Track action will commence on the Reid Park streets for the NTI Townsville 500 on Friday.
Much has unfolded since cars were packed up on the Sunday at the Merlin Darwin Triple Crown.
In the Top End, Shane van Gisbergen continued his march to the 2021 title, but Townsville will present an all-new challenge.
SVG’s big series lead
Van Gisbergen enters the weekend with a 221-point series lead, which after his Sunday sweep in Darwin, was the the biggest its been all season.
It doesn’t get much better for his rivals; van Gisbergen won the two most recent races in Townsville, the last of which came from 12th on the grid.
One more win, and the Red Bull Ampol Racing driver beats his 2016 record of eight wins in a season.
Only eight different drivers have won more than eight races in a season: Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes, Scott McLaughlin, Mark Winterbottom, Mark Skaife, Marcos Ambrose, Glenn Seton and Garth Tander.
History is on his side; only twice in history has a driver won more than eight races in a season and not won the championship (Lowndes in 2000, and Whincup in 2010).
However, one DNF, and the 221-point lead could come crashing down in a heartbeat; the two races this weekend are worth 150 points each for victory.
Whincup’s final Townsville pt.1
This weekend was meant to be Whincup’s final Townsville visit, but the doubleheader means the retiring seven-time champion will get two bites of the cherry.
Whincup, who will retire at the end of the season, has won a record 12 races in Townsville, including the very first race in 2009 (pictured above).
He also won two races at the circuit last year, which were his final wins of the 2020 season.
With van Gisbergen 221 points ahead in the standings, Whincup will be desperate to close the gap at his favoured venue on the calendar.
Finally for Davison?
Will Davison was supreme over one lap in Darwin, but the win remained elusive.
The Shell V-Power Racing Team ace is one of just seven drivers to have won a race in Townsville, so he knows how to get the job done.
However, his team has failed to convert four straight poles into victory, and no doubt the champion Ford squad will have worked hard to find the one-percenter it needs to stop the rot.
Should he qualify at the front this weekend, he’ll be hard to beat if he finds himself in the lead.
Will there be another new winner?
There have been six different winners across 14 races in 2021.
Davison seems the likely candidate to be the next, but several drivers will be looking to beat him to the punch.
James Courtney showed impressive speed in Darwin, and has also won in Townsville before.
Mark Winterbottom was left wanting over his Darwin results, but the speed was there. He and Team 18 teammate Scott Pye had fast cars in Townsville last year.
Who else is a chance? Nick Percat scored a maiden pole in Townsville last year, and recorded a Darwin podium three weeks ago.
An outside chance could also be David Reynolds, who took his first career pole in Townsville and has also visited the podium in North Queensland.
Soft tyres return
The Dunlop Soft Tyre compound will make a return this weekend following the introduction of the new Super Soft compound in Darwin.
The Townsville circuit is harsher on tyres than the last-start Hidden Valley Raceway, and the 250km races will provide greater chance for degradation.
Notably, van Gisbergen charged from ninth to the lead in the dying stages of last year’s Townsville finale.
This weekend, post-handback, teams will have six sets of soft compound tyres from qualifying onwards.
The standard two-stop strategy will encourage six stints of racing across 500km.
Strategy and tyre conservation will be key to a driver’s chances.
The testing format
The NTI Townsville 500 will feature the first refuelling races since the 2021 season began in Bathurst.
The subsequent Sandown, Tasmania, Tailem Bend and Darwin events comprised of a trio of sprints of approximately 120km each.
The concrete-lined Townsville street circuit will present fatigue for drivers and teams, all while having to contend with an aggregate 120-litre fuel drop mandated in each race.
Unlike sprint rounds, four rattle guns are allowed; there is a two-tyre compulsory pit stop requirement, but time spent refuelling can cover more changed tyres in a stop.
Practice 1 on Friday morning will also feature refuelling practice.
Away from strategy, drivers will have their hands full trying to stave off fatigue in the dual 88-lap marathons around the testing Reid Park circuit.
Only once in history, in 2014, has a 250km race been staged in Townsville. This weekend, there are two.
Which drivers and teams will retain the sharpest focus across the journey?
The 2021 Repco Supercars Championship season will resume this weekend at the NTI Townsville 500. Tickets are available here.
The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo, and will be broadcast live and free on Seven.