Supercars will race at Albert Park for the 22nd time this weekend in the Coates Hire Supercars Melbourne 400, but for the first time for points as part of the Australian Grand Prix.
For the bulk of the year, the 5.303km lap around Albert Park lake just south of the CBD is a public drive, but it’s a very different animal to the other street circuits on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship calendar.
Preston Hire Racing’s Lee Holdsworth tackles the Hino Hot Track for the 16-corner circuit, with an average speed of 164km/h and top speed of 256km/h.
The driving challenge
“It’s a very flowing circuit, it’s not your typical style of circuit that suits a Supercar,” Holdsworth says.
“It’s a type of track where you have to be very smooth, it rewards smooth driving, smooth inputs and just being patient on the throttle.
“The corners are generally long and loaded, including some very fast corners where it’s easy to drop a wheel off.
“There’s plenty of places to overtake, too. Turn 1 is the best, Turn 3 is also very good, and then Turn 9 and 13, that’s part of what makes for such a great racetrack.
“The later races on Friday and Saturday means we’ll be facing a bit of setting sun at some corners, and it looks like there’s a bit of rain on the radar as well. That will make it very interesting.
“There’s pros and cons to it being late in the day. Obviously the track temperature will start dropping late afternoon, so our tyres will hang on longer and the track will be faster, but then you’ve got the challenge of the sun setting in your eyes, and trying to get around that will be difficult.”
The engineering challenge
“It is difficult to set the car up for,” he says. “It’s a track where you have to carry a lot of speed through the corners, so it’s not stop-and-go.
“We don’t have to generally set our cars up for, and focus so much on, aero balance. It’s generally more about power down and braking and your mid-corner turn, and just a mechanical balance.
“This one, it’s fairly high speed, so aero comes into it quite a lot. It’s very influential, probably the hardest thing is to get the aero balance you need.
“It’s important to be able to have a car that, especially through that Turn 11 and 12 section, you can tuck up underneath someone in front and not get too much aerowash.
“You probably need the car pointier in the race, sometimes, than what you would in qualifying. Depending on where you start, if you’re starting midfield, you need something that’s quite pointy, you’re compensating for the aerowash that you will have in the race.
“And then obviously your braking is huge around there. To be able to pass, you need a very strong car under brakes, and a car that hangs onto its tyres; 120 kilometres of racing is probably further than we’ve been around there ever before.
“It will be a matter of having a car that can do one lap and get the most out of the tyres, because grid position will be important, but also then having to convert that into a race car will be a real challenge as well - to be able to conserve the tyres through those long, loaded corners.
“Out of nearly every corner you’re full throttle before you’re in a straight line, and that’s very hard on the tyres.
“And it’s an older type of track surface, it hasn’t been resurfaced in a while. It is getting more abrasive every year that we go back, so the degradation gets worse each year.”
My Albert Park memory
“Unfortunately the one that comes to mind is the one from last year,” Holdsworth admits of his 2017 crash at Albert Park.
“It’s not a great memory, not a good one at all. It’s only 12 months on, so it’s still pretty fresh in my mind.
“That was a big crash, and it just shows you how quickly you’re going into Turn 1 there, with Nick Percat running out of brakes and spearing into the back. I was lucky to walk away with it.
“Another foot or two forward from where he hit and it could’ve been a much worse outcome. I don’t have great memories of the circuit in Supercars, I think my best result there is a fifth.
“So a lot of my other memories come from before I was in Supercars. Obviously I always loved watching Michael Schumacher race around in the Ferrari.
“He had plenty of poles around there, so a lot of those memories come to mind, and I also remember a great Supercars race with John Bowe with BJR winning from the back (in 2005).”