It is one of the most celebrated and challenging circuits in Australia and in 2019, the traditional Adelaide 500 will once again mark the beginning of a new season of the Supercars championship.
A raft of changes across the field; with new driver and team combinations, the introduction of the Ford Mustang and a technical upheaval with the banning of the twin-spring dampers for cost cutting – the anticipation for the new season is the most its been in recent years.
Mustang’s return to the Australian touring car scene has been the major talking point leading into 2019, with six of the Ponies to make their race debut on Saturday for the first of two 250km races.
A pre-season test at Phillip Island saw the all-new Ford racers immediately jump to the pointy end of the grid, though until they are dropped into a racing scenario – it is an unknown as to how DJR Team Penske and Tickford will fare.
Two rookies will also make their full-time debuts this weekend, with Macauley Jones and Garry Jacobson stepping up from Super2 for Team Cooldrive and Kelly Racing respectively.
It’ll also be the first Adelaide 500 since the event’s inception not to feature a pair of former champions in Craig Lowndes and Garth Tander. The latter was sensationally dumped by Garry Rogers Motorsport during the off-season, to facilitate a sponsorship deal with Boost Mobile – which saw Richie Stanaway take the veteran’s seat.
The street layout of Adelaide is demanding and doesn’t represent the same high-speed aerodynamically sensitive feeling of Phillip Island. Hot weather also is set to challenge the drivers across the first weekend of the year.
Traditionally, the Adelaide 500 has been dominated by 2016 Supercars champion in Shane van Gisbergen and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. Last year’s runner up in the championship, has won the last four races on the streets of Adelaide.
Though with Red Bull HRT still unhappy with the setup of their cars, could the Kiwi’s mantle as the Adelaide champion be under threat?
There is no shortage of contenders, with the reigning series champion in Scott McLaughlin earmarked to deliver the Mustang its first victory and stake a claim to defend his maiden title. Shell V-Power teammate Fabian Coulthard will also be under pressure to perform, off the back of a subpar season in 2018.
After playing second fiddle to teammate Van Gisbergen last year, Jamie Whincup should be in the hunt as always and in the hunt for an eighth title. With the departure of Craig Lowndes from the Triple Eight setup and the reversion to two cars – Red Bull should be able to focus more on cars #97 and #88.
Erebus and David Reynolds arrive in Adelaide as the dark horses for the championship, with the duo requiring more consistency in order to truly be in contention. His teammate Anton de Pasquale, who was the standout rookie for 2018 is also earmarked to build upon a solid debut season.
Changes at Tickford sees more than just the introduction of the Mustang, with the arrival of Lee Holdsworth following Ford stalwart Mark Winterbottom’s defection to Holden. Also joining Holdsworth is Will Davison, who returns to the Tickford setup with the 23Red Racing team.
Having only won a single race in 2018 courtesy of Chaz Mostert and James Moffat on the Gold Coast, the entire group is under pressure to match their Ford rivals at DJR Team Penske, especially too, with Mostert’s future set to be a major talking point in 2019.
Eyes will be on Winterbottom too, who claims to be liberated at his new home at the new look Irwin Racing squad run by Charlie Schwerkholt.
Forging a closer technical alliance with Triple Eight and bolstered by crack engineer Phil Keed, Irwin Racing have been tipped to perform in similar fashion to fellow Triple Eight customers in Tekno during Van Gisbergen’s tenure.
Even though it is only the first weekend of fifteen for 2019, Adelaide will likely yield a form guide for what to expect for the championship. Whilst it is expected that it’ll be the usual suspects at the top – surprises will surely be welcome.