It seems like just yesterday the IndyCar Series started the season on the streets of St Petersburg in Florida, yet six months and 17 races later, we crowned a champion as the series visited Sonoma Raceway in Northern California.
Ever since the announcement that the Eastern Creek round of the Supercars championship would be turning on the lights, switching to a night race, there has been unparalleled hype for what’ll be the first touring car event since 1997 to be held under lights in Australia.
However, the inaugural Sydney SuperNight round this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park will be more than just a spectacle for viewers, with the thunderous V8 engines roaring around and the lights reflecting off the muscly panel-work.
With 300-points at stake for just one race, preceded by quickfire practice sessions and elimination qualifying – it could be debated that the Sydney SuperNight may have more of an impact on the championship than the famed Enduro Cup races.
The 77-lap race, which’ll now utilise the full 3.9km circuit at Eastern Creek and run for almost 3-hours, is set to prove a pivotal race in the title battle for 2018 and perhaps a standalone endurance contest in itself – given these foreign conditions to the drivers.
While some on the present grid may have had experience under the lights of the Yas Marina Circuit at the Abu Dhabi event in 2011, this 300km multi-stop race will not be as straightforward as some of the other races completed so far.
“It’s probably the most important race of the year, single-driver event, 300 kilometres, 300-points,” echoed the second placed in the championship driver Shane van Gisbergen.
Significantly cooler conditions at the slated 6pm AEST race start time will play a vital role in how these cars use their Dunlop tyres, with up to three pit-stops expected. Tyre temperature and grip will all change in the dark.
Then there is the important role of the darkness itself, with reduced visibility and time of day to be a factor also. While there will be floodlights lighting up the circuit, it would still be a different feeling, as supposed to racing in natural daylight.
At its 77-lap length, the drivers will be required to exert more energy than they’re used to in solo-driver races. Underlining how this is almost a standalone endurance race, leading into the Enduro Cup.
131-points is what separates the top two drivers in the standings at present, with Scott McLaughlin leading Red Bull’s Van Gisbergen. Failure to finish the race and a failure to score any points will have huge ramifications on the championship, given the winner will accumulate 300-points – which is the same total acquired for winning the Bathurst 1000.
While mathematically only either McLaughlin or his compatriot in the Holden camp can lead the championship after this race, if either of them fail to win, the opportunity is there for the likes of Jamie Whincup, David Reynolds and Craig Lowndes to take a big bite into their deficits.
Lowndes, who has begun his farewell tour ahead of full-time retirement at season’s end, is 500-points in arrears of McLaughlin, down fifth on the table. A win for the three-time champion, could easily put him within touching distance of the leaders heading into Enduro season.
The race into the unknown could also bring some unlikely contenders into the mix too, for the win at least. Tickford are yet to win a race in 2018 and would be eying the SuperNight off the back of confidence gained last time out in Ipswich from Chaz Mostert’s side of the garage.
Already race winners this year, in Nissan Motorsport and Walkinshaw are also outsiders for victory; Nissan particularly, given their gains in qualifying and race pace which has been on par with the leaders.
It’ll be telling at the conclusion of the 77-laps on Saturday night, as to whether the Sydney SuperNight will have seen a major shift in the championship.
In anticipation though, it certainly has the potential to have greater impact than the Great Race in October itself – as far as the title hunt is concerned.