2017 Coates Hire Newcastle 500 Preview
This weekend’s meeting in Newcastle is shaping up to be the season’s best, with not only a new street circuit debuting, but also for the number of championships that are up for grabs.
With fine, warm weather forecast for the three days of the meeting and all track preparation on schedule, the stage is set for an exciting end to the season.
Apart from the circuit itself, most attention will be on the Supercars Drivers Championship where five drivers are mathematically in contention for the title, although the focus is primarily on series leader Jamie Whincup and on Scott McLaughlin, who is just 30 points away from Jamie.
With 300 points on offer and the unknowns of a new track, anything could happen, but victory for Scotty at the end of Sunday would be a great way to wrap up the season after an exciting and impressive year with his new team.
For the first time this season, the Garry Rogers Motorsport team will be on a level playing field with the rest of the teams. Unlike the 24 previous rounds, not one team has any data or experience with the new track, so Friday’s practice session results will be most interesting and more important than ever.
The 2.6 kilometre circuit with its 12 turns is like no other in the country, with lots of changes in elevation and surfaces as the cars race through the narrow city streets then along the ocean-front before tackling the newly constructed hairpin corner in parklands that leads them onto the sweeping harbourside pit straight.
Team PAYCE driver, Garth Tander in the #33 Commodore is currently the best positioned member in the GRM team on the leaderboard in 9th position, and he is a good chance to jump as far up as 5th in the final standings if he has a good weekend.
James Moffat behind the wheel of the #34 Commodore is currently 17th on the leaderboard, but this does not really reflect his recent good performances. He too could jump up around four or five positions if his current form in races continues.
The Teams Championship will go down to the wire between current leader, Shell V-Power Racing and Red Bull Racing. The next two positions are already decided, including a well-deserved 4th place for Garry Rogers GRM team.
The long wait to see action on the streets of Newcastle gets underway with Friday’s practice sessions. Supercars will take to the track just after midday for a 40 minute session and a further 40 minute session mid-afternoon.
With no practice or warm up sessions on Saturday, the field will be straight into a 20 minute qualifying session late morning to set the field for the 95 lap race in the afternoon and for one driver to be rewarded with the first pole of the inaugural Newcastle 500. In addition, the driver who takes the chequered flag at the end of the race will go into the history books as the winner of the first race ever held on the streets of Newcastle.
Sunday’s format changes, with a 20 minute qualifying session in the morning, then a Top Ten Shootout just over an hour later. Following the 95 lap race, the winners of the 2017 Supercars Drivers Championship and the 2017 Teams Championship will be crowned.
After a very competitive season, the Super2 Drivers Championship will also be decided this weekend, being the eighth and final round. Three drivers, Paul Dumbrell, Todd Hazelwood and Jack Le Brocq have been consistent throughout the year are each are in with a chance to take the title.
Team PAYCE has supported three drivers on a regular basis this season, Macauley Jones (Brad Jones Racing), Richard Muscat and Mason Barbera (Garry Rogers Motorsport). All three have acquitted themselves well, with Macauley’s win in the previous round at Bathurst the standout performance. Macauley is currently the best placed of the trio on the leaderboard in 8th place, with Richard close behind in 10th and Mason, in his maiden year in the series, in 15th.
Each of the three Team PAYCE drivers is close in points to several drivers in front of them, so if they can do well and stay out of trouble, the season could finish on a very satisfactory note for them.
The weekend also marks the end of the ‘Project Blueprint’ era for the FG Falcon and the VE11 Commodore. From next year, only ‘Next Generation’ Supercars will compete in the series, bringing consistency to the whole field.
The Super2 field has two 30 minute practice sessions on Friday, then a 15 minute qualifying session and 20 lap race on both Saturday and Sunday.
Touring Car Masters
Picking a winner of this year’s Touring Car Masters Championship is a challenge, with numerous drivers clocking up podiums through the year in what has been arguably the best season ever in the series’ history.
With three round wins to his credit, Team PAYCE member and series leader, John Bowe remains the title favourite in the #18 Holden Torana SL/R 5000, but Steve Johnson has clocked up two round wins since taking over the reins of the former JB-owned Ford Mustang and is sitting just five points away from the lead. Adam Bressington and Eddie Abelnica are also in contention if either of the two frontrunners strikes trouble.
One wildcard possibility to take out the seventh and final round is two times TCM champion, Gavin Bullas, who makes a return to the series after a two-year absence and after re-building his Boss Mustang. Gavin has more than 100 TCM races to his credit and is only behind John Bowe in the number of race wins and podium finishes in the category.
Like everyone competing this weekend, there will be no advantage with prior track knowledge, so those who get their cars sorted quickly could well spring some surprises and finish on the podium.
The TCM field get just the one practice session on Friday lasting 20 minutes, before another on Saturday morning. Qualifying around midday will set the grid for race one on Sunday morning over 12 laps and a second 12 lapper and final race of the season in the afternoon.
Contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058