November 21, 2013 – Story by RaceChaser Contributing Writer James Pike – Photo Courtesy www.v8Supercars.com.au –
As the majority of racing series around the world bring their seasons to a close, the Australian V8 Supercars are only just beginning to enter the final portion of their season. The penultimate event of the year, the Sargent Security Phillip Island 360, will take place this weekend. After multiple years of different formats and dates on the V8 Supercars schedule (Phillip Island hosted one of the three endurance races for the series from 2008 to 2011, and hosted its 2012 event at the end of May), the event returns to its regular mid-November place on the calendar as a traditional sprint event.
Phillip Island is a very fast and flowy road course with lots of long-radius corners and few hard-braking zones. Combine the straight-line speeds of Riverside with Road America’s famed Carousel, and one can get an idea of what Phillip Island is like to drive. It’s a difficult track for engineers to set a car up for because straight-line speed, downforce, and proper tire management are all needed to be successful at this track. Phillip Island has also been repaved since the series last paid a visit, so increased speeds and faster lap times are expected. The possibility of a new lap record being set over the course of the weekend is also not out of the question.
Headlining this weekend’s racing is an old-school title fight between the two drivers of the series’ premier outfit, Red Bull Racing Australia. Jamie Whincup has been the points leader for the majority of the season, but after a sub-par weekend in the series’ previous round at the Gold Coast it is his teammate Craig Lowndes that is at the top of the standings.
Although Lowndes technically holds a six-point advantage, both drivers are virtually tied atop the standings. Should Whincup finish a race anywhere above Lowndes and in the top 5, he’ll be guaranteed at least a share of the points lead heading into the series finale at Sydney. However, this weekend will feature a tripleheader of races, and thus three chances for drivers to score points. It’s not unfeasible to think that the standings will shake up mightily before the weekend is over.
Qualifying should play a significant part in this weekend’s outcome, as this track tends to run narrower than the racing surface would indicate. Drivers often race as if they have more room on track than they actually have, and will constantly bounce off of each other in the corners. Expect to see a lot of cars to make contact and run off-track, and a few to land in one of Phillip Island’s many gravel traps- especially those surrounding the Southern Loop.
Likewise, it will be important for anyone looking to win the race to start up near the front. Start at the top of the grid, and immensely easier to avoid the carnage that will occur mid-pack and focus on racing for the win. For Lowndes and Whincup, it will also be key to keep their machines in one piece and finish all three races this weekend. In particular, both men will desperately want to finish the first race on Sunday- if either of them run into trouble in that race, it will jeopardize their chances of running in the second race that day, and might end the title fight for one of them before the series even makes it to Sydney.
Looking back at both Lowndes’ and Whincup’s histories at Phillip Island, the statistics heavily favor Lowndes. He has won eight races at Phillip Island over his career, and is second on the all-time win list at the track. Whincup, on the other hand, has only won twice at this circuit (he swept the pair of races run in 2009). Furthermore, Craig Lowndes has not led the standings this late in the season since 1999; that year, he went on to claim his third (and most recent) V8 Supercars title.
Whincup has led the points coming into the season’s penultimate event in four of the last five years; the one year that he did not lead the standings this late in the going (2010) was also the one year out of the five that he did not go on to win the V8 Supercars Championship. Should Whincup want to win the series title, he will have to reverse the history books and overtake his teammate during the final two events of the season.
This isn’t to say that this weekend’s action will entirely be about Lowndes and Whincup. There are a host of other drivers who would love to get on the podium at Phillip Island as well. Ford Performance Racing has been on par with the Red Bull entries all year long, and has two very capable drivers in Will Davison and 2013 Bathurst 1000 champion Mark Winterbottom. Both drivers are within 121 points of Lowndes and Whincup, and will be right in the thick of the title chase should the 888 and the 1 both stumble. Beyond FPR, there are many drivers that could steal the show and win this weekend.
David Reynolds scored his first career win on Sunday at the Gold Coast, and finally capitalized on a chance at victory after coming close to it multiple times over the past few seasons. He will want to build on his success this weekend by taking victories in consecutive events. Also, James Courtney has been plagued by bad luck in recent events, as his #2 machine failed to finish the Bathurst 1000 and did not complete either of the races at the Gold Coast. However, Courtney was near the front of all three races before his retirements, and he will look to Phillip Island as a chance to start earning a payoff on the speed he has been showing.
Race fans from around the world can catch the action from Phillip Island by logging on to V8 SuperView at http://www.v8supercars.com.au/v8live. Racing action starts at 8:55 P.M. EST on Friday night and 7:00 P.M. on Saturday night, and fans can be assured that the weekend will be filled with the excitement that the V8 Supercars consistently provides.