This is the first exclusive Supercars.com column by Supercars Hall of Famer Craig Lowndes. Seven-time Bathurst winner Lowndes will preview each round of the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship from his own perspective, starting with this weekend’s Thrifty Newcastle 500.
After nearly three months, Supercars is back — and what a stunning place to kick off the new era!
The Thrifty Newcastle 500 is a great event to write the next chapter of Supercars racing — we haven’t had as big a shift in a race car since the ‘90s.
There’s no form guide — it’s a weekend of unknowns. Yes, Shane van Gisbergen is the defending champion, but the new car draws a line in the sand for all drivers and teams.
Two 95-lap races around such a demanding circuit offers many different outcomes to start the season. Some drivers will be conservative and will be thinking about the championship already. It’s never too early to think about the championship — every point is crucial, and throwing them away first-up will make for a long season.
Given the new cars, teams will be hoping drivers will be cautious early in the weekend — there are limited spares, and the races are long. You don’t want to carry a damaged car into a weekend with two 95-lap races.
The Newcastle circuit is a massive challenge for drivers and cars. There’s no time to relax — it’s only 2.6km, but fatigue will set in before 95 laps are up. Drivers are also coming out of the Christmas break, so their race fitness will be put to the test immediately in cars that are harder to drive.
Temperatures will be up on Saturday and there is a chance of rain on Sunday, so drivers will have their work cut out for them. — Keeping core temperature down on Saturday will be crucial to be able to back it up on Sunday. It’s a big test, and testament as to why these are some of the best touring car drivers in the world.
Like most street tracks, you need a car in Newcastle that has great braking stability and traction out of corners. Street tracks are all about a driver’s confidence. They’re bumpy, there are manholes, white lanes, pedestrian crossings, the crowning of the road. There are so many things that run through a driver’s mind, like where to brake, how many different track surfaces there are, where the surfaces are.
Add to that, it’s a circuit we haven’t been to in over three years — so for many drivers, it’s going to be a new experience and an all new level of intensity.
Personally, I really enjoy the circuit. It’s fast, it’s scenic, it’s difficult. It holds a special place in my heart, given it was the site of my final full-time start — but once you’re in the car, there’s nowhere to hide.
Every corner has its challenges, but you can pull off overtakes — but again, you need bucketloads of confidence, both in yourself and in your car.
Once you fire out of Turn 2, you’re snaking down the coastline with limited passing opportunities until you get to Turn 8. That becomes an even greater challenge by how narrow the track is, and how close the concrete walls are on either side. There is no margin for error —anywhere.
Pulling off moves at Turn 8 or the Turn 11 hairpin, for example, definitely have their risks and rewards. Once you commit to an overtake, you’ve committed — there’s no turning back. We’ve seen some fantastic moves there in the past — Scotty Pye on Jamie Whincup comes to mind — but it can also go pear-shaped very quickly.
If you want to make a lunge into Turn 8, you almost have to set the overtake up three corners earlier to get the momentum you need to get down the inside. It’s all second gear through there, so you need to be committed once you do commit.
I always loved the run down into the hairpin. It’s fast, it’s bumpy, and you can set up a big dive into the right-hander. At Turn 11, you have to have faith in your car should you commit to an overtake. There’s no room for 50-50 overtakes here. If you lock the inside tyre, you’ll either run wide, or run into your rival.
As the races wear on, there will be disparities in tyres and fuel loads, so strategy will also play a role in a driver’s willingness to press on. A car on a good tyre will be very hard to defend into Turn 11, so expect fireworks.
The new Gen3 cars look amazing, and they sound amazing — but in races, they’ll be a different beast. These cars move around more, and they’re an incredible spectacle.
The new evolution Supercar reminds me of the late 90s. Where racing was very physical and you needed to physically muscle the car.
It's like we are going back to old school racing and it will be a test for many.
I’m very excited to see how our drivers grapple this new challenge. Think of Shane, Cam Waters, Chaz Mostert, Brodie Kostecki — these guys will make these cars dance.
I also believe the older heads — like Will Davison, James Courtney and Mark Winterbottom — will adapt very quickly, and will be a force. These guys are from an era where the cars had less downforce, so expect your Davos and Frostys to adapt very quickly and make a splash.
What’s best of all, like I said, is that there is no form guide. Who knows what’s going to happen? The Sydney pre-season test saw Andre Heimgartner and Brad Jones Racing fly out of the blocks. BJR was impressive from the get-go when the Car of the Future debuted in 2013. BJR also typically rolls out quick cars at street circuits, so I’m keen to see what they achieve this weekend.
No doubt the leading teams like Red Bull Ampol Racing, Shell V-Power Racing Team and Tickford Racing will be a feature at the front — if not this weekend, then down the line. Then, there’s Walkinshaw Andretti United, which makes its first starts for the Blue Oval.
It’s going to be an incredible weekend, and I can’t wait!