There are seventh places in Supercars races that don’t mean a lot and there are seventh places that do. Lee Holdsworth and Karl Reindler’s seventh place for Preston Hire Racing on Sunday on the Gold Coast was definitely one of the latter.
Even if it had a drama-free season Charlie Schwerkolt’s rookie team would have been up against it this year given its late formation and small staff numbers.
But to have its lead driver seriously injured and a car wrecked mid-season was an incredibly onerous added burden to overcome. Then to have an obviously competitive car in the Pirtek Enduro Cup only to be unable to post a result at Sandown, Bathurst or the Saturday of Gold Coast was devastating.
Last Sunday an overdue result was achieved and hopefully a corner turned. The hard work this team has put in certainly deserves better results than it has got so far this year. It would be great to see Lee up there on the podium real soon spraying champagne.
2. SvG and Premat benchmark
This has been an incredible Pirtek Enduro Cup, full of great racing, intrigue, drama and controversy.
The wins were shared between four different crews – you can’t be more even than that – although only six pairings actually managed to take the 12 opportunities to get on the podium.
Shane van Gisbergen and Alex Premat were the undoubted benchmark and deserving winners with their 2-2-1-2 record.
Van Gisbergen displayed remarkable speed, maturity and poise throughout the mini-championship, defying stacking at Sandown and Bathurst, a 10 second penalty on Saturday on the Gold Coast and a double redress (one ordered by the officials and one mistakenly by the team) on Sunday.
At times on the Gold Coast his driving was other-worldly, setting a time 0.5 sec fastest than anyone else on Saturday.
If he does win the championship, then this four race display of concerted speed and consistency will be crucial in achieving it.
Out of the car he is emerging from his shell bit-by-bit, even showing the occasional sign of enjoying the post-race press conferences. Why not, he’s getting plenty of practise at them!
On Sunday he used the presser to call on Premat’s critics to follow Russell Ingall’s example and apologise for questioning he would be up to the job.
Rather than the weak link, Premat proved to be a secret weapon, out-performing his in-house Triple Eight rivals Paul Dumbrell and Steven Richards across the four races.
So as one of those ‘armchair critics’ who questioned whether Premat was the right choice I’m more than happy to do so. Sorry to have doubted you Alex, look forward to seeing you next year.
On the Gold Coast Triple Eight demonstrated why it is the benchmark operation, the Red Bull Commodores displaying an incredible ability to ride the kerbs, land smoothly and put the power down with unmatchable traction.
It’s a tough combination to get right, one that requires design and engineering brains and quality in-depth.
There were rivals walking the pitlane simply stunned by the prowess of the Red Bulls after Sunday’s 1-2. A couple of Falcon drivers were comparing notes and simply shaking their heads at what they had seen the Banyo Commodores do.
David Reynolds claiming his third in Sunday qualifying was as good as pole, comparing the gap between the Red Bulls and the rest of the field to the dominance displayed by Mercedes in Formula One.
The difficult technical nature of the course exacerbates this operation’s strengths, but the ability of the Red Bull Commodores – and more generally the T8RE-built cars (four in the top five in the Pirtek Enduro Cup) – to perform across a wide variety of track layouts marks them apart from the rest of the field.
4. Falcon hell
The performance of the Red Bull Holden Commodores – and also to some extent the #33 Volvo of Scott McLaughlin and David Wall – at Gold Coast emphasised the struggle for competitiveness of the Prodrive Racing Australia Falcons.
Mark Winterbottom and Dean Canto gave it a great shot, extracting the very best they could from The Bottle-O Falcon, while Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen also were also charging along in the top 10. But they were never threats to actually win the races on pure speed.
An examination of the season to date tells the story. Between four cars the Ford team has produced just one win in 2016 (Winterbottom in WA in May). In the 2015 season it amassed 16 wins between Winterbottom, Mostert and David Reynolds. To rub salt into the would Winterbottom’s title defence officially pancaked on the Gold Coast as he dropped 673 points off SvG’s pace with 600 points left to be won.
The increased use of soft tyres in 2016 has worked against the team’s Falcons. The DJR Team Penske Fords have had the same gripping issues. No doubt, at the same time Triple Eight made a step forward in speed around mid-season which exacerbated PRA’s situation.
