The format for the Penrite Oil Sandown 500 has undergone some subtle but important tweaks ahead of the 2019 edition, impacting the various title battles.
As well as fighting for the honour of winning the final Sandown 500 before the event moves to a sprint format next year, the overall championship is likely to be decided.
Penrite Oil Sandown 500 | Tickets | Event Guide
Add in the fact Sandown is the decider of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup and the new AMAROK Hard Charger, as well as playing a role in the tight teams’ title battle, there’s plenty on the line.
What’s the format?
As has been the case in recent years, there will be four 30-minute practice sessions; three on Friday and one on Saturday morning, with Practice 1 and 3 for co-drivers only.
A 20-minute ARMOR ALL Qualifying session will follow, where all drivers are allowed to take part, setting the grid for a 20-lap, 60km co-driver sprint race.
The result of that race determines the grid for the 60km primary driver sprint, the result of which in turn sets the starting order for Sunday’s 500km enduro.
Both drivers of the car that ends up winning the second sprint are awarded an official ARMOR ALL Pole to add to their career tallies.
This will be the last time the format is used, with the Tailem Bend 500 next year set to run a more traditional Saturday qualifying and Top 10 Shootout system.
So what’s new?
This year the Saturday sprints are classified as races for statistical purposes and will also carry Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points.
Each sprint carries 50 points for the win, 46 for second, 43 for third and so on.
Importantly, these are earned by the driver, rather than the car – so the co-drivers score points for themselves in the co-driver race, and likewise the primary drivers in the primary driver race.
The points for the 500km race have been adjusted this year from 300 back to 250 for the win, so no driver can score more than 300 for the weekend, which is the maximum across all events.
However, the two sprint races and the 500 all count towards the PIRTEK Enduro Cup and teams’ championship standings, meaning there’s more points available than usual towards those tallies.
What does it all mean?
Despite his Gold Coast disaster, Scott McLaughlin has a 463-point lead over Shane van Gisbergen, so the Ford driver is very much in the box seat to secure the drivers’ title at Sandown.
To put it beyond doubt and avoid another Newcastle decider, McLaughlin needs to leave Sandown with a 300-point gap to his Holden rival.
What he can’t do is secure it on Saturday at Sandown, as even a win for McLaughlin and a DNF for van Gisbergen would only stretch the margin to 513; short of the 550 he’d need at that point.
While the drivers’ title still feels inevitable, the teams’ battle is well and truly on; Shell V-Power Racing now leading the Red Bull Holden Racing Team by just 132 points with 1248 available.
In the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, the standings are being led by the Red Bull teammates, although there are technically 16 combinations still in it, with 350 points available at Sandown.
Van Gisbergen/Garth Tander lead the way on 564 ahead of Jamie Whincup/Craig Lowndes (528), and Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat (429), with those combinations having taken a win each.
The current top five is rounded out by the Walkinshaw Andretti United entries of Scott Pye/Warren Luff (423) and James Courtney/Jack Perkins (411).
For those really keen on the detail, it’s important to note the PIRTEK Enduro Cup standings are based on the primary driver, co-driver and entry remaining as a single entity.
So in the case of the #33 Boost Mobile Racing Holden, the points earned by Chris Pither/Dylan O’Keeffe on Sunday at the Gold Coast are not added to the Richie Stanaway/Chris Pither tally.
This underlines the fact the Enduro Cup is an award for driver pairings and not an individual or team’s prize.
As for the AMAROK Hard Charger, only the Sunday race at Sandown will count towards that tally and its $15,000 prize; the chase for which is currently being led by Jack Le Brocq/Jonathon Webb.