The WD-40 Phillip Island 500 delivered action and endless drama in spades when the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship took to the spectacular coastal circuit last weekend.
Switching to the Soft tyre for the longer race format, set up and pit strategy were always expected to be crucial with the Phillip Island circuit providing the toughest test of the year for the new 2017 Dunlop Supercars tyre construction.
While lap records tumbled compared to previous years and strategy came in to play more than ever, this year’s Phillip Island 500 round will be remembered as being a weekend no one wants to remember, but everyone wants to learn from.
The championship points table was shuffled and more drivers showed they had championship potential but the inconsistencies shown in many factors over the weekend showed it may not be outright speed which will win the title.
- The Ford running teams showed their worth over the two qualifying sessions and the two races during the Phillip Island 500 weekend, with five of the six Falcons in the pack qualifying in the top ten on both days. On Sunday, only one car in the top six on the grid was not a Ford. Things got even better in the races with wins in both, thanks to Fabian Coulthard (DJR Team Penske) and Chaz Mostert (Prodrive Racing Australia/Rod Nash Racing). The Blue Oval seems to be going through a resurgence, given the clean sweep in the non-championship round at Albert Park and now Phillip Island.
- Fabian Coulthard could arguably end up on either list this round but given he now leads the points tally, it would be unfair to say his performance was not good enough. Mistakes from others and a stellar drive after coming back from an early race tyre failure in the opening race saw the Kiwi take his second win on the trot. The win gave Coulthard the championship lead, but things looked to go downhill in race two with a bizarre error. As he left the pits under safety car, Coulthard failed to stop for the red light at the end of the lane, earning himself a drive-through penalty and dropping him to 20th. A decent fightback to 17th, one place behind van Gisbergen, minimised the damage, but saw his championship lead reduced to seven points over Holden rival van Gisbergen.
- Garry Rogers Motorsport had a weekend to remember at Phillip Island in 2016 with a clean sweep of the round. Life hasn’t gone too well for the team over the past 12 months though this weekend was a massive turn around for the squad. Switching to Holden this year, they faced an uphill struggle from the start but, with Garth Tander in the hunt for the win on Saturday before ending up third, James Moffat taking fourth in Sunday’s running, and both avoiding any of the weekend’s major dramas, the team netted a well-deserved solid haul of points.
- Supercars may have thought they had done enough damage control to last a lifetime after race three of the year at Symmons Plains. However, things only got worse on the other side of Bass Strait when they had to defend a whole heap more trouble at Phillip Island. Multiple penalties which were too harsh for the crime on Saturday were just the start of their woes. More than 20 tyre failures over the weekend have not only hurt the reputations of Supercars, but tyre supplier Dunlop as well. The new compound tyre has come under massive scrutiny due to the failures seen over the weekend. Granted, Phillip Island is one of the highest wear and load tracks for tyres, but those facts do not excuse the facts which are so many teams had failures, even after being advised to make changes for Sunday. While the next round at Perth is much easier on the four sticky bits of rubber on each car, Dunlop will be looking to find answers before we get to the true long distance races near the end of the year.
- Nissan and Triple Eight have many questions to ask themselves after some serious poor decisions and misfortunes this round. For Nissan, their tyre failures on Saturday and Sunday showed they either weren’t listening or got the short end of the stick. Combined with some not-so-friendly inter-team fire in race two between Michael Caruso and the brothers Kelly, they will be less than pleased with their performance. However, it was another great showing from Simona De Silvestro who has now finished every race she’s started and recorded personal best results in both races. While Triple Eight had a decent Saturday with no tyre failures but a slow race car, they went the other way on Sunday with three tyre failures which ultimately netted a mediocre result. Their cockiness after Saturday’s race was matched only by the serving of humble pie they were given on Sunday afternoon.
- Scott McLaughlin may have been the King of the Island in 2016 and taken two pole positions this time around, but his race focus needs to be addressed if he is to remain championship winning potential this year. New lap records in qualifying and Sunday’s race were the young Kiwi’s highlight of the weekend though the low-lights will undoubtedly be his point of focus until the field arrives in Perth. A pit lane infringement in Saturday’s race saw him penalised 15 seconds for crossing in to the working lane in the pits, and while he certainly was not alone in this, it was to take him out of contention for the victory. Sunday was more of a strategy failing on the part of Ludo Lacroix, relying on a safety car which never came. He and Ludo will need to get their heads screwed on if they really want to win this year the Penske Way.
We’d love to know your contenders for winners and losers from the WD-40 Phillip Island 500. Let us know in the comments section below.
Next up is the Perth SuperSprint, held at Barbagallo Raceway from the fifth to the seventh of May.