A 'unique' challenge: unpacking the tricky Tailem Bend circuit
Repco Supercars Championship
By James Pavey
This weekend’s OTR SuperSprint marks a critical juncture in the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship, with drivers and teams set to tackle the technical Tailem Bend layout.
Between 2018 and 2020, only three teams have shared the 10 races held at The Bend Motorsport, with the Shell V-Power Racing Team leading the day with six victories.
At 4.95km, Tailem Bend’s International Circuit is the second-longest lap of the season, behind Mount Panorama (6.213km) and ahead of Sydney Motorsport Park (3.93km).
For all the rumblings about which teams will hit the front, The Bend’s long International Circuit lap rewards good race pace.
On the other side, regarding poor race pace, The Bend can almost make or break a season; just ask Scott McLaughlin in 2018.
WATCH: MANIC MOMENTS AT THE BEND
Notably, Team 18’s Scott Pye gained 14 positions across the six races at the venue in 2020, a statistic made even more remarkable considering he lost 10 positions in the opening two races of the second event.
"Our race pace last year at The Bend was pretty good, we made some good progress and managed to pass plenty of cars which was a bit of a trend for our car last year, so hopefully we go back with much of the same,” Pye said.
"It is a place that you can get some overtaking done, the circuit layout we race on has the long right-hander at Turns 7-8-9-10 which is a really fast part of the track with lots of load going through the wheel and the car. It’s a place where if you have a good race car you can maximise it there.
"We had good car speed but for us to go a bit quicker than we did last year we want to improve on our braking stability and that in-turn helps the front-end as well to get the nose into the corner, braking all the way in and keeping the weight of the car on the front helps to go faster around there.
"The racing there has been pretty good in the past, we have seen some cars clear off into the distance so we’re hoping that’s not the case this year, but certainly with the big lap it does tend to bring that big field spread.”
"It’s a place where if you have a good race car you can maximise it"
The circuit layout is characterised by a smooth surface but also long-radius, high-load corners.
After a benign first two visits, the action exploded in 2020 with two high-profile first-lap incidents, the Race 25 drama between Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup lighting the spark for the most dramatic race of the season.
It puts a high price on qualifying, with drivers enjoying a greater understanding of how to attack the circuit after four visits to the venue.
That puts the pressure on Brad Jones Racing, which has battled with one-lap pace dramas for the balance of the 2021 campaign.
BJR drivers Todd Hazelwood and Nick Percat, however, have made the most gains of any drivers this season, although team owner Jones acknowledged that it could be better should the team find its feet in qualifying.
WATCH: HEIMGARTNER’S EPIC OVERTAKE
Race pace is one thing, but looking after tyres is another; last year, Percat made up 14 places in five races, yet tyre life dramas in the first Tailem Bend finale cost him 12 positions in one race alone.
“We’ve been struggling in qualy, that’s clear,” Jones told Supercars.com.
“But the race pace has been very strong.
“We’re going to a circuit that, usually, we’re pretty good at.
“We feel like we’ve identified a couple of things, but we need to fix it up.
WATCH: CRAZY FIRST-LAP TANGLE
“We aren’t struggling much at all in terms of speed in the races, but we haven’t been able to get gains in qualy.
“Everyone here is working flat out on it, so I’m excited to get to The Bend and see if we’ve made any progress.”
The isolated nature of the venue also leaves the circuit susceptible to sand and dust to be blown onto the track surface, making for trying track conditions.
“I think The Bend will be a good challenge for us, in 2019 we had great results there with a fourth in the first race, but last year we had a tough run there at the double-header,” Team 18’s Mark Winterbottom said.
“It is going to be a test for us, so if we can come through with a quick car, achieve some good results and improve on our weaknesses from last time, it’ll be a good gain for the team.
“It’s a very unique track and weather conditions can play a big part"
“The Bend is a great track and the international configuration we race on, that triple right-hander is one of the best corners on the calendar.
“It’s a very unique track and weather conditions can play a big part. It’s very open and so the wind and dust can have a massive influence on the track surface.”
Few circuits, if any, challenge drivers and teams alike with regards to set-up; those who can balance speed and tyre life will be ones to watch.