Craig’s Corner: How Kostecki return sets up Taupō blockbuster

16 Apr
The third exclusive Supercars.com column by Supercars Hall of Famer Craig Lowndes for the 2024 season
5 mins by Craig Lowndes

This is the third exclusive Supercars.com column by Supercars Hall of Famer Craig Lowndes for the 2024 season. Seven-time Bathurst winner Lowndes will preview each round of the 2024 Repco Supercars Championship from his own perspective, continuing with this weekend’s ITM Taupō Super400.

After all the hype and all the anticipation, the time is now for Taupō, and I can’t wait for the action to begin.

I really like the Taupō track. At the start of the year, I did one session in last year’s Bathurst-winning Gen3 car, and I had a great time. The circuit's got a bit of a mix of tight sections, but it also has a fast run into the hairpin, before the back straight and fast chicane.

That last little sector before the pit straight is very tricky. Even pit entry can be quite tricky. There will be some areas where drivers are going to have to be very mindful of where they position their cars.

As a spectator, you can see nearly the whole track. It’s like a mini Winton, in some regards!

When it comes to the action, firstly, I think it's great to have Brodie Kostecki back on the grid, carrying the number one as the champion he is. But, it'll be interesting to see the dynamic with his team, and how he fits in with them again after two rounds out. For Brodie and Erebus, it will be business as usual in some regards.

Brodie's back: Kostecki finding his feet at Winton test

Despite what’s transpired in recent weeks, I think Brodie will get up to speed really quickly. Although he's only missed a couple of rounds, he knows the cars, he knows what he needs to go fast.

It’s a brand new circuit for everyone, which I believe offers a level playing field, making it a great place for Brodie to start. I’m very intrigued to see where he slots in. If he's right on the pace straight away, he could have a major impact on the trajectory of this year’s championship.

While his performance level remains an unknown, for Brodie, the mentality will be about winning races, and trying to get into the mix of the championship. As the reigning champion, that's exactly what your mindset should be — doing it again.

If he’s on the pace, he can absolutely have a big impact on the championship. With Will Brown and Broc Feeney so close in the points, and with Chaz Mostert just behind, it could add yet another interesting dynamic to the on-track battle.

Already, we’ve seen just how close it is between Will and Broc. The championship lead has changed three times already this season, in just six races and two rounds!

feeney brown agp podium race 6 2024

When two guys from the same team are fighting for the championship, there’s so much at stake. Where you are on track plays a big role in strategy. It's always very difficult for any team when you've got two top drivers, especially when they’re going for championships, to manage all the strategy.

Will’s performance so far this year has been superb, and he has fitted into Triple Eight extremely well. There's no doubt that he had some big shoes to fill with Shane van Gisbergen leaving, but Will has absorbed the philosophy of the team, and has brought a bit of his own flair to what he wants from the car.

Some of his comments about the differences between an Erebus Camaro and Triple Eight Camaro have been interesting, that the ‘feel’ is slightly different. That comes down to the philosophy of different teams, and how they want to achieve the speed out of the cars.

Taupō is a fascinating circuit. The drivers that have raced there before will get on top of the circuit very quickly, and they'll know what they'll want from the car. Chaz hasn’t been there before, so he will have to work really closely with teammate Ryan Wood — that will be great for Chaz, to have a teammate like that who knows the circuit extremely well, and will help him get up to speed.

Matty Payne and Cam Waters have been knocking on the door for wins, and they’re waiting for their moment to pounce. Both of those guys will have a big point to prove this weekend. We all saw what happened at the AGP, and they’ll want to leave that all behind.

Race Radio 2024: Waters and Payne collide at AGP

There’s definitely speed in the Mustang — they got three of the four poles at the AGP — and even though it's a new circuit this weekend, the Ford guys will be keen to convert. Notably, Matt got his first pole at the AGP, and he knows Taupō really well. Being a Kiwi, he’ll have plenty of support, and should feel very confident going into this weekend.

I think all the Kiwis will be ones to watch this weekend. Richie Stanaway has been consistent to start the season. It hasn’t been the best start to the season for Andre Heimgartner, but he knows how to be fast there. Then, there’s Wood and Jaxon Evans, who we have yet to see the best of.

Take all of that, and we have a tricky format to negotiate, meaning every lap counts. There’s only one practice session, on Friday, before you actually go straight into qualifying.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how the format is received, given drivers don’t have a lot of opportunity to get their head around what they want from the race car, as well as learn the track.

The anticipation around this weekend is huge. The fact that the event is nearly completely sold out is fantastic. It’s a great indication that Supercars needs to race in New Zealand, and Taupō is the perfect place to showcase the championship there.

We come back to that old argument — do we need two rounds in New Zealand? Personally, I would always say yes. That’s up to the powers above me, but the demand for tickets shows how much support New Zealand has for Supercars.

New Zealand, get ready — this is going to be a weekend to remember!

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