Battles to watch at Sydney NRMA 500

  • 02/12/2014
  • By V8 Supercars
  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship

Jamie Whincup and Red Bull Racing Australia will secure the Championship title for 2014 in Sydney, but there are still many battles left to unfold at the Sydney NRMA 500.

Drivers have set their sights on achieving the best possible finish, and with Red Bull taking on rivals FPR for second place, with Mark Winterbottom looking to stop Craig Lowndes from securing the fourth consecutive Whincup-Lowndes 1-2 in the Championship.

Young guns Scott McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert both have their eyes on a top five finish, with Nick Percat, in his first full-time year, similarly hoping to crack the top 10.

For McLaughlin there is also another prestigious result worth fighting for - the ARMOR ALL Pole Award, which he trails by one from Whincup.

Throw in a returning two-time champ, who will have all of DJR's best resources dedicated to his Xbox wild card entry, a long list of drivers looking to record their first win of the year and some separated by single-digit points - and the fight will be well and truly on as 26 V8 Supercars tear around the savage Sydney streets.

Seventy-five points will be awarded for a win in each of Saturday's races, and 150 for the Sunday victory - so there are still 300 on offer. And remember, any bad behaviour could be punished with a points deduction.

Top two

Craig Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom will both be pushing for that second place finish. Winterbottom was beaten out last year by not just Lowndes, but then-teammate Will Davison in the final round, with all four drivers having been in Championship contention up until that last event.

'Frosty' will be looking to upset Red Bull and stop the 1-2 run the team has achieved over the past three years.

After Phillip Island, the two are separated by 95 points, which means the tables could be turned on Saturday.

Shane van Gisbergen could also buy into the battle, 134 behind Winterbottom and just 39 behind Lowndes.

The Kiwi has proven quick across the last few races, but wasn't the strong force some may have expected at Phillip Island after a qualifying incident with Fabian Coulthard curtailed his Saturday qualifying.

Fifth-placed fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin is too far away to crack the top two.

Top five

Both McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert have been outspoken about finishing within the top five in their second V8 Supercars seasons, and first years in factory teams.

McLaughlin jumped Fabian Coulthard with his Sunday win at Phillip Island, but there's an angry pack behind him, with fifth to eighth separated by just 30 points.

Coulthard is 15 adrift, with Mostert 22behind McLaughlin and seven behind Coulthard.

James Courtney will also be able to buy into the battle, 30 points away from McLaughlin and the only one of the four to have recorded a win on the Sydney street circuit.

Garth Tander could also mathematically jump as high as fifth with a gap of 231 points to fifth-placed McLaughlin - but 201 points behind his HRT teammate, Tander would need a strong showing to jump up in the standings.

Top 10

Stablemate Nick Percat is one who hopes to finish in the top 10 after a strong second half of the season, including a Bathurst podium and second place finish in the 200km run at Sydney Motorsport Park.

However, he's not the only one with Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso pushing to have Nissan represented in that top group - both are 14th and 10th respectively.

The gap from Caruso to Kelly is 145 points, with Will Davison also in that bunch, 11th and 82 points away.

Percat is only eight points behind Davison - therefore 90 points from 10th - with Jason Bright 51 away from Percat on 1734, and Kelly four behind him with 1730.

Fifteenth to 17th are also tight, with Scott Pye (1626) just four points ahead of David Reynolds, and James Moffat 13 points away from the Bottle-O racer.

With such tight gaps, expect changes through the mid-part of the field across the weekend - no doubt these guys will be pushing to edge ahead of their competitors.

Fight for pole

The ARMOR ALL Pole Award is still wide open, with three more p1 starts across the Sydney NRMA 500 - and one that must be earned with a Top 10 Shootout lap.

Whincup edged ahead of McLaughlin at Phillip Island, and now holds 10 first-place qualifying results, compared to the young Kiwi's nine.

Whincup has only earned pole at Sydney Olympic Park once, though, and McLaughlin had not achieved a career pole position until earlier this year - which would make the award even sweeter.

Across the 35 races staged this year, the two have 19 poles between them (next competitor Craig Lowndes has five to his name for 2014).

They have started alongside one another on the front row in six Championship races this year, and while Whincup said at the Australian Grand Prix he didn't expect McLaughlin to be a frequent competitor this season, he has definitely laid down a challenge in the qualifying stakes, if not the Championship this time around.

New winner for 2014?

Last year we saw 17 different race winners across the season, and this time around there have been 14 ahead of the final three runs.

It's no wonder Whincup has an unassailable points margin with 12 wins to his name, with Shane van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin and Mark Winterbottom all with four apiece.

Craig Lowndes sits on three with Chaz Mostert, Paul Dumbrell (Whincup's co-driver) and James Courtney on two.

Those with one victory are Lee Holdsworth, Garth Tander, Jonathon Webb (van Gisbergen's co-driver), Jason Bright, Paul Morris (Mostert's co-driver and Bathurst winner) and Fabian Coulthard.

That means there are 11 main game drivers - 12, if you include Ambrose - still looking for a victory this year.

Of those, drivers who won last year and are yet to repeat are David Reynolds and Will Davison (before switching to Erebus).

Will we see a different winner this time around? Nick Percat, James Moffat, Dale Wood, Michael Caruso and Tim Slade have all stood on the podium in 2014 - could we see one of them victorious in Sydney?

Ambrose as the wild card

Possibly the biggest question heading into the event - how will the returning two-time V8 Supercars Champion go in the DJR wild card entry?

With DJR throwing everything it has at the entry to prepare Ambrose for his first racing miles, including the team's most experienced staff, the hit-out should prove valuable ahead of the 2015 season, where he will be racing for points and looking to boost the team's Championship results.

In true form, he finished his final race in a V8 Supercar at Phillip Island in 2005, crossing the line first. And on debut in 2001 at the Australian Grand Prix he threw his Stone Brothers Racing Falcon on pole position - so what does he have for us this time around in the new generation Falcon?

Stay tuned to the Sydney NRMA 500 from December 5-7 to see how the 2014 season shapes up and how your favourite goes in the Championship fight.

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