AJ Allmendinger sealed the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship after battling Austin Cindric to the line for the win at Bristol, in a final lap that had plenty of contact.
It’s October and in Australian motorsport that means one thing – Bathurst.
In Australian motorsport, indeed, in Australian sport, Bathurst is a big deal. The annual Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, the 1000km Australia Supercars Championship race around the Mt Panorama Circuit at Bathurst for the Peter Brock Trophy is the jewel in the crown of Supercars competition.
There are professional Supercars drivers who, given the choice of winning the VASC or winning at Bathurst will choose Bathurst.
There is always a lot of speculation in the lead up to the race as to what teams and driver combinations are genuine contenders for victory. Pundits look to current form and past history of achievement in the ‘Great Race’ as a guide to the likely outcome.
There are a number of factors in the mix that makes predicting the likely outcome of the 2019 race harder than previous years.
Bathurst is traditionally the second race in the Pirtek Enduro Cup – the three race ‘series within a series’ of two-driver endurance races where the lead driver is paired with a part-time driver, whose role is to support the primary driver by being fast, conservative and not crashing the car.
Historically, the Sandown 500 has been the first race in the enduro series and has provided a form guide to Bathurst, as well as being a ‘dry run’ for the teams as a part of their Bathurst preparations. For 2019 Bathurst is the first race in the enduro series, so no form guide and no ‘dry run’ for the teams – it’s straight to the Great Race.
Other factors that make it harder to predict this year include the aerodynamic upgrades handed to the Commodore runners ahead of the previous round at Pukekohe (the sixth round of the ‘great parity debacle’ that has afflicted Supercars throughout the course of this year’s Championship) and the unusual position of the drivers’ championship standings.
Scott McLaughlin has dominated the series so far and his lead equates to almost two full rounds. He hasn’t won at Bathurst, he desperately wants to and can afford to go in with total commitment to winning it – he won’t have to ‘drive for points’.
Effectively no other driver has a chance of winning the championship, so for McLaughlin’s opposition the ‘if you can’t win the Championship you need to win Bathurst’ rule applies.
Scott McLaughlin’s prediction that his Mount Panorama practice / qualifying lap record will be beaten before Armor All Qualifying at this year’s event will come true (weather depending), with the person most likely to beat Scott’s record being Scott McLaughlin.
Chaz Mostert’s prediction that the 2019 race could be a sub-six hour race record won’t come to pass.
With no prior ‘dry run’, experience will count more than ever. This applies to the drivers and their teams. The team who can put a fast car under their drivers, not drop the ball in the pit stops and execute an effective strategy will have a much better chance than most.
This narrows the field down quite as there aren’t many teams (including some high-profile ones) who have consistently been able to install a fast car under their drivers during the course of this year.
The top tier chances
• Based on experience, the best-credentialed combination is the #888 ‘Dream Team’ – reunited for the first time since 2009. Jamie Whincup and defending champion Craig Lowndes make a formidable combination in their HRT Red Bull Commodore, and, let’s face it – Whincup can only pass safety cars, run out of fuel and draw penalties for unloading other competitors in the dying stage of the race so many times before he gets a clean run at Bathurst…he must surely be due…
• The Dream Team’s opposite numbers in the Triple 8 garage are arguably their biggest threat. The #97 combination of Shane Van Gisbergen and Garth Tander are undoubtedly the equal of Whincup and Lowndes in terms of driver speed, they have the same equipment and, perhaps crucially, more 2019 racing miles under their belts than their opposition. On the car front, Triple 8, as a team across both entries have arguably the second best ‘fast car’ record in 2019.
• Scott McLaughlin and Andre Premat will be piloting the #17 DJRTP Shell V-Power Mustang that has consistently been the fastest car throughout the course of this year. The caveat here is that the pre-Pukekohe parity adjustment to their Commodore-armed opposition may yet reveal itself to be a bigger factor than anticipated at Bathurst.
On the driver front McLaughlin is simply the best there is right now…Premat, not so much – more of a competent journeyman. Third last year was a good result for this combination, but, as a combination, it simply isn’t as strong as either of the Triple 8 teams.
The second tier chances
• Chaz Mostert, partnered with James Moffat in the #55 Tickford Supercheap Auto Mustang is just a little bit further out of the frame than the McLaughlin / Premat combination. Chaz is a previous winner and as fast as anyone on a good day. Moffat is a solid, reliable journeyman, but Tickford has been a bit hit-and-miss with their delivery of a fast car – it may be fast on the day, in which case they are in with a shot, but it may not be…
• David Reynolds and Luke Youlden won on merit in 2017. For over 80 per cent of last year’s race the # 9 Erebus Penrite Commodore was a bullet and they had it shot to pieces – until Crazy Dave broke down (the car was fine).
No doubt it will always haunt them as ‘the one that got away’. The drivers can do the job, although individually and as a team they have a bit more variability than those in the ‘Top Tier’ category.
• Mark Winterbottom – ex VASC Champion and Bathurst winner. Steve Richards – defending Bathurst champion. Like the crew in the # 9 Commodore, the drivers in the # 18 Irwin Tools Commodore can do the job, but can the team give them a car and a strategy to match?
A Triple 8 customer car has won before – admittedly after the Triple 8 team car that finished ahead of it on the road was penalised for ‘entrepreneurial’ driving that left some competitors parked in the roadside furniture (but Jamie isn’t going to do that anymore…is he..?). The bottom-ranked of the second tier chances.
The third tier chances
• Everyone else! Put the #8 and #14 Brad Jones Racing Commodores of Nick Percat and Tim Slade along with the remaining Mustangs at the head of the ‘everyone else’ pack, but realistically it is a huge ask – particularly if you are driving a Nissan, in which case a top 10 finish should be counted as being as good as a win.
Given the missing ‘dry run’, the expected gung-ho approach of the competitors and the always likely impact of adverse weather, it’s quite possible that merely surviving to the end will see a team achieve a good result, but the short odds have to be the with the three top tier contenders.