kilometres of racing but with the 1000th championship race to be held in the second outing of the weekend.
After the first race at Gnoo Blas in Orange way back in 1960, it’s hard to believe that the Australian Touring Car Championship will be over 1000 races old at the end of the weekend.
|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||1:54.6016 – Scott McLaughlin (2018)|
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 sections 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.
|2019 Supercars Beaurepaires Melbourne 400 – Provisional Schedule|
|Event Dates||14-17 March 2019||Format||International SuperSprint|
|Free Practice Session 1||Thu 12:50-13:20||Free Practice Session 2||Thu 15:00-15:30|
|Race 3 Qualifying||Thu 16:40-16:50||Race 4 Qualifying||Thu 17:00-17:10|
|Race 5 Qualifying||Fri 13:50-14:00||Race 6 Qualifying||Fri 14:10-14:20|
|Race 3 (25 laps)||Fri 17:55-18:55||Race 4 (13 laps)||Sat 12:50-13:20|
|Race 5 (25 laps)||Sat 18:30-19:30||Race 6 (13 laps)||Sun 13:35-14:05|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Daylight Time (UTC/GMT + 11:00)
Rewind to 2018
Last year’s round saw four different winners from four different races as Melbourne threw all the weather it could muster at the field.
Eventual champion Scott McLaughlin opened the official account around Albert Park with victory in the Friday race, winning from pole position.
Race 2 saw Jamie Whincup sweep the outing, achieving the grand slam of pole, fastest lap and the race win in wet conditions to notch up his first victory of 2018 after a missed opportunity in the opening round at Adelaide.
Saturday’s late afternoon race was one of the highlights of the season. Scott Pye inherited the lead early on when McLaughlin went too deep into Turn 1, losing a bunch of spots.
Pye had to keep Whincup at bay, doing so for the majority of the race but everyone was thrown into the deep end when a heavy shower hit with only a handful of laps to go.
The leaders stayed out on slicks and Pye fought hard for his first Supercars victory, holding off the seven-time champion and 109 (at the time) race winner in Whincup to cross the line first.
Sunday’s final race of the weekend heralded the fourth different winner from four different teams over the weekend as David Reynolds took the win, giving the Erebus Motorsport driver his first victory of 2019 in the process.
Jamie Whincup ended up with the highest points over the round, winning the new Larry Perkins Trophy thanks to his race victory and three other podium appearances.
The Melbourne Form Guide
If previous years, and previous rounds, have taught us anything its that Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin are masters of Melbourne, both having impressive race win tallies around the Grand Prix circuit.
For Whincup, he heads in to the round as the defending champion thanks to his consistent performances last year and even though he didn’t win last time out in Adelaide, he’s always going to feature at the pointy end of the field.
In McLaughlin’s case, momentum is the key. He’s been the pole king of the past two years, the defending series champion and turns up to Melbourne with 300 points in his championship account after sweeping the opening round of the season.
Let’s not forget that the young Kiwi scored his first unofficial Supercars win at Albert Park back in 2013 with Garry Rogers Motorsport, unfortunately not counting officially as the round was a non-championship event.
Expect big things from the local boys at Tickford Racing who had their best outing in quite a while back in Adelaide; coming off the back of a character building 2018 to see Cam Waters make the second step of the podium in Sunday’s race.
Erebus Motorsport needs to step up soon this year; while David Reynolds and Anton De Pasquale weren’t nowhere in Adelaide, but they weren’t making the headlines either. If the team wants to be genuine championship contenders, they need to get a move on early in the season.
Shane van Gisbergen finished as runner-up in last year’s championship, arguably his two thirteenth-place finishes at Albert Park were a big setback for him but his form in Melbourne is strong. The 2016 champion can’t be written off at any stage, especially with the strength of Triple Eight behind him.
Unfortunately for Scott Pye, it will be hard to replicate his breakthrough Supercars win last year as the Walkinshaw Andretti United team has started to slip away from the top of the pack.
A lack of pace and getting caught in someone else’s accident in Adelaide wouldn’t have helped the confidence of the South Australian, now turning up to Melbourne again in a car which just doesn’t have the speed to fight at the sharp end of the field.
Come Sunday afternoon, we’ll know the winner of the Larry Perkins Trophy but who it will be and who will be in charge of the championship is anyone’s guess.
Images via Keith McInnes Photography