Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast; races that can make or break the Supercars season. As the critical endurance season gets underway with the Sandown 500 this weekend, Jordan Mulach gives his form guide to the 2017 Pirtek Enduro Cup pairings.
Car 97 – Shane Van Gisbergen and Matt Campbell
Shane van Gisbergen, the defending Supercars series champion and Pirtek Enduro Cup champion, teams up this year with Porsche ace Matt Campbell. After three second-place finishes and one win with French gun Alex Prémat, many expected 2016’s dominant international pairing to continue this year. However, the Triple Eight squad had different ideas deciding instead to pair him with the reigning Carerra Cup Australia champion. Campbell, who made his Virgin Australia Supercars Championship debut with Todd Kelly last year, has been racing in the Porsche Supercup series in Europe this year, and with his recent second win of the season currently sits in third with only one round to go. While van Gisbergen is still in championship contention, they will need a good run through the endurance rounds to ensure the defending champion can defend his title.
Car 88 – Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell
Perhaps the most potent and professional driver pairing of the last decade returns for a sixth time this year. Triple Eight has kept its strongest driver pairing in six-time series champion Jamie Whincup and two time development series champion Paul Dumbrell. The two drivers won Bathurst together in 2012 but have yet to find success on the Mountain since. Despite both being the quickest drivers in their respective categories, they are yet to win the Enduro Cup due to mistakes over the last three years’ that have cost them dearly, mainly at the feature Bathurst 1000. After three years of heartache at the Mountain and with Whincup only twelve points behind in the championship race, consistency will need to be the mantra of the #88 Commodore over the three endurance rounds.
Car 888 – Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards
The oldest driver combination in the field will be looking to show that old dogs can still perform new tricks when they launch in to this year’s enduro cup. Lowndes is the man of the modern era when it comes to the long form races, having won six Sandown 500’s and Bathurst 1000’s, with Richards having four wins in the Great Race to his name, three shy of his father, Jim. After first combining in 2014, they won the Bathurst 1000 together in 2015, the last victory for them both to date. Despite being old (read experienced), they are far from slow and prove year after year that they are the evergreen racers.
Car 19 – Will Davison and Jonathon Webb
Tekno’s single car outfit will keep the same successful drivers as last year with main driver Will Davison sharing his #19 machine with team boss Jonathon Webb. After Davison joined the team last year, he and Webb achieved the stunning feat of winning the Bathurst 1000, going against the odds and being the first single car team to win in this century. It also completed a double-double for Webb, being the first person to win both the Bathurst 1000 and 12 Hour in the same year as a driver and team owner. Davison has struggled for speed this year, dropping off the pace of his main rivals though he’ll be looking to draw on his experience of winning two races at the Mountain to take the Tekno machine closer to the top this year.
Car 2 – Scott Pye and Warren Luff
A new combination for this year, Walkinshaw’s new boy Scott Pye is joined by experienced racer Warren Luff this year to represent the ailing team. After three years at DJR, Pye has found himself struggling this year at Walkinshaw as the team sorts its own problems. Luff is highly experienced; yet to win Bathurst but has been on the podium at Sandown four times in the last five races as well as being the only multiple winner of the enduro cup (2013 with Lowndes and 2015 with Tander). His win at Sandown last year with Tander was soured by the team’s long time driver being shown the door in favour of Pye only days later. Pye is still looking for his first Supercars win while Luff will want to bring the car home straight after his stints.
Car 22 – James Courtney and Jack Perkins
The double two car again sees the double J team get behind the wheel, making it a second full campaign together. While slated to drive with each other in 2015, broken ribs for James Courtney prior to the endurance rounds saw Jack Perkins step up to the plate as the main driver for the Sandown and Bathurst races. He was rewarded when Courtney returned for the Gold Coast 600, winning the race together, the first for Perkins and one of Courtney’s most recent to date. Struggles within the Walkinshaw team this year will make the work harder but success even sweeter should this young pair with old heads get on to the podium.
