It was a welcome return to form for some at the Tasmania SuperSprint, while for others leaving the Symmons Plains circuit was a welcome relief!…
Another year visiting the Apple Isle saw this year’s Supercars championship action heat up. At one of the oldest and fastest tracks on the calendar, the action promised to be good and didn’t fail to deliver with the new qualifying format making every moment count, from the first session on Friday right up until the finish on Sunday.
While it was the “evil empire” team of Supercars which seemingly dominated the Tasmania SuperSprint weekend, a few roadblocks were thrown in their way as the championship standings were shaken up over the two races.
- Craig Lowndes wound back the clock and secured the round victory in Tasmania thanks to a second place and a win in the 120km and 200km races respectively. The evergreen racer showed that he’s still got speed in his 22nd season. A rocket start on Saturday saw him eventually ending up in second, his best result for quite some time. But he went one better on Sunday, taking pole position for the first time since 2015 and then going on to dominate proceedings. Winning his 106th Supercars race the 43-year-old broke a drought which went back to the middle of 2016. A combination of the 2016-spec Dunlop tyres as well as the new ZB Commodore has rejuvenated the three-time champion and Lowndes now sits sixth in the points, only 61 shy of the title lead.
- Jamie Whincup continued his relentless assault towards a possible eighth championship thanks to two great drives over the weekend. Race one saw him qualify second but make the best of a long first stint, capitalising on good tyre life to win his 110th race and claw back valuable points in the title race after a DNF from the lead in Adelaide. Another front row start in Sunday’s 200km race was decent though he dropped one spot by the end, having to hold off James Courtney for the final podium spot. The strong results as well as mechanical dramas for his team-mate Shane van Gisbergen means the defending champion is now head of the points table, albeit mere 11 points clear of his nearest rivals.
- James Courtney proved the speed of his Walkinshaw Andretti United machine, as one of the most consistent drivers at the Tasmanian round. Starting from fifth on Saturday, the 2010 series champion nabbed the final podium spot after flexing his Commodore’s muscles and capitalising on the diminishing pace of his rivals. Sunday saw him again improve on his qualifying position, starting seventh and making good strategy plays to end up fourth, just missing out on getting the silverware despite good pace towards the end of the race. Remarkably, after finishing out of the top 20 in last year’s championship, he now looks very handy in fourth place, just 34 points off the lead.
- Tickford Racing endured a horror weekend at a track they usually do well at with only one of their drivers finishing in the top ten across the two races. Poor qualifying hurt the ex-Ford factory squad with Cam Waters the best qualifer on Saturday, down in a lowly 13th place. Incidents for him, Richie Stanaway and Chaz Mostert in the opening race meant the three occupied the last three positions on the scoring sheets at race end, while Mark Winterbottom could only manage 14th. Sunday showed minor improvements with Mostert bringing home the #55 in tenth but struggling to fight throughout the race. Better results came for Winterbottom and Waters as the pair finished 12th and 13th respectively, but Stanaway’s weekend somehow got worse, being taken out on the opening lap. If looks could kill, team boss Tim Edwards would be a mass murderer. The team really need to pick up the pieces and regroup before the next race at Phillip Island.
- Shane van Gisbergen came to Symmons Plains as the leader of the championship but leaves down in fifth place, two less than average results hampering his bid for a second title. After taking his third pole position for the year on Saturday, a very early pit stop on lap five mixed with unexpected tyre degradation saw him slip back through the pack. Over the 50 lap sprint, he struggled to sixth at the finish as his team-mate took the win. Things didn’t improve on Sunday after he was forced to come in for lengthy repairs due to a throttle over-run drama, making him struggle to slow the car down on one of the biggest tracks for braking in the year. While he has shown good pace, the team will need to sort out their errors to give the Kiwi a shot at his second championship.
- Todd Hazelwood has so far endured a tough initiation to the Supercars main game series with very average results over the weekend. The reigning Super2 champion may have Scott McLaughlin’s chassis from last year underneath him, but he has so far not been able to rack up a good result. While all of the rookies have been struggling, Hazelwood was only able to crack the top 20 once at Symmons Plains and even then it was close. Race one saw him qualify 22nd and finish in 21st while Sunday saw him start from 21st and bring the car home in 20th. Both instances saw him only finish higher due to other cars failing to finish. While he did bring the car home, he’ll want to start finishing a lot higher up the order as he and his Matt Stone Racing team come to grips with the competitiveness of the main game.
Next up it’s another Grand Prix circuit, this time at the gateway to hypothermia, Phillip Island. After numerous tyre blowouts plagued last year’s race, the decision to revert to Dunlop’s 2016 tyre this year will hopefully provide incident-free racing. The action will kick off on the 20th of April with races on the 21st and 22nd.