While there’s been plenty of focus on newcomer Chaz Mostert, his Dick Johnson Racing teammate Tim Blanchard continues to plug away in the #17 Wilson Security Ford Falcon.
Though Blanchard sits 25th in the Championship, he felt there had been a big improvement at the last event, the Coates Hire Ipswich 360.
“The car’s a lot better and was a lot more competitive – things are starting to turn around,” the 26-year old told v8supercars.com.au.
“It’s been a fair bit of a struggle, to be honest … the start of the year was pretty shaky with the position DJR was in. We started a long way back and I’m feeling like we’re now in the position everyone else was at the beginning of the year.”
How is it for Blanchard having young gun Mostert join the team and subsequently claim a race victory at just his fifth event?
“It hasn’t made any change from my side,” he said.
“It’s still the same people on my car, nothing’s changed since he’s come on-board.
“It’s not really relevant to me … he’s done a good job and getting results is good for the morale of the team. So it’s good from a team perspective, but from mine, it makes no difference who is driving.”
Blanchard puts the issues the team has suffered down to being a smaller team – but despite that, he is keen to remain with DJR for 2014, with his contract expiring at the end of the season.
“I’d love to stay at Dick Johnson Racing – we’ve been through a fair bit in the last six months or so. Things are coming together, it’s positive and will be an exciting team next year.
“We’ve done the hard yards.”
At the last event, team boss Dick Johnson said Blanchard wasn’t under any pressure at the team. “I think he’s learning an awful lot and as time goes on, I think he will just get better and better,” Johnson told v8supercars.com.au.
“I think Tim’s accepted the fact he has a bit to learn, and given the results he’s had in the past, the guy’s obviously an extremely good driver.”
Given a few tenths of a second determines grid positions, Johnson put average results down to qualifying.
“The cars are tweaked to the point where they’re at their very utmost just to do a couple of laps … unless you qualify well, you’ve really got your back against the wall to get results.”
Blanchard conceded qualifying was a problem and is more than happy with his Falcon’s race pace. He joked he went to the Russell Ingall school of driving – able to gain positions during a race, but not qualify so well.
His best qualifying efforts were at the ITM Auckland 400, where he started from 16th and 22nd in Championship races six and eight. Since then, his best has been 25th on five occasions, including the last three races.
Blanchard’s best race finish this season is 15th, which he achieved in New Zealand (Race Six) and Darwin (Race 19).
“If you look at the race pace, it’s been strong all year, top five or 10. But we’ve been in the bottom five or six in qualifying,” he said.
“It’s frustrating, we can’t unlock qualifying. We’re at the back, racing and charging through the field.”
Blanchard believes a good qualifying result could emulate what teammate Mostert has accomplished.
“In the short races, you haven’t got much opportunity to make places up – it makes it tough. In Ipswich we were 26th and seven tenths (of a second) off pole.
“There’s not many categories in the world where that wouldn’t be around the top 10.”
Given the 60/60 Super Sprint format is running at the Winton 360 this weekend, once again there’s potential for chaos to unfold, as the circuit has limited passing opportunities and short races.
“It’s going to be interesting – it’ll either be processional, or out of control crazy with everyone trying to make up spots on a narrow, twisty track … it will be hard to pass cleanly.”