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Craig's Corner: SVG's perfect NASCAR storm

04 Jul
Craig Lowndes' exclusive Supercars.com Townsville column
4 mins by James Pavey
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This is the sixth 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 NTI Townsville 500.

Townsville is just around the corner and some of the Supercars heavy hitters have been busy racing oversees since the last event in Darwin.

I wanted to start by saying how impressive it was seeing Shane van Gisbergen win on debut in NASCAR and also how great it was to see Chaz Mostert win his class at the Spa 24 Hour.

For Shane it was the perfect storm. A brand new street track plus damp conditions and he adapted really well to not only the circuit but the cars too. He had to work his way back from 16th after a big crash in the field, which caught many out.

But the interesting thing for me was he ran a strategy very similar to Supercars. His Red Bull Ampol Racing engineer Andrew Edwards was in his bunker and I’d suggest he would have been watching the data very closely.

Sealing the win for SVG was a late pitstop strategy, running long to have fresh tyres to be aggressive and hunt down the field at the end of the race. That was really impressive and hopefully a big eye opener to the NASCAR community that we don’t mess around down here in Supercars.

The interesting part with Chaz’s win was the question around would his team even field a car after the crash for team owner Kenny Habul. They sourced a new car but missed qualifying and started from pit lane. The odds were stacked against them. I’ve raced at that event and it’s an awesome venue, especially at night going through the forest.

But the stand out for me was Chaz doing a triple stint. While it’s demanding physically, it’s a hugely mentally challenging track. So for them to come away with the win in Pro-Am – a very competitive class – is a huge achievement.

They’ll both come to this weekend with a lot of confidence.

Shane has basically conquered everything he can here in Australia and New Zealand. When you look at it, he’s raced everything - Supercars, rally, speedway, drifting and NASCAR is a big-ticket item for him.

There will be a lot of chat in Townsville this weekend for three reasons. If Shane will go, the timing of when he is going to leave and who is going to stand up and take his spot?

That’s going to be the interesting part. You have to remember that Broc Feeney is still very young and if it happens to be that Shane moves on, Red Bull Ampol Racing could find themselves with potentially two rookies going into next year.

This year in Townsville I’m really looking forward to seeing the cars.

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We know that there has been a Gen3 tweak since the last round and they’ll be different to the last time we saw the cars on a street circuit.

Townsville is a hybrid circuit. Part parklands and part road circuit. And we know this track is brutal with kerbs, so seeing the attitude of the new Gen3 cars, especially through that back section from turns 5 to 11 compared to the old cars that accepted the kerbs so well, we could see these cars move around a lot more.

Refuelling is also back and it’s only the second round to incorporate refuelling in these cars with fuel stops.

It’s going to be a good test of the teams. Some teams may stumble a bit with what is still a brand new coupling into the refuelling mechanism, so getting that right is really important and teams have an opportunity to perfect that before the Enduros at Sandown and Bathurst.

We have seen at Townsville in the past Nick Percat driving down pit lane on fire because of a refuelling incident so all of that will play a big part in the results of the weekend.

16 defining moments from the Townsville 500

Let’s talk about the contenders.

Looking at the great results from Darwin we had Mark Winterbottom win one, that was fantastic for Team 18 and I know that Mark likes the Townsville circuit, so he’ll definitely be on a high at the moment.

Erebus have had a very strong start to the season so you can’t go past them. DJR are due for a good weekend and never discount Red Bull Ampol Racing. But I reckon the one to watch is Andre Heimgartner.

He’s been the quiet achiever for Brad Jones Racing and he did a fantastic job again up at Darwin.

Andre loves street circuits so you’ve got to keep an eye on him given BJR’s mentality and the way they set their cars up especially for tracks like Townsville. I think he’ll be in for a good showing.

Should be an exciting weekend with two big 250 kilometre races.

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