The Supercars Championship has its only double-header pair of events on its calendar, with this weekend’s WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint taking place on the iconic Grand Prix circuit that plays host to the World Superbikes and MotoGP.
With the Ford Mustang’s stranglehold coming to an end last time out at Symmons Plains, the fast and flowing Victorian circuit presents a completely different challenge for the field of touring cars.
|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||Race 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.
|2019 Supercars WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint – Provisional Schedule|
|Event Dates||12-14 April 2019||Format||SuperSprint|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 11:35-12:05||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 15:10-15:40|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 10:40-11:10||Race 9 Qualifying (Part 1)
|Race 9 Qualifying (Part 2)
||Sat 13:30-13:40||Race 9 Qualifying (Part 3)
|Race 9 (27 laps)||Sat 15:50-16:45||Free Practice Session 4||Sun 09:20-09:50|
|Race 10 Qualifying (Part 1)||Sun 11:10-11:20||Race 10 Qualifying (Part 2)||Sun 11:25-11:35|
|Race 10 Qualifying (Part 3)||Sun 11:40-11:50||Race 10 (45 laps)||Sun 14:15-15:40|
All session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 10:00)
Rewind to 2018
Last year’s round at Phillip Island was run as a pair of 250-kilometre races, both of which were won by DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin. The New Zealander’s victory in Saturday’s race saw him claim the lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings and kick off a run of four successive race wins that extended into the following round at Barbagallo Raceway.
McLaughlin claimed his third pole position of the season in Saturday’s qualifying session and with teammate Fabian Coulthard qualifying second-fastest, the duo secured a 1-2 result for DJR Team Penske. Coulthard was subsequently stripped of his grid position due to a technical breach with his car’s rear wing, which promoted the Red Bull Holden of Jamie Whincup to the front row of the grid.
Whincup managed to sweep around the outside of McLaughlin after the start to claim the early race lead. The pair pulled a gap over the rest of the field and ran nose-to-tail through two pit stop cycles before McLaughlin finally squeezed by the reigning series champion to claim the lead at Turn 2 on Lap 41. Whincup was unable to mount a fightback and had to settle for second place, while Nissan Motorsport’s Rick Kelly completed the podium to earn his first visit to the rostrum since 2015.
Whincup was subsequently stripped of his second-placed finish thanks to a post-race time penalty after it was found he released his pit lane speed limiter too early as he exited the pits. The Red Bull Holden driver’s 38-second time penalty (equivalent to a drive-through penalty) demoted him to fourteenth in the race classification and dropped to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship standings. Kelly was therefore promoted to second place, while Whincup’s teammate Shane van Gisbergen – who battled with a power steering failure – moved to third.
Sunday’s race saw McLaughlin once again claim pole position and the race win to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to 60 points. McLaughlin led the race at the start, but an early Safety Car interruption brought about by the retirement of James Courtney’s WAU Holden saw most of the field elect to take one of their two compulsory pit stops. A longer fuel fill meant McLaughlin rejoined the race in fourth while Kelly now led the field in his Nissan thanks to a short fuel fill.
McLaughlin’s second pit stop at the race’s halfway point was followed on the next lap by a pit stop for David Reynolds’ Erebus Holden. As Reynolds exited the pits he and McLaughlin raced side-by-side for position through Turns 2 and 3, with Reynolds coming out on top. Reynolds held the effective lead of the race for all of two laps before McLaughlin repeated the move he had made on Whincup the day before to claim victory over the former Bathurst 1000 winner. Kelly again completed the podium, claiming his first back-to-back podium finishes since 2009.
The Phillip Island Form Guide
Pre-season testing saw Tickford Racing’s Cam Waters top the timesheets in the new Ford Mustang, with the fellow Ford runners predominantly featuring towards the sharp end of the timing screens.
Fast and flowing ‘European’ style circuits such as Phillip Island have historically been happy hunting grounds for the likes of Scott McLaughlin – a winner here no less than five times – and Shane van Gisbergen, who will be feeling more confident following his win at Symmons Plains that ended the Mustang’s six-race winning streak.
Keep an eye out for McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard – another confidence driver – who is coming off the back of two very strong second place finishes in Tasmania less than seven days ago. Coulthard has to be a strong bet to end his winless run that stretches as far back as last year’s Winton SuperSprint.
|2019 Phillip Island SuperSprint Weather Forecast|
|Friday||12°C – 21°C||Saturday||13°C – 18°C||Sunday||13°C – 20°C|
Images via Edge Photographics and Supercars Championship