MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia — Race preview by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike —
Welcome to the return of Race Chaser Online’s 2014 V8 Supercars race previews! Before each V8 Supercars race weekend, we will take a look at the track the series will be visiting, and point out the drivers to keep an eye out for during the races. We make our comeback with a look at the opening race of the 2014 PIRTEK Enduro Cup, the 50th Wilson Security Sandown 500! Keep checking Race Chaser Online over the course of the 2014 season for your V8 Supercars news and notes!
RACE 29 — The 50th WILSON SECURITY SANDOWN 500
Sandown Raceway, Melbourne, Victoria
3.104 km (1.929 mi) permanent circuit
Qualifying Race 1: 20 laps, 60 km, start time 2:35 P.M. (12:35 A.M. EST)
Qualifying Race 2: 20 laps, 60 km, start time 4:30 P.M. (2:30 A.M. EST)
Championship Race 29: 161 laps, 500 km, start time 1:25 P.M. (11:25 P.M. EST Saturday)
Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell
PIRTEK ENDURO CUP OVERVIEW:
The V8 Supercars enter the most significant portion of their schedule this weekend.
The following three race weekends comprise what is officially known as the PIRTEK Enduro Cup. The Cup separates the Super Sprint portion of the schedule from the final two weekends of the season in Phillip Island and Sydney’s Olympic Park. It begins with this weekend’s Wilson Security Sandown 500 at Sandown Raceway in Melbourne. Following the race at Sandown is the 52nd running of “The Great Race”, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, at the Mount Panorama Circuit in News South Wales, and the Castrol Gold Coast 600 at the Gold Coast Street Circuit in Queensland.
Think the Brickyard 400, the Daytona 500, and the Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona stuck right next to each other on the schedule, and you’ll get the idea of what these races mean to Australia. These three race meetings are essentially “double points races” of the Sunday Sprint races — 300 will go to the winners of Sandown and Bathurst, and 150 will go to the winner of each day’s race at the Gold Coast, so a maximum 300 points will be up for grabs on that weekend.
In addition to the regular series points, Drivers’ results over the three endurance weekends will be tabbed to determine the winner of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup (Craig Lowndes won the inaugural competition last season).
To account for the long distances of the races (compared to the Super Sprint events the V8 Supercars normally runs), each team has enlisted a co-driver for the Enduro events. The regular V8SC drivers have paired up with co-drivers that, with the exception of Walkinshaw Racing’s Oliver Gavin, are also Australian-based.
Just about all of the co-drivers have some form of V8SC experience prior to the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, so they aren’t strangers to these cars. However, that’s not to say that they could end up in hot water with their respective teams if they manage to ruin the car — and the regular driver’s chances of winning.
Sandown Raceway is set right in the heart of Melbourne and is a road course (technically speaking) built around a horse racing track (Australian Dover without the banking is a good analogy). The number one feature of this track that fans will hear about all weekend is the lack of racing room.
Technically speaking, this is a road course, but since it’s built in the middle of a city and around a harness track, it’s a very simplistic one at that. There are no long and flowy turns at Sandown- just some long, quick straightaways and some tight corners that are very stop-and-go in nature.
There will be multiple incidents between drivers that make contact with one another on corner entry over the course of the weekend, and a few cases where a slower car holds up a faster car because of the lack of passing opportunities here.
It’s also worth noting that for this race, and this race alone in the V8 Supercars Championship, there are qualifying races. One 20-minute qualifying session and two 20-lap races will be contested on Saturday.
The qualifying session (open to all drivers) sets the grid for the first qualifying race. From there, it’s in essence a two-legged race between the co-drivers and the main drivers. Co-drivers race first and set the grid for the second qualifying session based upon their finishing order. The main drivers then race in the second 20-lapper for their starting spots on Sunday.
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
Traditionally, Sandown has been the lead-in race to Bathurst, but a handful of promoter changes in the 2000s saw this race contested as a Super Sprint event. Only in 2012 was it restored to its historical spot on the calendar as the first enduro of the season, and in the two editions of the race held since then, Red Bull Racing Australia drivers have won them both.
Craig Lowndes and co-driver Warren Luff won in 2012, while Jamie Whincup and co-driver Paul Dumbrell won last year’s event. Both teams of drivers return for the 2014 PIRTEK Enduro Cup, so one would have to believe that RBRA hold the pair of favorites heading into the weekend.
Behind them, it is your usual stalwarts of Ford Performance Racing and the Holden Racing Team — collectively, both teams have the second and third highest averages at this track, respectively. Should RBRA be dethroned, it will likely come from a driver in one of these camps (one of Mark Winterbottom, Chaz Mostert, Garth Tander, or James Courtney — and their respective co-drivers, of course).
As far as potential surprises go, Erebus Motorsport finished 4th on debut here last year with Lee Holdsworth — it was their highest finish of the season. They have been markedly better in 2014 than they were in 2013, and should their performance at Sandown pick up the same kind of boost, they might be in the running for the win with more than just a shout.
Another driver to watch is the #222 of Nick Percat. Nick has been a co-driver in the Enduros for Garth Tander over the past few seasons (and won Bathurst with Tander in 2011). This season, he earned his first full-time ride with Walkinshaw Racing. After a slow start to his campaign, his finishes have come up steadily over the course of the season- he’s finished in the top 10 six out of the last nine races, and picked up his first podium as an individual driver in the most recent race of the Championship (finishing second to Scott McLaughlin at Sydney Motorsport Park on Sunday). Expect that trend to continue at Sandown if he and co-driver Oliver Gavin can avoid trouble.
Although Gavin is the only co-driver in the field not to hail from the world of V8 Supercars, his extensive experience in sports cars and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans should allow him to figure out the #222 Holden Commodore quickly. If all goes as planned, Gavin’s experience will balance out nicely with Percat’s raw talent, and V8 Supercars fans might see a breakout performance in one of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup races (much like David Reynolds did in 2012, when hounded the rear bumper of Jamie Whincup in the closing stages of the Bathurst 1000 and finished second).
For more information on the V8 Supercars Championship, visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.