The Supercars Championship is underway for 2021, with the Mount Panorama 500 serving up plenty of talking points and sub-plots that will hopefully last all the way through the season.
All of those who were identified as championship contenders preseason proved their credentials at some stage, but there are some jokers in the pack too in Team 18’s Mark Winterbottom and Blanchard Racing Team’s Tim Slade.
From a neutral standpoint, it bodes well heading into the sprint races, where restrictions on how many sets of tyres are available mean teams must choose at least one of the three races held that weekend to adopt a more conservative strategy.
Therefore, there is a greater likelihood of seeing a smaller team getting onto the podium or even lifting the winner’s trophy.
The only man who got his hands on the winner’s trophy at the Mount Panorama 500 was Shane Van Gisbergen, who took a while to get into the swing of things, but came good when it mattered, winning both of the weekend’s races.
Of course, it’s far too early to say that this is going to be Van Gisbergen’s year, but the way he has been talking about how good his Red Bull Ampol Commodore drives makes for encouraging signs.
Race two featured a middle stint of eight laps where Van Gisbergen was told by his race engineer, David Cauchi, to gap Cameron Waters by two seconds.
Van Gisbergen was 4.2 seconds ahead of Waters by the end of the stint, one which he described post-race as the best one he’d ever driven.
That was in a 250km race so you can only imagine how good such an attacking stint will be in a race that’s half that distance.
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While Van Gisbergen definitely gets a big tick next to his ability to deliver good results, it’s important to note that clean air was king, as was an on-point strategy.
Chaz Mostert was flying in the closing stages of race one, but was hurt in particular by the time spent behind Will Davison as he lost an estimated three seconds to the leaders between laps 21 and 26.
The Walkinshaw Andretti United Commodore has good pace, and the team sits second in the teams championship, 54 points behind leaders, Red Bull Ampol Racing, but their drivers need to deliver upon the car’s potential.
Mostert has admitted himself that he needs to evaluate his driving style to help get his first win for WAU, while thinking outside the box when it comes to strategy could serve Mostert’s teammate, Bryce Fullwood, well in the future.
Fullwood finished fifth in race one, having been one of the first to pit on lap four for 21 litres of fuel, before taking the remaining 99 litres on lap 18, before the second round of pit stops had begun and thus making the undercut work brilliantly.
Waters was unlucky for his Tickford Mustang to suffer a power steering issue in race one, which forced him out of contention, and for the strategy to have gone awry in race two.
There were silver linings from the weekend for Tickford in that they were in the mix at the head of the field.
Their second place finish in race two is nothing to be sniffed at, neither can Waters getting the jump on Van Gisbergen off the start in that race.
Let’s touch upon those jokers in the pack as Tim Slade was in the fight for the final podium position before his big crash on the run down to Forrest’s Elbow towards the end of race one.
That put paid to the Blanchard Racing Team’s weekend, but they had already made a strong statement in getting their car into the thick of it and holding their own against the big boys.
Mark Winterbottom was a more quiet achiever, getting a solid haul of points to even be considered by some as a championship contender should he build up a decent run of form.
Slade and Winterbottom are definitely two drivers to keep an eye on, and there may even be more drivers that are thrown into the mix given the unpredictable nature of the sprint race format.
Brad Jones Racing had success last year in Sydney and Townsville, with two race victories in Sydney for Nick Percat and pole positions in Townsville for both Percat and teammate Todd Hazelwood.
Could we see similar in 2021?
We haven’t mentioned Dick Johnson Racing yet, and they must never be counted out, even though the Mount Panorama 500 wasn’t the greatest for them.
However, as is a pretty common story up and down the grid, there were flashes of brilliance that can be turned into a good performance across the weekend without too much difficulty.
Anton De Pasquale was on provisional pole for race one and was unfortunate to move slightly off-line at The Cutting and hit the wall, while Will Davison finished third in that same race.
Both drivers just need to iron out mistakes like getting it wrong in the braking zone but these are easy fixes and with a pacey car, they should be firm frontrunners.
The plot lines continue to develop at the next round in Sandown on the weekend of March 20-21.