Car 33 – Garth Tander and James Golding
Garry Rogers Motorsport has had one hell of a time over the past 12 months; losing its unique race cars (Volvo) and one of the series’ best drivers (Scott McLaughlin). However, the return of the team’s prodigal son, Garth Tander, sees the three-time Bathurst 1000 winner and 2007 V8 Supercars Champion team up with one of the sport’s rising starts for this year’s endurance campaign. Tander started his career at GRM, winning his first races with the team in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. His return to his first team this year has picked them up from the slumps while James Golding, without a drive in the development series, will get another crack after a miserable three rounds last year. One of the most diverse of the 2017 Pirtek Enduro Cup pairings in terms of age, Tander and Golding could well be a dark horse in the coming races.
Car 34 – James Moffat and Richard Muscat
The second GRM car will have two familiar faces sharing the drivers seat, both racers driving for the team but in different levels of competition. James Moffat is in his second year with the team while Richard Muscat races in the development series, both occasionally struggling to fight at the front when rivals make it look easy. Moffat’s luck is due to come good some time soon, yet to collect a win in the endurances races his father perfected. For Muscat, he’ll be wanting to keep his foot in the door with the team or try and find a good deal for the future, something he can do with good results in the extended races.
Car 5 – Mark Winterbottom and Dean Canto
Prodrive’s experienced heads will combine again this year to provide a wealth of experience for the increasingly youthful team. In Mark Winterbottom, they have a Bathurst 1000 and Supercars championship winner, while Dean Canto’s consistency has been nearly perfect over the past few years compounded only by an error by Canto in last year’s Sandown 500. Winterbottom may not be a multiple championship or Bathurst 1000 winner, but he knows how to play the long game, as does Canto, which will see them fight at the front should the cards fall their way. Both are arguably close to the end of their careers but it doesn’t mean they’ve lost the speed.
Car 6 – Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway
Youth is the future of sport and Prodrive’s second main car will be looking to prove the theory right. Cam Waters became one of the youngest entrants in Bathurst 1000 history when he made his debut with Grant Denyer in 2011, going on to win the development series for Prodrive in 2015. Richie Stanaway is one of the sad stories of Australasian motorsport; having success overseas but having to give it up due to a lack of funds. He made his debut in the development series this year at Sydney Motorsport Park, finishing on the podium for the round and winning a race. His performance last year at Sandown in the wet on slicks was a standout and his impressive win on debut in the Dunlop Super2 Series at the Sydney SuperSprint in August will likely see him aligned with the squad for years to come.
Car 55 – Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen
One of the sport’s most charismatic young guns is this year paired with an experienced racer again to try and maximise points over the next four races. Chaz Mostert is a wild child who can always be expected to light up the timesheets while Steve Owen is consistent if not bland by comparison. A win for the team’s young driver at Bathurst in 2014 is a career highlight while Owen won the Sandown 500 in 2015 with Winterbottom as well as coming second at Bathurst. The duo are very different as drivers but with the maturity which Mostert is beginning to show combined with Owen’s experience they can feature at the top if everything goes right.
Car 56 – Jason Bright and Garry Jacobson
The fourth car for Prodrive is a tale of two men. One is experienced and near the end of his career while the other is almost breaking through to the main game and is looking to make an impression. Jason Bright’s inclusion to the team has drawn criticism this year, mainly bringing in money and an REC for the team to use, however the 44-year old enjoyed a strong qualifying effort last time out, converting it into eighth at the flag. Garry Jacobson is the reigning development series champion and is forming a strong association with the squad, meaning he’s another looking to impress in the upcoming races, while team-mate Bright is fighting to remain in the series.
Car 12 – Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto
One of many new driver combinations this year comes to the leading team in this season’s championship standings. While Fabian Coulthard is in his second full year with the team, this year has seen him turn up the wick and score race wins, fighting for the title in the process. Tony D’Alberto was the co-driver for the Kiwi’s team-mate last year, his form being good enough to see him moved to the #12 car this season. He has a decent amount of seat time this year, driving in both of the DJRTP cars in the co-driver practice sessions. Coulthard is often strong in the endurance races but has been let down by co-drivers, while D’Alberto is often consistent. They will surely be one of the best cars this cup year if double stacking doesn’t work against them.
