With the second biggest domestic motorsport event in this country just one week away from being run, I thought this might be an appropriate time to take a look at the field.
The Just Car Insurance 500, to be run at Sandown, Melbourne over the weekend 14-16 September, is the opening event of what has become a shortened version of the 1980’s endurance race end of our touring car championship season. Shortened because in ye olden daze, the endurance races were the highlight of the season with four, sometimes five races beginning in August which departed from the sprint race format of the day. These days, as a means of ensuring parity and spectacle, touring car racing has evolved into heat races of a definite sprint format with accumulated points allotted to each heat.
For mine, the endurance race format, where the cars race over 400 klicks or more from flag to flag, needing to change tyres, re-fuel and in some cases, even brake pads, is by far the best test of driver skill, engineering prowess of the teams and co-ordination of the pit crews. Races are won and lost on the track, not in the pits as happens during the heat race format. The ‘red mist’ which descends over a drivers eyes is often more intense during the endurance end of the season as well, bring out the real racers in the pack.
The Sandown event, which annoyingly changes name from year to year due to fluctuating sponsorship loyalties, has always been treated by observers, pundits and fans alike as the lead-in to the really big event on the calendar, Bathurst. Five hundred kilometers around Sandown is half the race distance of the Bathurst event, and while the two tracks are chalk and cheese different from each other, Sandown is a high-speed circuit and very hard on brakes and mechanical components. Particularly through the twists and turns off between the end of the very fast back straight and the entry to the main straight. Many a race has been lost because of an ‘off’ or broken steering setup through that section.
Looking through the driver pairings for Sandown, I noticed one thing immediately. The big name teams – or rather the big ‘money’ teams – have cross-entered their drivers. This is to say that two car teams have all four drivers entered in both cars. This is unusual for Sandown, given that driver pairings are already decided. Example, Skaife & Kelly will drive car 2 while Seton & Pretty will drive 22. Cross entering of drivers is now an accepted norm for Bathurst, ever since 1982 when Peter Brock faced a race loss had he not been entered as a driver in John Harvey’s car, after 05 broke a rear axle on the start line. This cross entering for Sandown tells me that the major teams are really taking the championship points system seriously, especially with double points on offer for both Sandown and Bathurst.
Noticeable are the unknown names. Matthew Halliday, Jay Verdnik, John McIntyre, Chris Pither, Allen Simonsen among others. These are the Futjitsu series drivers, sponsored by the teams who back the feeder series, in the main. Some privateers in the Fujitsu series, like Tony D`alberto, have opted to take up the offer of a drive with other privateer level one teams. In fact, the D`alberto / Owen pairing in car 55 is one driver pairing I’ll be watching intensely both at Sandown and on the mountain in October. D`alberto had three offers of a drive that I’m aware of, two with much bigger, two-car teams, and opted instead to go with the Autobarn racing offer. Rationale being that despite the older VZ model Commodore, he reasoned that with one car to concentrate on, all possible efforts would be directed to it, rather than being split over two vehicles. He may be right. I hope so, because he’s an exciting driver to watch.
Sandown will, as always, prove to be a fascinating event to watch. Practice, Qualifying and another of the made-for-television Top Ten Shootouts will be telecast on Saturday between 11am and 5pm, with racing on Sunday beginning around 1:30pm. Whether the event proves to be any real form guide to Bathurst remains to be seen. Personally, I stopped considering Sandown as a benchmark some 15 years ago, but it does show up some of the engineering lapses in construction of new cars getting their first outing. Mount Panorama is where the action truly lies, and Sandown is a good warm-up and cobweb clearer. Should be a good weekend.
|Car No.||Sponsor Name||Driver||Model|
|1||Toll HSV Dealer Team||Rick Kelly / Garth Tander/ Paul Radisich/ Craig Baird||VE|
|2||Holden Racing Team||Mark Skaife/ Todd Kelly / Glenn Seton / Nathan Pretty||VE|
|3||Tasman Motorsport Pty Ltd||Jason Richards / Greg Murphy / Mark Noske / Jay Verdnik||VE|
|4||Jeld-Wen Motorsport||James Courtney / David Besnard/ Russell Ingall/ Luke Youlden||BF|
|5||Ford Performance Racing||Mark Winterbottom/ Owen Kelly / Steven Richards / Matthew Halliday||BF|
|6||Ford Performance Racing||Steven Richards / Matthew Halliday/ Mark Winterbottom/ Owen Kelly||BF|
|7||Jack Daniel’s Racing||Shane Price / Jack Perkins / Kayne Scott / Marcus Marshall||VE|
|8||WPS Racing||Max Wilson / Jason Bargwanna / Michael Caruso / Grant Denyer||BF|
|9||Caltex Racing||Russell Ingall/ LukeYoulden/ James Courtney / David Besnard||BF|
|10||WPS Racing||Jason Bargwanna/ Max Wilson / Michael Caruso / Grant Denyer||BF|
|11||Jack Daniel’s Racing||Kayne Scott / Marcus Marshall / Jack Perkins / Shane Price||VE|
|12||Team BOC||Andrew Jones / Simon Wills / Brad Jones / Damien White||BF|
|14||Team BOC||Simon Wills / Andrew Jones / Brad Jones / Damien White||BF|
|16||Toll HSV Dealer Team||Paul Radisich/ Craig Baird / Garth Tander / Rick Kelly||VE|
|17||Jim Beam Racing||Steven Johnson / Will Davison / Alex Davison / Andrew Thompson||BF|
|18||Jim Beam Racing||Alex Davison / Andrew Thompson / Steven Johnson / Will Davison||BF|
|20||Supercheap Auto Racing||Cameron McConville/ Paul Dumbrell/ Paul Weel/ David Reynolds||VE|
|21||Team Kiwi Racing||Shane Van Gisbergen/ John McIntyre||BF|
|22||Holden Racing Team||Glenn Seton / Nathan Pretty / Mark Skaife / Todd Kelly||VE|
|25||Fujitsu Racing||Jason Bright / Alan Gurr/ Adam Macrow/ Warren Luff||BF|
|26||IRWIN Racing||Alan Gurr/ Jason Bright / Adam Macrow/ Warren Luff||BF|
|33||Valvoline Cummins Race Team||Lee Holdsworth/ Dean Canto / Greg Ritter / Cameron McLean||VZ|
|34||Valvoline Cummins Race Team||Greg Ritter / Cameron McLean / Lee Holdsworth / Dean Canto||VE|
|39||Team Sirromet Wines||Fabian Coulthard/ Chris Pither/ Paul Morris / Steve Ellery||VE|
|50||Supercheap Auto Racing||Cameron McConville/ Paul Dumbrell/ Paul Weel/ David Reynolds||VE|
|51||Tasman Motorsport Pty Ltd||Greg Murphy / Jason Richards / Mark Noske / Jay Verdnik||VE|
|55||Autobarn Racing||Steve Owen / Tony D’Alberto||VZ|
|67||Team Sirromet Wines||Paul Morris / Steve Ellery / Fabian Coulthard / Chris Pither||VE|
|88||TeamVodafone||Allan Simonsen / Richard Lyons / Craig Lowndes / Jamie Whincup||BF|
|111||Glenfords Racing||John Bowe/ Johnathon Webb||BF|
|888||TeamVodafone||Craig Lowndes / Jamie Whincup/ Allan Simonsen/ Richard Lyons||BF|