Yes, the time has come when we can safely say that it is race week!
The Supercars championship will resume this weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park after three months of being suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are changes aplenty all over for the championship, chiefly in adapting new bio-security measures to ensure safety for all on track during the event, which will still not feature any fans. Scheduling also has been a key talking point in the build-up to the season’s restart, from event formats to the shape of the calendar itself.
Only last week, Supercars confirmed a second revised schedule, which saw the Bend, Auckland and the proposed sprint race at Bathurst cancelled – with the championship now to finish on December 13 under lights at Sydney Motorsport Park.
While the owners of the Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia publicly voiced their frustration with the omission of their event, contractual obligations, which are set to expire on December 31, were cited for the second reshuffle of the calendar.
This also means that the Sandown event initially slated in December will move to the Bend’s slot on September 19-20 and retake its place as the precursor to the Bathurst 1000, which keeps its coveted October 8-11 date. What’s key with Sandown, too, is that it’s more than likely to not be an endurance event with all races apart from the Mount Panorama enduro slated to be two-day sprints.
Three 130-kilometre sprint races will see the resumption of the championship at Sydney Motorsport Park, as well as a rookies-only practice session, two 30-minute practice sessions and a two-part qualifying including a top-15 shootout on the Saturday.
Sunday will feature two regular qualifying sessions for the final two 33-lap races of the weekend. All races will see one compulsory pit stop for all to change a minimum of two tyres as part of new restrictions to minimise personnel on-site. Cars will be fuelled from the start of each race, while only a crew of six will service their respective cars instead of the traditional eight.
There will also be a restriction on data logging, which will be a cost-cutting measure and also hopefully create unpredictability on-track, as drivers will be forced to rely on what they feel inside the car.
Such a long layoff is bound to see rustiness from the teams and drivers, so expect there to be mistakes in their return to the track. All this will be crucial in the championship hunt. It is easy to forget that it started back in February at the Adelaide 500 and saw heavyweights Jamie Whincup and Scott McLaughlin split wins.
The best teams such as DJR Team Penske and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team should still be at the fore, though any blemishes could see some fast competition ready to capitalise, given there is no shortage of contenders.
Such a big headline over the off-season was the defection of Chaz Mostert from Ford to Holden and signing with the rebuilding Walkinshaw Andretti United team. Vindication perhaps came in Adelaide with the former Bathurst 1000 winner sitting third in the standings after a podium finish. Although there is more to come from this combination.
It was disappointing to hear that Will Davison will not be racing full-time for the rest of 2020, after his 23Red Racing Team were forced to exit the championship, due to the affect of the pandemic financially on their title sponsor Milwaukee Tools. An endurance drive perhaps beckons for the two-time Bathurst 1000 winner, with that event likely to be the only long-distance race for the season.
In his place, the 2010 Supercars champion James Courtney will return to the grid after a controversial split with Tekno Team Sydney following the Adelaide 500. In partnership with Boost Mobile, Courtney will take over the vacant Mustang in the Tickford stable, which secures that car’s crew their jobs and gives the 39-year old a fast car.
Don’t forget the off-season changes in parity between the Holden Commodore and Ford Mustang, as well as the switch to a control shock absorber. The impact of that has not been fully witnessed.
It’s been a long time coming and with the safety of all involved still the key priority, but it will be exciting to hear those V8 engines igniting and see some of the best touring-car racing in the world do battle on the race track again.