There’s another factor worth considering too and that’s the driving roster for 2016. Last year there were three drivers running hard at the front of the championship. In 2016 Reynolds has departed and the other two have been split up into separate garages with rookie team-mates. Has that had an impact on the competitive edge that often drives team-mates and therefore teams along?
PRA’s season is finishing in a somewhat ragged way, thanks to several bent and broken cars through the Pirtek Enduro Cup and the mechanical issues encountered by Mostert and Winterbottom at Bathurst. No-one would be more conscious of this than the team’s brain trust and there will already be steps in place to arrest this decline.
5. DJR Team Penske
While we’re on the Fords, the domination of the Red Bull Holdens on the Gold Coast and T8’s sweeping teams’ championship win, drivers’ championship lead and Pirtek Enduro Cup win emphasises just how much we need DJR Team Penske to continue its progress and be championship contenders in 2017.
It’s a big ask for a team yet to show consistent competitiveness or win a race – although back on the hard tyre at Pukekohe they are a chance remembering Scott Pye claimed a podium here in 2015 – but there’s no doubting the quality of the personnel the team has amassed, the resources at their disposal and that Scott McLaughlin will be a huge asset next year.
Roger Penske and Tim Cindric own and oversee teams that are race and championship winners and that’s the expectation they have for their new Supercars operation.
T8 has great drivers, a stable workforce, smart people in pitlane, quality machinery, a big budget spent wisely and a leader who has to be respected for his unwavering focus on best practice and performance.
Hopefully, Penske is in the process of ticking all those boxes.
6. That crash
The Saturday contact between Fabian Coulthard and Garth Tander that wrecked the sellmycar Falcon certainly put the pressure on DJR Team Penske’s crew and with the help of Pace Innovations they responded magnificently to have the car repaired and back on the grid for the Sunday race.
There’s no question that Tander was at fault in this clash. Some have contended that Coulthard was blocking, but he was doing little more than taking his natural line for the sweeper after a solid hit slowed his straightline drive.
To his credit, Coulthard’s post-accident response was calm and measured. After some reflection so was GT’s, who ended up taking responsibility and expressing genuine remorse for the damage inflicted and the additional workload created.
The real villains in all this? The social media reptiles with their poisonous post-crash commentary.
To his credit Scotty McLaughlin remains as committed and hard-charging as ever as the end of his four-year stint in the championship with Garry Rogers Motorsport nears its end.
That Sunday pass on Mark Winterbottom was spectacular and risky and exactly the sort of thing that should be happening in Supercars – just like Whincup’s pass on him at Bathurst … funny to see Scotty having a dig at Whincup at the Sunday presser about passing moves.
We want these guys to pass and re-pass each other rather than taking each other out. They should be banging into each other, rubbing panels and all the rest of it, but if they can avoid dumping each other into the concrete that would be preferred.
Having said that, it is a real high-wire act balancing to provide the action without the carnage. They’re racing for sheep stations in the heat of the moment so there is always going to be dramas, mangled metal and controversy. It wouldn’t be Supercars racing otherwise.
We ended up with most co-drivers doing most laps in most cars across the two races at the Gold Coast last weekend. Considering the fans pay to see the main drivers perform, is that a positive trend?
Maybe make it a requirement that primary drivers have to start the race, or complete two third distance?
If a rule like that was introduced for all enduros it would also serve the purpose of shaking up the strategy norms for the teams, remembering there is a bunch of smart engineers and strategists along pitlane who inevitably coalesce onto the fastest race plan over time. Changing the rules changes the mindset.
If, however, there is no change to co-driver limits then at least give them more time in the cars during practice on the Gold Coast. It’s a tough track and for 2016 their exclusive 30 minute sessions were chopped from two to one.
The ninth item…
Nick Percat’s move to Brad Jones Racing continues a tradition for the Albury team of resurrecting former Walkinshaw Racing drivers. If you trace a long way back, Brad himself had a stint driving for Tom Walkinshaw and the Holden Racing Team, but more recently there’s been Jason Bright (who Percat replaces), Fabian Coulthard and fellow South Aussie Tim Slade. All have been race winners at BJR and there’s no reason Nick won’t be as well. He’s in his prime, super-talented and as hungry as hell.