Craig's Corner: Shifting to sprint mode

28 Mar 2023
Craig Lowndes' exclusive Supercars.com AGP column
5 mins by James Pavey

This is the second 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 Beaurepaires Melbourne SuperSprint.

Just when we thought we had a form guide in Newcastle, everything is reset once again at Albert Park.

This weekend’s Beaurepaires Melbourne SuperSprint bodes to be one of the most dramatic rounds of the season — and there are several talking points.

It’s a fast, flowing track — almost the polar opposite to Newcastle, which is short and sharp, and with little time to relax.

This weekend's format is as unique as it comes. After a Newcastle weekend with Shootouts and 250km races, we shift to sprint mode. Given we jump into back-to-back 15-minute qualifying sessions after two 30-minute practice sessions, it's so important to get on top of your car set-up early.

How teams and drivers tackle the short qualifying sessions will be fascinating. It’s a long circuit — nearly six kilometres — and lap times are over 100 seconds. Historically, these qualifying sessions haven’t been long enough to do two runs. Strategy is key — do you sit and wait, or go out straight away, knowing you have one chance to post a competitive time?

Both strategies have their risks. If there’s a red flag, and you haven’t set a time, you risk not setting a competitive time at all — last year, Shane van Gisbergen was caught out, and qualified at the back. It happens to the best of them!

Best of Race Radio: Newcastle 2023

If there’s a red flag, it's detrimental to your outcome — but it’s only for that one race. There are four separate qualifying sessions — you get four chances. It's not a progressive grid, you’re qualifying for one race at a time. If you do have a problem in one session, it doesn’t end your weekend — but it certainly makes it more difficult.

Teams and drivers are still trying to find the set-up windows in these new cars, and that’s going to be made even harder by grappling two vastly different tyre compounds. This weekend, we’re running Dunlop’s Hard and Super Soft compounds.

Over one lap and in the races, it’ll come down to drivers trusting their Engineers that the set-up they’ve got is right — otherwise, they’ll be nowhere.

Given how short the races are, teams are going to be quite aggressive on set-ups regarding camber, to maximise tyre grip. That in itself comes with another risk — it will shorten tyre life. It comes back to the driver trusting their Engineer — drivers can manage the tyres through how much they spin the wheels, and how much they slide through corners. Driver attitude will be vital to maximise the life of the tyre.


Knowing that the races are short, drivers will have to be aggressive from the start. It will be interesting to see who is most aggressive, knowing track position is critical. On one hand, it nullifies Shane van Gisbergen’s preferred strategy which he showed at Newcastle — looking after the tyres, before coming home strongly.

These short races cancel out that strategy, but if there’s a driver who can adapt quickly, it’s Shane — but again, he is 126 points from the championship lead. How will he play this weekend out?

It’s going to be a telling weekend for Chaz Mostert, who arrives in Melbourne as Championship leader. How Chaz manages this weekend will be crucial if he wants to keep the orange numbers on his car. For Chaz, it’ll come down to where he qualifies.

Mostert plays down early points lead

Historically, Walkinshaw Andretti United has had fast cars at Albert Park. Chaz and Engineer Adam De Borre will need to be clever how they approach the weekend and the format.

Given the short races, there’s a high chance of drama — but if Chaz qualifies towards the front, I expect he’ll still be aggressive, because he needs to be. However, if he qualifies mid-pack, he should be conservative. It’s a long season and you can’t afford zero-point races if you want to win Championships.

One driver I’ll have my eye on is Brad Jones Racing’s Andre Heimgartner. Andre was quick in the beginning of the weekend in Newcastle, but along the way he lost some of his set-up strengths. Andre and BJR were quick in the Sydney test, so they’ll be hoping they can carry speed over into the Grand Prix.

I also expect Dick Johnson Racing to bounce back — they are good at rolling cars out of the truck towards the top of the time sheets, and they scored three poles last year. The trick for DJR, when looking at their Newcastle results, is ensuring they keep their cars at the pointy end for maximum points.

Cam Waters also showed he is up for the challenge in Newcastle, and will be ruing his Race 2 mistake while chasing Chaz Mostert.

Team 18 will also be a factor — Mark Winterbottom likes this circuit, and Scott Pye has also won here. Both drivers know how to find speed at this track, and they were also very impressive in Newcastle.

I was also impressed by PremiAir Racing. I spent time with Tim Slade at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival, and he has a pep in his step. He’s enjoying his new environment, and will be pushed all the way by James Golding. They’re definitely a team to watch.

In my opinion, the short and sharp sprint format will throw some curve balls this weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out!

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