Wow. It’s time to take a breath and get a grip.
Supercars racing returned at Sydney Motorsport Park and it could hardly have been better.
There was brilliant racing, upsets and emotion, and hardcore competition up and down the field.
Yes, Scott McLaughlin scored two wins from three starts as he returned from what he now describes as ‘cartoon racing’ in the Esports world, but it took a maximum effort from the two-time champion and his crew at DJR Team Penske.
The ‘big three’ were at the pointy end as usual – McLaughlin joined by the his double-trouble rivals Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen – but plenty of others shared the spotlight as Nick Percat won for the first time at Brad Jones Racing, youngster Todd Hazelwood led a race with genuine speed, and Lee Holdsworth stormed home for a race 3 podium.
The three-race sprint format was a winner.
The qualifying format, with a top 15-Shootout and individual grids for each race, was a winner.
The limited allocation of Dunlop tyres, with only five sets of soft-compound rubber, was a winner.
The best strategy is always to have the fastest car, but no-one – not even McLaughlin – managed that on every lap of every race.
Going forward, the challenge is to replicate the racing from Sydney on other tracks, with different tyres and weather, as teams adjust to the new racing rules in Supercars.
Without doubt, the punishing tyre degradation at SMP worked in favour of the entertainment, but so did limiting the engineering input to the racing and compacting the action to keep teams on the back foot all weekend.
“With this format you’re not going to win every race. It’s about maximising what you have,” says retired racer Paul Morris, who provides some of the sharpest insights in Supercars.
“They raced hard and fair and if they were a shot duck they let them go. No-one did anything dumb.
“Teams are saving money and the racing is better. They just have to keep going. It’s taken the championship out of being an engineers’ championship back into a drivers’ championship.”
In some cases that meant sacrificing a result in one race to have two good ones, both through the effort and tyres committed to qualifying, then the allocation of the fair-good-best tyres at the right time for the individual races.
It would have been useful to have a forensic team in the Sydney pitlane to assess the relative strengths of the Dunlops for each part of the meeting. As it was, someone was always springing a surprise – good or bad – with their decisions.
So Sydney Motorsport Park gets a resounding Thumbs-Up.
But where to from there?
“The big problem now is how to create the same thing at Winton. There is no tyre deg there,” says Morris.
But his verdict on the return of racing is typically blunt and correct.
“If anyone was watching that, from anywhere around the world, they’d be going ‘Man, that’s quality’,” Morris says.
WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING:
“It was wild. They were battling hard. It was crazy there for a little bit.”
Second for the weekend
“It’s great to be back in the car. I think the format is really good. From what I’ve heard, they are going to spice it up even more for further rounds.”
Team Principal – Brad Jones Racing
“It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve watched the races on television and it’s been good, really good. The racing has been good, really mixing it up. All-in-all, a fantastic weekend.”
Supercars technical chief
“It was fantastic to be back at a racetrack, doing what we do, so thanks to everyone. I think the formats are good. We wanted to bring some variables and I think we achieved that.”
“It was bloody brilliant. We were kept very, very busy to turn the tyres around. But, as far as a format and the racing, I thought the curve balls in the second and third races were fantastic.”
Race 2 winner
“What a first round back. The team and I have been working very hard throughout the time off so it feels bloody good to finally get this win.”
Team Principal – Red Bull Holden Racing Team
“It worked well and we had good variety. We didn’t quite have the car speed over the two days. Very good overall. I’d give it eight-and-a-half out of 10.”
Bathurst winner and driver manager
“I thought it was the best racing we’ve seen in probably 20 years. It was fantastic. The good thing is that they’ve made changes that they wouldn’t have got done if there wasn’t a crisis.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing
“Would Percat have won a race without that format? I really like what they’ve done. It’s less people and less money, too, and shows what can be done to reduce costs. I don’t see any negatives.”
Second in race three
“When you have good quality tyres it makes the passing quite easy. Different people win. It’s nice to see those blokes under pressure.”
“The formats were really cool, different strategies and different winners really spiced up the weekend and I think it was a success. I think the sport needs different winners and I like the fact that we also had not much break between sessions.”
Fourth in the championship
“I was having so much fun out there. It’s short and sharp. The day goes fast. And the racing is good.
“First of all, we need to acknowledge how much work has gone on to get us to this point, so thank you to everyone that’s made this past weekend happen because it was an important first step. From here, our natural inclination will be to dissect the weekend and see how it can be better. Which we will. There’s plenty of positives and we’ll roll forward all of those good learnings to the remaining events this year.”