Twelve months on from one of the biggest accidents in Supercars history, Todd Hazelwood holds no reservations about heading back to Sandown.
Then 21, Hazelwood was living out his dream making his PIRTEK Enduro Cup debut at the Melbourne venue with Brad Jones Racing.
But it all went wrong in the Saturday qualifying race when, after a hit from Jonathan Webb, the CoolDrive Commodore left the track at over 200km/h at Turn 6.
Hazelwood’s car hit the tyre barrier and flipped violently, before coming to rest on its side, his Sandown 500 debut over before it began.
While the Holden was destroyed, Hazelwood remarkably returned to the track within hours aboard his Super2 Commodore, gathering vital points towards his eventual title triumph.
Although the accident will inevitably be replayed in the lead-up to this weekend’s event, the Gold Coast-based South Aussie says he holds no nerves ahead of his return.
“You’ve just got to put those things behind you and, as big and spectacular as it was, getting back in the car (in Super2) was the best thing for me,” he said.
“Obviously not racing at Sandown with [Tim] Blanchard, but then fronting up at Bathurst – which is even more daunting with a new car - was tough.
“If I can get through that, this weekend will be a breeze.”
Turn 6 has been the scene of several big accidents in recent years – including opening-lap shunts that red-flagged the last two runnings of the 500.
While all drivers emerged unscathed, the barriers have received an upgrade ahead of this weekend, primarily aimed at reducing the time required to repair the barrier.
The aftermath of Hazelwood's crash
The 2016 and '17 races were both shortened to time-certain finishes after lengthy delays while officials repaired the Turn 6 wall.
To combat the issue, almost 30 concrete barriers have been replaced behind the tyre wall, which has itself been beefed-up with the addition of energy-absorbing inserts.
Supportive of the upgrades, Hazelwood says he’s glad the high-speed corner - which is a favourite among drivers – has not been touched.
“It’s always been a dangerous part of the circuit, but every track has them,” he said.
“At the end of the day you just need drivers to respect the corners, not change the track. It doesn’t matter where you’re racing, you can still have a big shunt if people do stupid things.
“As long as no one does anything stupid, it should be a good weekend.”
Hazelwood returns to Sandown as a full-time Supercars driver, having stepped up to the main game with Matt Stone Racing after winning the 2017 Dunlop Super2 Series together.
Hazelwood testing at Queensland Raceway
A horror start to the year triggered a move from an ex-DJR Team Penske Ford to his Super2-winning Holden last time out at The Bend, where results were again hard to come by.
Buoyed by a test in the Holden at Queensland Raceway last Wednesday and the promising form of co-driver Bryce Fullwood, Hazelwood is optimistic for the enduros.
“For us as a small team trying to move forward, the enduros are very exciting and a great opportunity to get a result,” he said.
“I feel that with the test day and recent knowledge from The Bend, we can put that knowledge together and hopefully have a breakthrough result.”