February 28, 2014 — race preview by V8 Supercars correspondent James Pike —
Welcome to the first of Race Chaser Online’s 2014 V8 Supercars race previews! Before each V8 Supercars race weekend, we will take a look at the track the series will be visiting, and point out the drivers to keep an eye out for during the races. We start with a look at the season-opening Clipsal 500 on the streets of Adelaide. Keep checking Race Chaser Online over the course of the 2014 season for your V8 Supercars news and notes!
RACES 1 AND 2 – CLIPSAL 500 ADELAIDE
Adelaide Street Circuit, Adelaide, South Australia
3.219 km (2.012 mi) semi-temporary street circuit
Race 1: 39 laps, 125 km, start time 4:20 P.M. (12:50 A.M. EST)
Race 2: 39 laps, 125 km, start time 6:50 P.M. (3:20 A.M. EST)
Race 3: 78 laps, 250 km, start time 3:15 P.M. (11:45 P.M. EST Saturday)
Craig Lowndes (Race 1), Shane van Gisbergen (Race 2)
The V8 Supercars return to action and start their 2014 season this weekend at the Clipsal 500 Adelaide. This season will see the 16th edition of what has become the traditional season-opening event run in the heart of the South Australia capital.
This season, the Clipsal 500 has switched its format for the first time in its history: there will be two 125 km-long races on Saturday, with the second race of the day run in the twilight for the first time ever. Sunday’s race will remain the traditional 70 lap, 250 km-long race that has been run in the past.
The track has not changed for the 2014 edition of this race; the V8SC will use the same format that has been run since 1999. The Adelaide Street Circuit is notorious for being one of the toughest tracks on the V8 Supercars calendar, as it provides a challenging mix of high speeds, narrow corners, and all sorts of opportunities to run your car into the wall.
A lap around Adelaide starts with a run through a quick left-right-left section known as the Senna Chicane. Cars will often try to cut the curb here, but they do so at their own risk- cut the curb too much, and it will ruin the suspension. The V8SC has a special set of rules just for this part of the track known as the “Three Strike Rule”.
If series officials deem that a car cut too much of a curb, then that car receives a strike. If a car receives three strikes, then it will have to come down and serve a penalty on pit road. There are always a few offenders of this rule during the weekend, so it will be important to see who infringes it- sometimes, it is a major player in one of the races, other times, it is a driver that won’t factor into the finishing order at the front of the field.
After the Senna Chicane comes a section of 90-degree turns through the blocks of Downtown. The most important thing for drivers here will be to make it through this part clean and hit their marks- the unsuspecting driver can run into trouble here and ruin his race if he isn’t careful. Once through this section, the track opens up to the Adelaide and Brabham Straights. Collectively, these two are known as the back straight of the course, and they are separated by the notorious Turn 8.
Turn 8 is a high-speed right-hand dogleg that is easily the most difficult corner of the circuit. Cars will enter the corner at nearly 155 miles an hour with the intention of carrying their speed all the way through. However, Turn 8 narrows considerably on corner exit, and it is common to see cars scrape or hit the wall here hard. It is almost guaranteed that over the course of the weekend that someone will either hit the wall and spin or hit the wall and damage their suspension enough to force a retirement from the race.
After Turn 8, cars thunder down the Brabham Straight to the hairpin at Turn 11. This is the best passing opportunity on the course, and cars will divebomb underneath one another to try and get the preferred line on corner exit (in a manner that is almost identical to Turn 3 on the Indycar street circuit in Toronto). Of course, cars can also make contact here, and drivers can spin out (sometimes in front of the entire field).
From Turn 11, cars work their way around a winding and purpose-built section of track that has been built in the middle of Victoria Park to finish off the lap. This part of the course is not overly significant, but there is a small hairpin on the final corner leading to the front straight that can also serve as a passing opportunity for drivers if they set up the corner correctly.
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
Historically, this has been a track for the best drivers of the V8 Supercars Championship. Jamie Whincup is the most successful driver in the history of the track, with seven victories. Other top drivers to have also won multiple times here include Garth Tander and Craig Lowndes (who won the Saturday race in 2013 to return to the top step of the podium at Adelaide for the first time since 1999).
As of late, however, the drivers in the group right behind the top names have been the most successful — Will Davison took his #6 FPR Falcon to victory on Saturday in 2012, and Shane van Gisbergen shocked the V8 Supercars world by taking his Tekno Autosport V.I.P. Petfoods Commodore to victory on Sunday a year ago.
The safest bets to run well here will be the major stars who are strong wherever the series goes, because the Adelaide track is one where the gap in quality between the good and bad teams will be evident. Drivers like Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes, Garth Tander, and Mark Winterbottom (who has yet to win here, but has multiple podium finishes) will likely factor into who wins the races.
Also, the new Saturday format should not create much difference in the strong and weak drivers here. The later starts might make the track somewhat cooler and grippier, and might bump up the T.V. ratings for Channel 7 (Australia’s TV home for the V8SC), but the track will be just as demanding and just as tough to get around.
Looking at the drivers in those cars at the “next level” just behind the top cars yields some interesting suspicions as to what might happen in Adelaide this time around. The spotlight will be on Chaz Mostert, who will make his debut in the #6 FPR Falcon formerly driven by Will Davison. Could he bring the #6 back to victory lane for the second time in the last three seasons at Clipsal on his FPR debut? James Courtney is another driver to keep an eye on in this pack- he missed the final race weekend of 2013 after suffering a broken leg in a horrific crash at Phillip Island. Courtney has been working to get back to full health for the entire offseason, and he would love nothing more than to win in his return to racing.
Although they likely won’t be a threat to win the race, devoted fans will be on the lookout for the pair of new Volvo S60s from Valvoline Racing GRM (Garry Rogers Motorsport). The Volvos will be making their debut in the V8 Supercars Championship as they become the fifth manufacturer to compete for the title.
The question will be whether or not they can fare better than their counterparts from Nissan Motorsport and Erebus Motorsport a season ago. Both Nissan and Erebus (racing Mercedes cars) made their debuts at this race in 2013, and were plagued by mechanical issues that took some of their cars out of the race on Saturday and Sunday. Obviously, the Volvos will want to finish first, but their primary goal will be to first finish without any mechanical or on-track troubles. If they can do that, then they will already have a leg up on Nissan and Erebus’ 2013 starts and can look to make even more progress faster than those two teams did a season ago.
For more information on the upcoming weekend, visit the official Clipsal 500 website at http://www.clipsal500.com.au/. For more information on the V8 Supercars Championship, visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.