The battle is well and truly joined at the front of the V8 Supercar field. After the strong start to the season from Ford Performance Racing, last start out saw Team Vodafone take both race wins in Darwin and Jamie Whincup regain the Championship lead. As a result the Sucrogen Townsville 400 shapes as a important weekend of racing.
The 2.86km is located just south of the Townsville CBD, the circuit winds its way through Reid Park where specially-constructed roads form approximately 70 percent of the circuit. Set in a parkland style reminiscent of the Albert Park street circuit in Melbourne, the Townsville circuit proved to be a challenge in its inaugural year in 2009 and quickly became a favourite of the drivers.
It also marks a number of personal milestones for drivers, lead by TeamVodafone’s Craig Lowndes will celebrate his 200th V8 Supercar event start. He is just the seventh driver in the history of the ATCC/V8SC to reach the mark. Over half of his starts have been with the Triple Eight racing outfit.
In that time he has posted a outstanding record of 3 Championships, 83 race wins, 29 pole positions and 94 podiums.
"I’m really excited about this weekend being my 200th event start,” Lowndes said. “I would love to celebrate it with a victory.
“We had very strong cars this time last year in Townsville and we are running the soft tyre combination again.
“If we can get the same performance as Darwin, I'm really confident we can come away with a podium finish," he concluded.
Another driver celebrating a milestone is Jim Beam Racings Steve Johnson, who will start his 400th race on Sunday.
“I’m not really one for stats but when you look at 400 starts, it is pretty cool” Steve said as he prepared to travel to Townsville. “I have had some mixed results in Townsville. We have cracked the Top 10 Shootout every year but have not been able to convert that into a race result. So I’m hoping that number 400 may just be what we need to change that” Johnson said.
Somewhat at the opposite end of the scale in terms of races, 4 drivers are making their Townsville debut this weekend. Fujitsu Racing GRM’s Frenchman Alex Premat, Jacques Villeneuve (Pepsi Max Crew), David Wall (Wilson Security Racing) and Taz Douglas (Team iSelect) are all making their ‘main game’ debut on the Reid Park street layout. In fact only Douglas has raced at the circuit in any category.
Villeneuve will be racing in place of the injured Greg Murphy. His last V8 start was on the Gold Coast in 2010 for Bottle-O Racing. The Canadian is one of only three men, alongside Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi, to win the F1 World Championship, IndyCar Series and Indy 500.
In terms of the form guide the current Championship leader Whincup will enter the weekend with confidence. He is the only man to have multiple wins and pole positions at the circuit, including the inaugural race in 2009. Whincup has finished on the first two steps of the podium in five of the six races held in Townsville.
In a further sign of his liking for the circuit, he has never qualified outside the top 10 in Townsville. One man with a better qualifying record here is Toll Holden Racings Garth Tander, who has never been outside the top 5 in Qualifying though he has only posted one win.
"We are coming off a great result in Darwin and head back to a track which we have traditionally done well at, but I can't stress enough how even the category is so now,” Whincup explained.
“It is going to come down to doing a good job on the weekend which we are putting all our effort into trying to achieve.
"For me, win, lose or draw it's always a good weekend in Townsville. Generally the sun’s out and the large local crowd is very supportive,” he said.
Form though will also see FPR entering the weekend with confidence with Mark Winterbottom boasting a record of having finished every race inside the top 8.
Combined with the fact that teammate Will Davison holds the seasons best Qualifying record of a average of 3.4 just ahead of Winterbottom with a 3.6 average starting position.
“Townsville is a really important round as while we are not in the early part of the season anymore we are not far off the enduros so we need to maintain our championship form ahead of the big points races." commented Davison in the lead up.
"It is important we show our form at this time of the year particularly after we didn’t convert our pole positions in Darwin into strong race finishes. Reid Park is a cool track as it is a combination of a traditional street track with the feel of a permanent circuit in many places. It has some big kerbs and has a lot of character for such a short track so it is a lot of fun to drive. It is very similar to Adelaide or New Zealand and we went well there so we will be in the fight and I want nothing more than to get the championship lead back.”
For Winterbottom, third in the drivers standings, who has recently returned from a promotional trip to the US it is shaping as a big weekend “I’ve just come back from a big trip to the United States where we went to Texas to check out the new track we will be racing on from next year and it was really great to discover just how well known our sport is so far from home.
"Chatting to people in shops and restaurants and having them wish you luck for Townsville was pretty cool and goes to show that Austin is the right place for us to be racing.
"Reid Park is very similar to the Hamilton street track where we were very strong earlier in the year so we know our cars will be competitive which is important given how tight the battle is for the championship lead. The track has always been good to me so let’s hope it continues.”
Given their record hear and form this season, OzRacingWrap tips the FPR duo to come out on top this weekend in a hard fought battle with Team Vodafone. Behind them it should be another strong weekend for the Stone Brothers Racing cars and Toll Holden Racing will be hoping that Garth Tander can use his good form at the circuit to lift them in the standings.
1. Jamie Whincup (TeamVodafone) 1494 pts
2. Will Davison (Tradingpost FPR) 1456 pts
3. Mark Winterbottom (Orrcon Steel FPR) 1445 pts
4. Craig Lowndes (TeamVodafone) 1247 pts
5. Shane van Gisbergen (SP Tools Racing) 1145 pts
6. Lee Holdsworth (IRWIN Racing) 1079 pts
7. Tim Slade (Lucky 7 Racing) 1059 pts
8. Garth Tander (Holden Racing Team) 990 pts
9. Fabian Coulthard (Lockwood Racing) 910 pts
10. Jason Bright (Team BOC) 804 pts
1. Ford Performance Racing 2901 pts
2. TeamVodafone 2766 pts
3. Stone Brothers Racing 2224 pts
4. Holden Racing Team 1743 pts
5. Brad Jones Racing 1714 pts
6. Jack Daniel’s Racing 1492 pts
7. Tekno Autosports 1318 pts
8. Fujitsu Racing/GRM 1170 pts
9. Lucky 7 Racing (#47) 1059 pts
10. Kelly Racing 792 pts