Analysis: 2016 Pirtek Enduro Cup Combinations

2015 Enduro Cup champions Tander and Luff could have a hard time defending their title this year. Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

With the single-driver rounds on hold until we get to Pukekohe, we look forward to the fourth installation of the Pirtek Enduro Cup. Last year, it was Garth Tander and Warren Luff who proved to be the most consistent across the three rounds of the Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600, but which pairing do you think we’ll be seeing on the Enduro Cup Honour Roll this year?

While some drivers have opted for a co-driver they have experience with, some have gone down a new route to try and maximise options. Just six pairings remain intact from last year’s entry list. Some inter-team shuffling has occurred, though some outfits have gone for entirely new faces. We briefly analyse the pairings, rating them on past performance and strength.

#1 Bottle-O Racing Team
Mark Winterbottom will be trying to win his first Enduro Cup this year with Dean Canto, a driver that has been a part of the team’s endurance campaigns since 2012. After Steve Owen failed to fire over the past two years, Prodrive Racing enlisted the help of Canto who had previously finished second in the 2012 Bathurst 1000 and first in one of the Gold Coast 600 races in 2013, both with David Reynolds. Winterbottom has work to do, but is still in contention for a second championship, and he will have to maximise the amount of points scored over the three endurance rounds to make it a reality. 9/10

#2 Holden Racing Team
Reigning Enduro Cup champions Garth Tander and Warren Luff certainly have a point to prove this year as HRT’s form has slumped, the team not posting a win since the Clipsal 500 and Tander’s last victory being at Townsville in 2015. Consistent finishes gave them the best points over the three rounds last year, though with the qualifying struggles that Tander has been having this year, they’ll find it hard to stay out of the mid-pack melee. 7.5/10

#3 Repair Management Australia
Andre Heimgartner will make his second Enduro Cup with 2015 Bathurst wildcard driver and ousted Erebus pilot Aaren Russell. The pair are arguably the unluckiest duo in the cup but that won’t stop them from trying to prove a point come the longer races. Heimgartner’s determination to improve this season coupled with Russell’s drive to get back in to a full-time seat mean they are motivated by the desire to achieve success, though they could easily become unstuck. 5/10

#4 Erebus Motorsport
Shae Davies and Chris van der Drift will be trying to bring Erebus out of a rough patch by giving the team fresh blood for the endurance races. Davies secured some valuable seat time at Sydney Motorsport Park behind the wheel of the #4 machine, while it will be Kiwi van der Drift’s first drive of a Supercar. The pair have nothing to lose so could pull off a surprise result. 5/10

#6 Monster Energy Racing
Cam Waters will be partnered by fellow young gun Jack Le Brocq, both drivers wanting to show the strength of Prodrive’s development program. Waters is the 2015 Dunlop Series champion, so far performing well in his first series of the main game, while Le Brocq has taken Waters’ seat in the development series, and currently leads the points standings. With possibly the lowest combined age on the grid, the young drivers will be looking to show that they have old heads on young shoulders. 6.5/10

#7 carsales Racing
The car/boat/bike/trucksales entry of Todd Kelly will be giving rookie Matt Campbell his first Supercars start. Kelly will be looking to get up the higher end of the field after years of unspectacular results, while Campbell tries to move up in the motor racing world thanks to a stand-out season in this year’s Carrera Cup series. Despite Kelly’s determination to stay in the series – he wants to keep racing – depending on Campbell’s pace, a seat could well be opened up for the twenty-one year old at Nissan Motorsport next year. 4/10

#8 Team BOC
Jason Bright will again be paired up with Andrew Jones for this year’s Enduro Cup. The pair have a wealth of experience with Bright previously winning two Bathurst 1000’s, while Jones has had many starts over the years, especially with Bright, in the Great Race. Bright’s form has been unimpressive as of late, not being able to produce the results like fellow veteran Lowndes. BJR always has a trick up its sleeve come endurance time though, something these two will be relying on. 5.5/10

#9 Erebus Motorsport Penrite Racing
David Reynolds and Craig Baird will prove to be a strong combination as they pair up for the first time together this year. Reynolds has been punching above the Erebus Commodore’s weight this year, often beating Walkinshaw Racing’s entries who supply the car. Baird filled in for the ousted Aaren Russell at Ipswich, giving him valuable seat time ahead of the long races. The class clown and the Kiwi get along well, hopefully making it easier for the pair to communicate and work as a team. 7/10

