Five talking points from Sydney test

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 22/02/2017
  • By Lewis Isaacs

On track

1. Rick on a roll

It was a welcome sign at Nissan Motorsport to see Rick Kelly top the times at the end of the day.

After a lean 2016 in which he was largely out-gunner by team-mate Michael Caruso, Kelly opted for a relatively quiet off-season.

He passed on competing in the Bathurst 12 Hour in a Nissan GT-R GT3 and returned from his summer hibernation with a beard that would impress Ned Kelly (no relation).

Kelly’s own driving talents have not been matched by his cars for a number of years, but a change in tyres could sway the advantage back in his favour.

Will 2017 be a renaissance year for Kelly? It’s too early to tell, but winless since 2011, any success for the former champion and two-time Bathurst winner would be well overdue.

On track

2. McLaughlin, Penske make their mark

Most teams left their run on the new Dunlop soft-spec tyres late in the afternoon at Sydney Motorsport Park hoping for cooler track temperatures.

At the end of the rush, the Shell V-Power Racing Team Fords of Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard ended the day second and third respectively.

While it may be too much to read into the times of two flying laps, it’s certainly an encouraging sign going into the season.

What was also telling was how the team interacted in the garage.

The well-presented outfit looked to have gelled immediately with the addition of new competition director Ludo Lacroix and the promotion of Ben Croke to team manager.

It’s a stark difference from the final seasons of Dick Johnson Racing, which notably spent the 2013 pre-season test assembling the single car it sent to Sydney.

On track

3. BJR’s mixed bag

One of the standout performers throughout the test day was Brad Jones Racing – even if it ended early for new recruit Nick Percat.

Freightliner Racing’s Tim Slade was fastest in the morning and amassed 113 laps during the day.

Tim Blanchard showed the car’s potential on the new soft tyre finishing the day in seventh overall (and fastest of his team).

The squad even managed to get Dunlop Super2 Series driver Macauley Jones behind the wheel, with the youngster eligible to race at the track’s SuperSprint round as a wildcard.

There was also some significant positives to draw from Percat’s shortened day.

The South Australian had just completed his fastest lap before his engine stopped, with the hope there was even more speed to come.

Before the majority of teams did their headline runs, BJR was on top for most of the day. That won’t have gone unnoticed by their rivals.

On track

4. Testing times

While several drivers noted that that the new construction Dunlops weren’t quite as dramatic a change as first thought, there’s no doubt that teams have work to do to perfect their cars.

In scenes reminiscent of the introduction of the independent rear-end Next Generation chassis in 2013, balancing grip front-to-rear proved a notable challenge in Sydney.

Watching trackside, the new construction clearly provided an increase in front-grip on turn-in, but perfecting set-ups that keep the rear-end under control will be vital to success in Adelaide.

With just a week until the cars arrive in Adelaide, it will take teams a number of events to get on top of the changes. Until then it’ll be a bit of a wild ride.

On track

5. The quiet achievers

Lost among the headliner grabbing runs was some pretty tidy work by a number of noted Supercars contenders.

Craig Lowndes ran his softs early, then spent the rest of the day working around that. Hence his inconspicuous lap times.

Team-mate Jamie Whincup also ended up down the order due to his test program but, don’t be fooled, expect all three Triple Eight Holdens to be strong in Adelaide.

Mobil1 HSV Racing focused on getting their car right for tracks they have been known to struggle at – as opposed to a place like Adelaide where they have an impressive run of history.

Prodrive ran a fairly diverse program across four cars and despite spending most of the afternoon out of the car, Chaz Mostert still proved to be quick.

Newcomers Alex Rullo and Simona De Silvestro also had trouble free days where they built up some valuable mileage ahead of their debut full-time seasons.

Erebus Motorsport did not manage as much running as its rivals, but ending the day ninth and 10th is encouraging for the squad that is still building up from its transition to Holden in 2016.

Finally, Garry Rogers Motorsport made the most of their outing on the track.

The Melbourne-squad worked tirelessly to build two new Commodores for James Moffat and Garth Tander (in addition to two Dunlop Super 2 Series cars) and did their shakedowns on the day.

It was a big ask and the fact the cars ran reliably is a testament to the team’s efforts.

The opening rounds may be tricky for GRM, but there’s plenty of potential there.

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