Records set to tumble
- By Kassie Gadeke - Ben Nightingale
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Jamie Whincup is certain his qualifying lap record around Pukekohe Park Raceway will fall today as the V8 Supercars hit the circuit for the first time on soft tyres.
The Red Bull racer recorded his 1min02.5597 in 2013 on Dunlop hard tyres and expects that to be lowered by almost a second when the Supercars qualify on the soft tyre today.
"We've had reasonable pace here in the past - no doubt this weekend the lap record will go this weekend on soft tyres," Whincup told v8supercars.com.au.
"It's a short circuit, most of it is straights, so seven-tenths [quicker]," he predicted.
Used tyres cannot be brought into New Zealand, so practice times were all set on new hard tyres yesterday.
Today's second qualifying session is the first opportunity to run on soft tyres - teams will need to extrapolate with information from other circuits.
Championship leader Mark Winterbottom believes it will be a challenge for the teams.
"It's interesting because this track is very hard on tyres - so will be interesting to see what the soft tyre does," Winterbottom said.
"We don't get a soft tyre until qualifying, so it's going to be quick - but at the same time it's a high degradation, high chance of tyre delamination, high risk track.
"So we'll see good times but could also see people pushing over the edge and seeing a quick time then no time."
Winterbottom emphasised how critical Saturday's sessions will be in managing soft tyre use during Sunday's 200km mixed tyre race.
"It's going to make an interesting race Saturday afternoon and that'll give us the test for Sunday - to see what the tyre life and stuff is like, tyre wear, but Saturday is going to be probably the toughest outing you're ever going to have on soft tyres because it's unknown."
Pukekohe was arguably Winterbottom's most dominant circuit last year, taking two of the four wins and the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy, awarded to the driver who earns the most points across the weekend's three races.
The Championship leader has been relaxed heading into the weekend and finished second yesterday, with quick Kiwi Scott McLaughlin taking the top spot.
McLaughlin holds the race lap record, a 1min03.7296, and went under that with his 1min03.16sec on hards yesterday.
The 2013 race winner at Puekohe said it was hard to say how low they'll go, but predicted a 'low two'.
"You know as much as me - I've got no idea," McLaughlin said when asked how long the softs should last around the circuit.
"It's one of those things where we've just got to manage it the way we normally do at other tracks. This track is very abrasive in some parts and new in the others, so Saturday is going to be a dead-set experiment for Sunday."
McLaughlin is keen for another win at home, Winterbottom wants to extend his Championship lead over Craig Lowndes (who was right behind him, third quickest yesterday) and Whincup is just hoping to return to the winners circle.
"I think we're as good a shot as anyone," Whincup said.
"The cars are as good as any other car out there, it will just come down to the job we do on the weekend."
While the drivers are all full-throttle for a win, the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy is a sweetener for the one able to earn the most points across the weekend's three races.
"I'd like to think I go as hard as I can every race meeting, but it's certainly nice to have such a prestige award up for grabs this weekend in the JR Memorial Trophy," said Whincup, who finished second at Bathurst with the late great Richards in 2005.
"So we're all going to be going pretty hard."