Car 17 – Scott McLaughlin and Alex Prémat
The odd couple return this year, making the team radio as entertaining as the racing. Scotty and the Frenchie go back to 2013 when they were team-mates at GRM. Prémat’s full-time career wrapped up at the end of that season but he returned to be Scott’s co-driver in 2014 and 2015. While success has eluded the pair, Prémat won his first race (as well as the Enduro Cup) last year when he was partnered with Van Gisbergen whilst McLaughlin found some success at the Gold Coast with David Wall. One of the Kiwi’s conditions when signing to his new team was that he got Prémat back, a small piece of comfort now that he leads the title race. The only concern is the lack of seat time for Prémat this year but if last season’s form is anything to go by he’ll take like a duck to water.
Car 8 – Nick Percat and Macauley Jones
Another fresh pairing is that of Nick Percat and Macauley Jones, two men who are trying to make their mark on the championship. Brad Jones Racing is still trying to shake the belief they are mid-pack underdogs who punch above their weight and with this young pairing, they can potentially do that. Percat already has a Bathurst win and two podiums at the Mountain in the last three attempts. Macca Jones is a second-generation racer, trying to show he can drive instead of riding on his father’s coat tails. A strong result could be on the cards for any of the races as long as they keep their noses clean.
Car 14 – Tim Slade and Ash Walsh
Second time’s a charm is a common theme for this year and it’s one BJR is using for one of its entries. Following some strong races in last year’s endurance series, Tim Slade is again partnered with Ash Walsh and they hope to go one better this year. They were arguably amongst the strongest cars at the Bathurst 1000 though mechanical issues let them down. Slade is off form this year, so far not able to repeat his race wins of last year. Walsh is a dependable co-driver, keeping himself busy in other categories in between drives.
Car 21 – Tim Blanchard and Todd Hazelwood
The third BJR entry sees a possible change in the series occurring before us. While Tim Blanchard has been in the game for a number of years, his lack of results is surely starting to outweigh the incoming money from his sponsors. On the other hand, Todd Hazelwood is one of the rising stars in the Development Series this year and put in an impressive drive as a Wildcard at the Ipswich SuperSprint. A strong performance from either of the pair could decide what happens next year in terms of who fills the seat in the car, though that is only on the assumption they will both live up to expectations over the next month and a half.
Car 18 – Lee Holdsworth and Karl Reindler
While many people believe 13 is an unlucky number, 18 gave it a run for its money last year. The formidable pairing of Lee Holdsworth and Karl Reindler is strong though their engine wasn’t in last year’s 1000km classic. After struggling for speed in practice and qualifying, the engine broke a rocker arm on lap one, meaning they completed only 6km of the battle. Looking for a boost this year, they’re one of the combinations from lower down in the pit lane that can definitely make an impact, especially with the engineering team behind the car. After all, they can’t do worse than 2016.
Car 15 – Rick Kelly and David Wall
Nissan’s fifth year back in the competition has seen little success despite development always continuing. Rick Kelly knows what it takes to succeed in the endurance rounds, winning Bathurst twice in the early 2000’s as well as the V8 Supercars championship title in 2006. David Wall is a strong co-driver, one of those who never found success as a full-time driver but proved himself last year at GRM by keeping the car straight and handing it over in a good position. While adapting to the Nissan may be tricky, Rick knows how to get the best out of the car and himself, wanting to do well amidst uncertainty over the future.
Car 7 – Todd Kelly and Jack Le Brocq
A transitional period is occurring within the Nissan team, both main game and development series. Todd Kelly has been racing for years and knows how to drive but the light on his career appears to be fading. On the other hand, Jack Le Brocq is one of the drivers marked as a future star though if the planets don’t align, he might find himself high and dry at the wrong time. While not his first Enduro Cup campaign, it’s his most important as he looks to bounce back from average results in the development series and to prove why he is the only factory funded driver in the category. Opposite to most of the 2017 Pirtek Enduro Cup pairings, expect the co-driver here to be putting in more effort than the main racer.
