This is the fourth 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 NED Whisky Tasmania SuperSprint.
After racing at one 2.4km track with seven corners, this weekend we race at another — but Symmons Plains is a vastly different challenge to Perth.
I’m really excited for this weekend’s round in Tasmania. It’s going to be a big challenge for drivers and teams with these new generation cars.
On paper, Perth and Tasmania are the same — short tracks, and not many corners — and the philosophy is the same. There are just seven corners, both tracks are a sub-one-minute lap time and you have to nail each corner.
However, Symmons Plains is as tricky as circuits come. Sectors 1 and 2 are centred on braking and getting the car to rotate through corners, and maximising drive.
Sector 3 is about balance, and making sure you’re strong on the throttle so you can power to the finish line.
The Turn 4 hairpin is perhaps the most unique corner in Supercars. You fly down there at 250km/h, and come to a big stop to nearly 60km/h.
It’s the tightest corner of any of the tracks we race at, and there are two distinct approaches – the high line, and the low line.
I preferred the high line, provided you can rotate the car and use the slingshot out of the corner to maximise your speed down the back straight. However, the high line does leave you vulnerable to attack should someone slip down the inside.
The low line favours those looking to set up the pass into Turn 6. If you can make it stick, it gives you the inside line into the final corner to get the pass done.
Because it’s such a short lap, every lap counts in qualifying. This weekend, we move to a more traditional format — that is, two practice sessions before qualifying and the race.
Given there are two practice sessions, teams will be able to use the break between sessions to adjust the car. Drivers also have a chance to analyse data to see where they are losing time as they attempt to find speed.
Like I said, every lap matters — and as we saw in Perth, the margins are tiny. Any improvement you can make will make the difference between qualifying on pole, and qualifying last.
The grid for Saturday’s race will be set by knockout qualifying, as it was in Perth — but Q3 is five minutes shorter, so there’s less time to set your flying lap.
I enjoy knockout qualifying. You have to be on the ball, and teams use different strategies — do you set your fast lap straight away and risk circuit evolution, or go out later and risk being stuck in traffic?
Traffic will inevitably play a role this weekend. Drivers will be caught out, and if you don’t set a clean lap at the start, you could get stung. We saw that in Perth, when Shane van Gisbergen dropped to 21st. It can happen to anyone!
Don’t be surprised if you see drivers chasing slipstreams in qualifying to try and extract every last little piece of performance and pace — but that also comes with risks.
It’s hard to pass at Symmons Plains, so if you qualify poorly, you’re behind the eight ball before the race even starts.
You have to be strategic when trying to pull off overtakes. We’ve seen how valuable slipstreaming and side drafting is. Positioning the car is everything, from the entry of the hairpin right down to the finish line.
Now, take all of that, and add in the challenges presented by the new Gen3 cars! The prototypes were tested at Symmons Plains last year, and by all reports, they were more loose and could follow closely — things we have already seen this season.
With the old cars, you could be flat through Turn 3 and power towards the hairpin. Now, with the on-edge Gen3 cars, I expect Turn 3 will be more of a driver’s corner, and will require more commitment.
So, what do you do with car set-up? It’s on a knife’s edge at Symmons Plains, which is an aero track. Do you opt for low drag set-ups and aim for straight-line speed, or drop in a more traditional set-up so you’re strong under brakes?
Don’t forget that the Gen3 cars don’t have adjustable roll bars, so you can’t trick the car into rotating, and you can’t stiffen bars through Turn 7. This will turn Symmons Plains into more of a driver’s track, given you only have a lap time of roughly 52 seconds to work with.
That will all rear its head in the race, which at 42 laps, offers plenty of time to make bold strategy calls. While it’s a low degradation circuit, the undercut still has an effect — but track position is key.
You can make so much time on your rivals in clean air. If you’re stuck in traffic, you will lose plenty of time — so do you play it safe with conservative strategies, or try and get an undercut and break free of traffic?
I expect some drivers in the mid-pack to make some interesting strategy calls, which could play them into the race.
The safe strategy is to change right side tyres, being an anti-clockwise circuit. The alternative is to see drivers opt for new rears as they attempt to get extra drive off corners and maximise speed.
It’s going to be a very interesting weekend, championship-wise. Brodie Kostecki and Erebus Motorsport are the hunted, and I’m excited to see how Shane van Gisbergen responds after his mixed weekend in Perth.
Shane, Chaz Mostert, Will Brown and Broc Feeney are Brodie’s closest competitors at the moment, and they must make good of this weekend if he drops points.
Chaz is still second in the championship, but hasn’t been on the podium since Newcastle. He won in Tassie in 2021, and bounced back in Perth to hold onto second. Starting the weekend is crucial for Chaz and his team should they close the gap to Brodie.
Don’t discount Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale too, who were strong in Tassie last year. They’ll be keen to find more speed — they’ve been very inconsistent, and no doubt they'll be expecting to be closer to the front.
Even though the lap is short, there are so many things to look out for at Symmons Plains — I can’t wait!