Undeterred by his tough rookie V8 Supercars season, Maro Engel is heading into the PIRTEK Enduro Cup with his sights set on top 10 finishes.
The 28-year old German, who will share with Steven Johnson in the Erebus Motorsport SP Tools Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, knows that it is a tough ambition but is excited by the challenge.
“I am really hoping we can spring few surprises,” Engel told v8supercars.com.au.
Top 10 finishes in the Wilson Security Sandown 500, Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and ARMOR ALL Gold Coast 600 would be a surprise considering Engel has managed one top 10 finish all year – ninth in Race 19 at the Skycity Triple Crown – and runs 28th in the Championship.
But Engel has reasons for confidence; he has displayed competitive pace against team-mates Lee Holdsworth and Tim Slade despite having to learn every circuit he visits; having Johnson onboard for his 20th Bathurst 1000 start is helping him short-cut the endurance season learning curve and there is no doubt the E63 AMG is a vastly more competitive proposition now than it was at the start of the season.
“Having Steve onboard is a massive, massive benefit and he will be one of the best – if not the best – co-drivers out there,” said Engel.
“I am very hopeful we will be able to get our chassis working very well for the enduros so we would be aiming to finish in the top 10 in all three events and when you are there, and there are five laps remaining and you are in a good position you will certainly be attacking to get more.”
Engel has spent most of his career sprint racing, although he has a little endurance experience with the AMG Customer Sports team in sports car racing. But he knows the PIRTEK Enduro Cup will be a step up in intensity.
“It’s a part of the year I am really looking forward to even through it is something new to me in my endurance racing career,” Engel said. “These races are so heavily contested you are sprinting for a longer distance really. You need to make sure you sprint, but you are not too hard on the car.”
Engel and Johnson spent a lot of time at the team's recent test day at Ipswich Raceway working on perfecting their driver changes, something that is even more challenging than normal because of the E-cell safety seat in the Benz.
“The E-cell does take away a little bit of space, but for the sake of being a lot safer it’s something I would take any day,” Engel said.
“It does add a little challenge but it is nowhere near as bad as some people might have assumed. It’s actually been quite good."
Engel also revealed the team spent test time trying to recapture the chassis tune that has delivered flashes of qualifying pace this year, but was missing at the Winton 360.
“We need to get back into that window,” he said. “We’ve tried a few things at the test day and analysed what we didn’t do well at Winton. So I am hopeful moving forward we will get on top of that and qualify a lot better as well.”
Engel has been swatting for the Sandown classic, watching television replays of last year’s qualifying and entire race, studying onboard camera footage and data. He will also walk the track with Johnson to learn more before practice and qualifying commences.
But he admits he’s spent more time preparing for Bathurst. He attended the 12-Hour in February, has driven the Mount Panorama course in a road car and on a simulator.
“I am just looking forward to taking the SP Tools racing car around it, it is going to be quite special certainly.”
Engel supported the move by V8 Supercars to test variable blend ethanol fuel in an attempt to improve the fuel economy of the Benzes and the new Nissan Altimas. Engel’s car, along with the Norton Nissans of James Moffat and Michael Caruso, used the fuel in Race 25 at the Winton 360.
“At the end of the day it is a parity formula and parity in the way I read the definition of the word is that it is equal and at the moment we are not equal and I trust V8 Supercars will do what is necessary to achieve parity."