Friday, March 13, 2009

V-Day draws ever closer... [Ford V8 Supercar preview]

Indulge me for a second and forge­t about the BLACKCAPS, Super 14 an­d N­RL. The best­ sports series in the world, IMHO, is about to kick off next weekend.

In a backward town in Australia, where driving across town means changing time zones, ­28 V8 monsters will power up and take to the track over three days.

For me this means the end of summer and the start of the sporting season proper. All the silly season rumours have been confirmed or quelled, and the last bean of curiosity has been picked as a result of photos taken by those who attended this week's testing at Queensland Raceway.

First up, Jamie Whincup. He's in the gun seat this year. Last year he drove phenomenally and had incredible luck - barring Hamilton, where he sat out after getting tagged by Todd Kelly in qualifying.

He's the defending champion and deservedly so - he drives like a bullet shot from a very high calibre rifle.

His team, Triple Eight Race Engineering/TeamVodafone, are under the pump a little this year. Late last year Ford announced they were withdrawing their funding of the team [guess they saw the Global Financial Crisis (capitals for scary emphasis) coming] and their team then seemed to go out of their way to criticise Ford. They will this year find out if their fan base was so large because they were with Ford, and winning, or because they were TeamVodafone and had the combination of Whincup and Craig Lowndes.

Next up is the young Shane van Gisbergen. While he hasn't achieved big-time success yet, he's the one I'll be rooting for after Mark Winterbottom [couldn't find any testing pics of him]. Why? Plain and simply, he's the future of NZ in V8's. He is a weapon in the wet, which is a skill I admire greatly, and he's driving for a Kiwi-owned team which has a history of turning nobodies into winners [Marcos Ambrose won two championships for them, and they nurtured Mark Winterbottom].

The only potential flaw I see is that he's getting teamed up with our next subject, Alex Davison.

Alex has had an on-again off-again relationship with the V8's. He tried driving a Perkins-prepared Commodore in 2005, with poor results.

He and Gisbergen both have limited main-game seat time and while they are professional drivers, I wonder how well they'll be able to dial in their cars in practice. Potentially this is where SBR's relationship with Jason Bright bomes in - more on that later.

Davison has been driving with his brother's [Will, who has taken Mark Skaife's spot at HRT this season] former team Dick Johnson Racing since, at the Bathurst, Sandown and Phillip Island endurance races.

Taking Will Davison's place at cult-favourite DJR and vacating the SBR seat for Alex is James Courtney.

Courtney is the V8's answer to an F1 driver - in fact, he 'almost' made it to the top-tier single seater series.

But almost isn't good enough, and now he's pottering around in torque dinosaurs for a ridiculous sum of money. The odd situation here is that Courtney is contracted to Ford, while his team DJR do not receive Ford money.

Courney received an insane amount of hype when he first entered the game. It's easy to see why - Marcos Ambrose was leaving and Courtney had a similar - but more successful - career. But over the past few years, he's yet to rack up a round win. Admittedly in same cases bad luck has robbed him, but he also has a tendency to drive too aggresively and put his car in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Second kiwi to be profiled is Fabian Coulthard. Now, I honestly thought his Paul Cruickshank racing team was going to be doomed to obscurity - they had little funding and a driver on his final year when they first set up.

But the two years of data gathering they had done when combined with Coulthard - Who is an absolute rocket in Porsche GT3's, but seemed to struggle when he drove for Paul Morris Motorsport in a Commodore - it just seemed to click. He acheived good, solid, top half results for most of the year and hopefully with a second car in his team and a driver [even if it is the trainwreck-waiting-to-happen Michael Patrizi] to share data with, he'll continue to get good points - maybe even march up the field.

The only change I wish to see him make is to become more aggresive. He's a ridiculously smooth driver and his lines are beatuiful, but he missed out a few passing opportunities and lost a few places last year when he wasn't willing to take a risk.

Finally, as promised, Jason Bright. His Britek team didn't work out as he intended, so he's back to the original arrangement with SBR-prepped machines, in search of good results. I'm guessing this is a two-way partnership, with Bright being somewhat of a mentor to van Gisbergen and Davison, and possibly the three working together with setups over the race weekend. Not saying they neccessarily need it/can't learn off other drivers, but logistically it appears to make sense.

The few times he had a car stay intact for a race last year he finished in the top 10, so with a better car, maybe those will turn into top 5's?

His biggest bug last year was qualifying. A lot of the time the crashes he got into were a result of starting so low down the order.

So, these are the 'Ford' drivers I'd be expecting to do well this season. Leave comments and I will do a similar writeup on Holden's top prospects [HAH!] if you like. :)

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