Car 23 – Michael Caruso and Dean Fiore
Italy’s finest will be teamed up again to bring home the Japanese funded Altima in this year’s endurance rounds. The two men with the slickest hair will be wanting to show they have the best car, at least in their team, when Sandown rolls around. Michael Caurso has been with Nissan since they rejoined the series in 2013, claiming a win last year but yet to find the same form again. Dean Fiore was a full-time driver but has now cemented himself as a strong co-driver, doing what he has to do: nothing more, nothing less. It’s a time where Nissan is potentially on the fence about staying in the sport and, as Caruso’s car carries the Nissan and Nismo branding on it, they will feel the pressure to get up the pointy end this year.
Car 78 – Simona De Silvestro and David Russell
The inclusion of the Swiss Miss to this year’s full championship has seen the end to the wildcard “Supergirls” car at Bathurst. Instead, Simona De Silvestro will be partnered with David Russell to contend the entire Enduro Cup. After competing, with relative success, in the last two Bathurst 1000’s, De Silvestro is fortunate enough this year to be driving full time. David Russell has been solid in the past, previously driving with Rick Kelly to a podium in the Gold Coast 600 back in 2015. What plays in to their hands is the endurance component of these races, meaning bigger names have more time to slip up which could play to their advantage. Expect a top 15 result from this pair if there’s anything interesting at the sharp end of the pack.
Car 9 – David Reynolds and Luke Youlden
Erebus Motorsport has had an interesting five seasons in the Supercars championship after entering with the Mercedes-Benz E Class in 2013. A revert to Holden’s Commodore last year, as well as the addition of David Reynolds to the line-up, has seen a mixed bag of results but near constant improvement. Reynolds is a driver who does his own thing, something that works well with the team dynamic. After being disqualified from last year’s Sandown 500 (thanks to co-driver Craig Baird not making the minimal number of laps), Reynolds will want to put the minnows up front this year when he’s joined by Luke Youlden. While they haven’t worked together before, a good result is a possibility given the team’s keenness on going against the grain.
Car 99 – Dale Wood and Chris Pither
The second Erebus Motorsport machine can be defined as the car of the ousted, with both its drivers losing out on drives at bigger teams thanks to the way the circus works. Dale Wood is in his first year at Erebus and still learning, wanting to outshine his more experienced team-mate. Chris Pither, the quick Kiwi, was perhaps unfairly shoved from the fourth Prodrive car at the end of last season and will be looking to show teams why he deserves a full-time drive. Here is a car with two underdog drivers; nothing to lose, everything to gain.
Car 62 – Alex Rullo and Alex Davison
At the back end of the pit lane, you’d be excused for thinking the driver’s door was more of a turnstyle given the number of pilots who have stepped in to the driver’s seat. However, Alex Rullo the rookie has admirably stayed as their constant driver all year, though the lack of having the same team-mate has surely stunted his development. Alex Davison has proven to be decent though a little rusty, and the team will want him to provide guidance for the young ace in his first endurance appearances. If they can keep the #62 off the walls for all four races, that will be an achievement.
Car 3 – Aaren Russell and Taz Douglas
After racing for most of last year with Erebus until sponsor issues cut his first full-time season short, Aaren Russell returns to the main seat for the endurance races, being partnered by Taz Douglas who drove the #3 machine when he wasn’t busy with a JCB for the start of the season. If there’s a pairing out there that really doesn’t have anything to prove, this is it. Both drivers will be lucky to be a part of the full-time championship in the year, as they will be circulating in the endurance rounds, driving to make the sponsors happy and top up the bank balance. They’re not bad drivers but find themselves in the wrong places at the wrong time, apart from Douglas’ second place at Bathurst in 2014 with James Moffat.