A CRITICAL DAY for Supercars and Australian Motorsport in general appeared to go off without a hitch – and along the way delivered about the most perfect welcome back present anyone could have hoped for.
WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Mark Horsburgh / Supercars
SUPERCARS could hardly have asked for a better return to racing today in Sydney.
At just about every step, the ‘new normal’ all seemed to roll out just about faultlessly, providing an action-packed day of almost unrelenting on-track action and ended with a brilliant battle between the two current titans of the sport.
There were so many question marks over how today would play out but in the end it felt like the usual product, save for a few little changes like the visible social distancing, the occasional appearance of face masks, no support races and the lack of anything (signage or vision, for that matter) inside the garages.
Outside of that it looked, sounded, and felt like a usual Supercars event and that is perhaps the highest praise you can offer because that benchmark is generally very high anyway.
The race itself was brilliant, the new pit stop regulations and the two-or-four tyre strategies saw the second half burst into life after a reasonably settled start.
The pit stop rules were excellent and when coupled with a circuit that offers high levels of tyre degradation helped deliver a series of varying strategies that delivered the kind of outcome the series was chasing from the rule changes in the first place: cars lapping at different speeds at the end of the race, creating overtaking.
Usually changes like these throw up a wild opening race – like today – before the teams work out what is good and what isn’t for subsequent outings. The good fortune for this is that the extremely limited tyre bank will ensure that the variety continues; as some noted in their post-race interviews, the gamble to take four tyres today may prove hugely costly when they get to the closing stages of race three on Sunday.
Of course, the overriding storyline was the battle for the lead and the fight between Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen for the win.
This, too, relied on slightly different strategies with McLaughlin relying on burning away at the start and van Gisbergen finishing quickly at the end.
The result was 0.1 seconds difference between them after a cracking five laps that also exposed there’s still work to be done: once Shane got to the back of the leading Mustang his progress stopped on account of the enormous aero wash the cars still produce. It made for good theatre and you have to imagine that, if this was the final race of the weekend rather than the first, the 97 might have been a bit more aggressive trying to work his way through.
Still, it was a brilliant battle between the two Kiwi’s who have been the benchmark in the series for some time and will be for the remainder of the year, for sure.
It was a day where the simple fact that racing was back on track would have been enough, but the end result was a brilliant race that will hopefully draw more eyeballs tomorrow.
And while it’s still early days, it seems the 2020 technical changes are also proving positive: certainly there was nothing between Commodore and Mustang today while the control damper certainly seems to have helped some and hindered others, as it should. There’s still more to play out, of course, but I’m pretty certain if we’d have raced at Sydney Motorsport Park last year, it’d have been a Mustang paradise.
What of other key performances? The ‘best of the rest’ battle – and by that I mean everyone from the Shell V-Power Mustangs and the Red Bull Commodores – was incredibly intense with nothing to split the likes of Tickford, Brad Jones Racing, Walkinshaw Andretti United and Erebus.
Chas Mostert deserves praise after proving his Adelaide form was no fluke, delivering WAU another strong result in just his third ever race for the team.
Adelaide can often be an unpredictable form guide for the season so to see the #25 car charge into the top five – and have pace to do it all day – was impressive.
Fifth was huge for Nick Percat and BJR, who had great pace all day with not only the Dunlop car but also Todd Hazelwood’s superbly liveried Brut entry.
Tickford showed promise, Waters’ gamble on tyres didn’t quite pay off but Holdsworth was solid in the Truck Assist machine throughout. Good results for Andon de Pasquale, Mark Winterbottom and occasional pace from the likes of Kelly Racing, Scott Pye and even Macca Jones was impressive.
As always, Supercars TV product was outstanding and covered all the bases – though as our own Mark Walker noted on Twitter, they could have used more people in pit lane spotting who was playing what in the ‘two tyre, four tyre’ game.
The flat-out intensity of the day also translated on TV which I think is a good thing and proof that endless wobbling around in practice does not always positively influence the product. Today was proof that you can get the cars on the track, send them and the product is hardly likely to suffer.
Today was an important day for not just Supercars, but Aussie motorsport in general.
The product had to re-launch smoothly and without drama to make sure the benchmarks were all in place for continuing forward.. for other categories as well as the main game. It did that, and it’s a credit to everyone at the Supercars office, Motorsport Australia, the circuit and the teams themselves who put so much effort in.
I think it’s a day to be proud of our sport and the efforts to which people will go in order to ensure the show goes on.
The bonus, of course, was that we also enjoyed an absolutely belting motor race, the cherry on the top of a hugely important and I think very impressive day for our spot. More of that tomorrow, please.