#12 DJR Team Penske
Fabian Coulthard will take on his first Enduro Cup for DJR Team Penske with Luke Youlden, his co-driver for many years at BJR. Coulthard has previously shown great speed at events like Bathurst, setting the qualifying record in 2014 though mistakes from Youlden have let them down. While Coulthard has previously won races, he is yet to have a victory with his new team. He’ll be looking to use the endurance rounds as a showcase to tell the team that they made the right choice. 7.5/10

#14 Freightliner Racing
Freightliner Racing has opted for a fresh driver to join Tim Slade in the Enduro Cup, enlisting the help of Ash Walsh to get to the top. Slade hasn’t yet had success in endurance races but after his domination at Winton earlier this year, he’s got a spring in his step. Walsh is a solid driver who is keen to rack up more experience and knows how to stay off the walls. 7/10

#15 Sengled Racing
Rick Kelly picked an unlikely co-driver in former multiple Bathurst 1000 winner and Fox Sports analyst Russell Ingall. Between them, they have four Bathurst 1000 wins and despite retiring from full-time racing at the end of 2014, Ingall raced for HRT at Sandown and Bathurst last year while switching to Prodrive for the Gold Coast round. Kelly has been performing well and is hoping that his combined experience with Ingall will net them a good result in the long races. 7/10

#17 DJR Team Penske
Scott Pye will drive in his last Enduro Cup campaign as a full-time driver for DJR Team Penske with Tony D’Alberto. Pye has been driving for the team for three years, so far managing two cage-rattling crashes at Bathurst. He was on track for a good result last year with Marcos Ambrose when a mechanical failure put him in to the wall at the top of the Mountain. D’Alberto retired from full-time Supercars racing a few seasons back but still gets around in the Australian GT championship. A good result is on the cards as Pye looks to prove that he deserves a full-time seat in Supercars. 7/10

#18 Preston Hire Racing
Lee Holdsworth is stepping back into the seat of car #18 after a crash at Darwin sidelined him for three months. His co-driver, Karl Reindler filled in for Holdsworth in his absence at the Sydney Motorsport Park round. Both drivers have enduro experience though Holdsworth has had his share of bad luck in the past with two crashes at Sandown and Bathurst marring his campaign in 2014. Holdsworth’s determination to retain his seat for 2017 plus Reindler’s experience could see the Triple Eight built #18 machine perform well. 7/10

#19 Team Darrell Lea STIX
Tekno will yet again put team boss Jono Webb in the co-driver role, giving full-time driver Will Davison a fighting chance at taking out the Cup. Davison has always been fast and consistent; with Webb and a Triple Eight chassis they are in with a chance to fight at the front. Erebus failed to deliver strong results for Davison and Webb’s heartbreak at missing out on winning Bathurst in 2014 mean that the pair are sure to crack the top five if the cards fall their way. 8/10

#21 Team CoolDrive
Tim Blanchard will mark his first Enduro Cup start with Brad Jones Racing by being partnered with the boss’s son, Macaulay Jones. Blanchard’s endurance campaign is with his third team in four years, previously driving for DJR and LDM. Less than stellar results this year mean his seat is on the line and Jones, looking to step up from the Dunlop Series, could be the one to take it. Young Jones drove well last year with Dale Wood though the lack of overall pace could see them struggle throughout the three rounds. 4/10

#22 Holden Racing Team
James Courtney will hopefully make the start of his first full Enduro Cup campaign since 2014 after being sidelined due to injury last year. Back with him is young Jack Perkins who did a great job of steering the #22 at Sandown and Bathurst as the “main driver” last year, being rewarded with his first Supercars victory at the Gold Coast. The win was emotional for both drivers, being Perkins’s first ever and Courtney’s only one race back from injury. Despite the lack of speed from the HRT squad this year, they can still put in a good result if they keep it straight. 7.5/10

#23 Nismo Australia
Michael Caruso and Dean Fiore are back together as the pocket rockets aim to take out endurance glory. After Caruso won his first race for Nissan in Darwin this year, he’s shown good speed in the Altima. This, combined with his aggressive but fast driving style, mean that they could be an outside chance to cause an upset at the front of the pack. The two get along well and have experience together, a dream for many team managers. 7.5/10

