Half of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship field will be on track today as testing roars into life at Queensland Raceway and Winton.
Shell V-Power Racing, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, TeamVortex and Tekno Autosports will share the Ipswich circuit, while Prodrive, Garry Rogers Motorsport and a single Nissan Motorsport Altima take to the Victorian venue.
With testing heavily restricted in the category, each team will be determined to make the most of the precious track time, exploring set-ups and evaluating new parts in the break ahead of Hidden Valley.
Today’s running follows a fast-paced start to the season that has seen Shell V-Power, Red Bull and Prodrive share all 10 race wins – furthering expectations that the relative success of the teams’ tests will play a role in the championship battle.
With the cars preparing to hit the track, Supercars.com explains the intricacies of testing, from the limits on track time and tyres to the extra opportunities for rookies drivers and new chassis.
The testing basics
Each Supercars Championship team is permitted just three test days per year, which in 2017 can be used between January 16 and December 15.
While the compulsory pre-season test was dropped this year, the introduction of the new Dunlop tyre saw the teams request a common test day which was held at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 21.
The remaining two days can only be run under the watch of a Supercars official at a designated test track – Queensland Raceway for Queensland-based teams and Winton for the Victorian squads.
Morgan Park and Calder are nominated as the respective back-ups should either Queensland Raceway or Winton be unavailable.
Although not enforced, teams are encouraged to co-ordinate test days to minimise costs.
Testing alongside others is considered beneficial anyway, with more rubber going down better simulating race weekend conditions.
While drivers are permitted to swap cars during testing, only one chassis per Racing Entitlements Contract is allowed on track.
Track running is limited to between 9am and 5:30pm (8:30am to 5:00pm during winter months) to ensure fairness between the two states, where light levels vary.
As is the case during practice at race meetings, teams must carefully use their limited tyre bank to get the most out of a test day.
Each car was allocated 16 super soft and 16 soft tyres at the start of the season to be used for testing and as a pre-marked tyre bank for early events.
Teams can also use any other tyres leftover from race meetings that go into their pre-marked bank throughout the year.
Along with tracking the weather, understanding the role that each tyre set is playing in the speed and feel of the car throughout the day is critical while testing set-up changes.
What isn’t a test day?
Seeing a Supercar on track between races doesn’t necessarily mean that a team is using one of its precious test days.
Other track time not counted as test days include corporate ride days, evaluation days, rookie days, demonstration days, promotional activities and new car shakedowns.
Although ride days are occasionally used to help a new driver become comfortable in their car, set-up changes are prohibited and data gathering strictly limited to stop any development work being undertaken.
Evaluation days allow teams to test with a driver who is not currently a primary driver for any team, hasn’t been a primary driver in the past three seasons and has not competed in five or more main series events the previous season.
Once a driver completes an evaluation day, they are not allowed to compete as a co-driver in the same season, preventing teams from taking advantage of the evaluation day provision.
Nissan Motorsport is running an evaluation with 19-year-old Super2 driver Bryce Fullwood today, providing the youngster with laps in the car he will take over from Townsville while also going through a reliability testing program on the Altima.
Three rookie days are afforded to each driver in their debut season – which this year are Simona De Silvestro and Alex Rullo - to help get up to speed with the established drivers.
A rookie is defined as a driver in their first full season of main series competition who has not previously qualified in more than the enduros and any two sprint events in any single year.
Supercars may also grant a team or driver that has not competed in the last three seasons up to three extra test days – a provision added following Marcos Ambrose’s struggle on return to the category in 2015.
Demonstration days allow for limited running by a potential purchaser of a car, while promotional activities typically consist of filming for team sponsors or Supercars itself and is likewise strictly monitored.
New car shakedowns are meanwhile capped to 60km of running to complete systems checks and basic set-up work with a fresh chassis.
Finally, if a team running a test day abandons testing before 11am or within two hours of first hitting the track due to rain, their day will not be counted as a test day.