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Craig's Corner: A title fight on a knife's edge

Supercars
26 Oct
Craig Lowndes' exclusive Supercars.com column for the Boost Mobile Gold Coast 500
5 mins by Craig Lowndes
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This is the 11th exclusive Supercars.com column by Supercars Hall of Famer Craig Lowndes. Seven-time Bathurst winner Lowndes will preview each round of the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship from his own perspective, continuing with this weekend’s Boost Mobile Gold Coast 500.

The enduros are done dusted, and we’re at the business end of the season — and the title fight is very much up for grabs at a notoriously tough street circuit.

The enduros again proved the importance of having a strong co-driver to set you up for the run to the end of the season. All of the top four in contention for the championship had a solid showing, with the exception of Broc Feeney and Jamie Whincup at Bathurst, who succumbed to the gear mount failure that also took my wildcard entry out of contention.

Being towards the top of the points standings at the Gold Coast is critical, given the Surfers Paradise round is a good indication of who's in the hunt for the championship.

Brodie Kostecki leads Shane van Gisbergen by 131 points, and there's plenty at stake. I think Brodie and Shane are going to push hard this weekend. To be fast at the Gold Coast, you need to be aggressive. You need to attack the kerbs, attack the chicanes, and be brave into the blind corners.

Will Brown and Broc are also in mathematical contention, as is Chaz Mostert. Chaz has been ‘Mr Consistent’ this year, and is yet to score a pole or race win. It will be interesting to see how Erebus and Triple Eight play this weekend, given both teams have two drivers at the top, and two just behind.

Best of Gold Coast: Biggest chicane crashes

I expect Triple Eight to put a lot of emphasis on Shane, given he’s in front of Broc. I believe Erebus will do the same with Brodie, and given Will is moving to Triple Eight next year, I’m sure Erebus will be keen to have the #1 in their camp in 2024.

The Surfers Paradise Street Circuit is as tough as it gets. You need to have plenty of confidence, and to be confident, you need a good car underneath you. Erebus and Triple Eight will be working incredibly hard to make sure all their cars will be strong.

I’ve always said that, if you came back with side mirrors still on the car, you’re not trying hard enough!

It’s a rewarding track when you find the limit, but it can be incredibly brutal if you get it wrong — I think of Scott McLaughlin’s big crash in 2019. There wasn’t much in it that day, but the consequences were severe.

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This weekend, there is a big change with the tyre bundles being removed from both sides of the beach chicane, which is a highlight of the circuit. I’ve driven there without tyre bundles, and even then, drivers were becoming too cheeky. It will be interesting to see how many look to push track limits.

It’s great to see the new electronic sensor trigger system in place, and that drivers will be notified immediately on their dashes. At least they’ll have an indication to back off straight away and save the tyre. However, you need to get it right — get it wrong, and you could be forced to start at the back, and you’ll be in for a long day.

I’m keen to see how the Gen3 cars behave over the big, brutal kerbs. Given there has been a reduction in downforce, the cars will need softer springs so they can try and regain grip. I noticed at Sandown that these cars don’t fly across the kerbs like the older cars. They absorb the kerb, and you get a double bounce.

Best of Gold Coast: Iconic Moments

We’ve had 10 rounds with these cars now, but there are still plenty of unknowns for this weekend. Teams and drivers may have an idea, given there were big kerbs at Townsville and Sandown — but the Gold Coast is faster and carries much more risk.

Drivers need to absorb the kerbs, recover and change direction through the quick right-left corners. Tracks like the Gold Coast also require compromise —  if you’re strong through the chicanes, you may compromise slow corner speed and sharpness to get drive out of the Turn 4 hairpin and the final corner.

Like Bathurst, we’re running the Soft tyre compound. The big difference from Bathurst to Gold Coast is that drivers have three big straights at Mount Panorama to cool the tyre.

On the Gold Coast, you’re constantly turning, braking and accelerating which is more brutal on the tyre, with no reprieve. Getting as much life out of your tyres will be crucial.

Brodie and Shane have been the benchmarks when it comes to managing tyres, but I also look at their teammates, Cam Waters, and even the DJR guys to be tough to beat. For Anton De Pasquale and Will Davison especially, it’s a home round to a extent, and I expect them to come out firing.

Take all of this, and the forecast for Friday is wet — so you’ll have two practice sessions that could be affected by rain, meaning teams may turn up for qualifying on Saturday and have to learn on the run. If there is weather around, it’s important to not get lost chasing a direction on Friday, only to have to start again a day later.

With both the drivers' and teams' championships up for grabs, the best way for the front-runners to stay out of trouble is to qualify up the front. That means they’ll be aggressive right from the start. I can't wait to see how it plays out!

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