#33 Wilson Security Racing GRM
Scott McLaughlin is going to make his last Enduro Cup start with Volvo this year, the team opting to pair him with 2015 team-mate David Wall. McLaughlin showed in the last two years that he is strong in the longer races, especially at Bathurst, although bad luck hampered his previous campaigns. Wall is a consistent driver who has been in the sport for a good amount of time, though he was the only driver in 2015 not to score a top 10 result, something that may have been a factor in GRM’s decision to let him go. 7.5/10

#34 Wilson Security Racing GRM
James Moffat has had an average debut for Volvo, producing good drives but not the results he or the team were after. GRM will partner him with their up-and-coming Dunlop Series driver, James Golding. The team took a few weeks to announce the pairing, stating a few weeks ago that Wall and Golding would be their endurance drivers but not announcing who they would pair with. The decision to put Moffat and Golding together gives the young gun a chance to prove his worth while not being in the championship fight. 6.5/10

#55 SuperCheap Auto Racing
Chaz Mostert will make his Enduro Cup return this year with Steve Owen, a veteran racer who has driven for Prodrive for a number of years. After crashing out in qualifying for the 1000 last year, Mostert was unable to take part in the race and Gold Coast, leaving business unresolved. Owen did a sub-par job as co-driver for Winterbottom, but the team hopes that he will provide stability in the longer races. Mostert will be looking for his second Bathurst win after the miracle that he and Paul Morris produced in 2014. 8/10

#88 Red Bull Racing Australia
Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell have always been the pair to beat and this year should be no different. Despite amazingly never winning  Bathurst in the COTF generation, they have always showed at the top of the timesheets and won the Enduro Cup in 2014. Dumbrell is as fast as any main-game driver and Whincup is a six-time champion for a reason. Dumbrell, however, will be hoping not to let down the team for the third straight year at Bathurst after blunders in the past two installments of the Great Race saw his decisions cost the team victory. 9.5/10

#96 GB Galvanizing Racing
Dale Wood and David Russell will be a fresh pairing this year as Wood makes his first endurance start for Nissan. Russell has been a co-driver for the squad for a few years now, getting his first podium at the Gold Coast last year, while Wood battles to retain his seat going in to 2017. Wood’s desperation to remain in the series could either produce a miracle or a failure, though Russell seemingly has no pressure to perform so could net them a few consistent finishes. 5/10

#97 Red Bull Racing Australia
Shane van Gisbergen has taken a gamble in his first year with Triple Eight by picking popular Frenchman Alex Prémat as his co-driver. Though Prémat has no seat time in the Commodore (since losing his seat with Garry Rogers Motorsport at the end of 2013), he has proven in the last couple of years to be one of the top five co-drivers when it comes to the endurance races. Van Gisbergen will be out to get a Bathurst victory after the heartbreak of 2014 and disappointing finish of 2015. 8.5/10

#111 Super Black Racing
Chris Pither will be making his full-time debut in the Enduro Cup this year after previously racing at Bathurst and Sandown with many teams. He’ll be joined by Richie Stanaway, making his maiden appearance in Supercars at Sandown, but bringing plenty of experience with him. Stanaway is currently racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship and last year won two races in the GP2 series. Pither scored a pole position at Ipswich and will be hoping that Stanaway’s endurance racing experience can net them a good result. 6.5/10

#222 Repair Management Australia
Nick Percat was initially to be reunited with Brit Oliver Gavin, but will now team up with former CAMS development general manager Cameron McConville after Gavin’s commitments with his Corvette Racing team in the States couldn’t be ignored. While Percat has won a race this year, his luck has been down recently, something he’ll be wanting to turn around soon. McConville returns to the championship after four years away, but the 42-year-old has kept himself race sharp with recent outings in Australian GT and the Toyota 86 Racing Series.6/10

#888 TeamVortex
Craig Lowndes is aiming at taking out a second Enduro Cup and a seventh Bathurst 1000 as he yet again teams up with Steven Richards. The endurance rounds are always known as “Lowndes time” as he shines in the longer races, and Richards is no slouch either, previously winning four Bathurst races, including last year’s event with Lowndes. This year, they could dominate the whole campaign with Lowndes not having to double-stack with Whincup. With the genius strategies of Ludo Lucroix behind them, we could see them come close to sweeping all of the races. 9/10

The Pirtek Enduro Cup field will be boosted at the Bathurst 1000 with a single Nissan Motorsport-run wildcard for Simona de Silvestro and Renee Gracie.

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