2018 Crownbet Darwin Triple Crown – Preview

This weekend the Supercars championship and support categories move north to Darwin’s Hidden Valley. The circuit has some of the best viewing areas and fans come from far and wide to cheer on their favourites in the biggest motorsport event of the year in the Top End. The Darwin round is always exciting and close racing is the norm and usually springs some surprises.

The 2.9 kilometre track has a relatively long 1.1 kilometre straight that means hard braking for turn one and good passing opportunities for the brave. Although not as severe on tyres as some circuits, tyre degradation will still be a factor to work into strategies as will be the heat.

Three categories will feature PAYCE and PAYNTER DIXON supported cars and drivers – Supercars, Porsche Carrera Cup and Touring Car Masters.

Garth Tander and James Golding in the #33 and #34 Holden Commodore ZBs will be looking for some strong race results in the Virgin Australia Supercars for the Wilson Security Racing GRM team. Also joining the field as the single wildcard entry will be Team PAYCE member Macauley Jones from the Brad Jones Racing team in his second solo appearance at the track in a Supercar.

David Wall in the #1 Porsche GT3 will be joined by James Moffat (#38) and Dale Wood (#100) for round four of the Porsche Wilson Security Carrera Cup Australia championship.

John Bowe will out to maintain his slender lead in the PAYNTER DIXON Touring Car Masters behind the wheel of the #18 Holden Torana.

Teams always look forward to this meeting, as well as the next two in the north, with the warmer weather and the welcoming reception from the friendly locals. Weatherwise, last year’s races were held in perfect conditions and, according to the latest forecast, this year will be the same, with no rain in sight and temperatures in the low 30s.

Virgin Australia Supercars

After an extended four-week break and test days behind them, all teams will be looking to see if the improvements back in the workshops and on track stack up to deliver the results they hope for.

Garry Rogers took the GRM team to Winton for testing and by all reports indicated some productive outcomes should help with qualifying times, which is a major area where they are looking for improvement.

With one-third of the season now run, both Garth and James are well settled into the new Commodore ZBs, and the team is working tirelessly to pick up those extra tenths of a second they need to get the two cars further up the starting grid.

This week, GRM released details of the new indigenous-themed livery for Darwin, Townsville and Ipswich. This is the second year that Garry and his team have been involved with Wilson Security’s Reconciliation Action Plan initiative and the cars look fantastic.

Both cars will display the eye-catching artwork created by Hazel Cowburn that tells an inspiring story of the artist’s mother. The new design is timed to coincide with next month’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week.

Team PAYCE member and Super2 driver, Macauley Jones from Brad Jones Racing will be the lone wildcard in the field and is looking forward to the challenge as his career continues upwards. Last year, he was one of two wildcard entries in Darwin and he acquitted himself well and learnt a lot from the experience. He kept the car straight despite being in heavy traffic for most of the two races and came home 24th in both.

This weekend he will be behind the wheel of Tim Slade’s 2017 Commodore converted to ZB specifications, which should make him more competitive than last year and will help give him a feel for the latest spec car he will drive in the three endurance races to come.

Scott McLaughlin is the form driver at present and has taken a commanding lead in the championship, but there is still time for his nearest rivals to give him strong competition for the lead.

The 27 cars will hit the track at midday on Friday for the first of two practice sessions on the day. Following a morning practice session on Saturday, the field will have a short 15 minute qualifying session for the first race of 120 kilometres (42 laps) in the afternoon. Sunday will see an early morning 20 minute qualifying session that will determine the top ten shootout starters and set the grid for 11th position back for the longer 200 kilometre race over 70 laps.

Porsche Wilson Security Carrera Cup Australia

Darwin will be the fourth round of the championship and it is developing into one of the best seasons ever. With nine races decided, reigning champion David Wall sits close to the lead in 4th place. James Moffat is not far behind in 7th, but the best effort to date has come from Dale Wood who sits 2nd on the leaderboard aided by six wins, including two at the last round at Phillip Island.

David has great memories from last year’s meeting when he got off to a great start with fastest time in practice and went on to bank three podiums. Qualifying was pretty ordinary, but from a seventh grid spot for race one he crossed the line in second. The next race gave an even better result, crossing the line ahead of the field to record his first win of the season. The final race was a battle with Alex Davidson that saw Davidson just pip David for the win.

For James and Dale it will be their first time on the track in the new generation Porsches, but both have raced in other categories at Hidden Valley so it should take no time for them to get up to speed.

This weekend will mark the seventh appearance of the Porsches at Darwin and the track’s layout is challenging for the evenly powered cars, with lots of heavy braking and the need to get a good run out of the corners a prerequisite to post a good time.

There will be two 20 minute practice sessions on Friday, qualifying and an 18 lap race on Saturday, followed by another 18 lap race on Sunday morning and a longer 35 lap endurance-style finale in the afternoon as a curtain-raiser to the Supercars feature.

PAYNTER DIXON Touring Car Masters

There is little doubt that the strongest fan base for the Paynter Dixon Touring Car Masters is in Darwin and they come out in droves every time TCM is on the program to see the big V8s roar around the track and battle for position.

Veteran racer, John Bowe is equally popular and Hidden Valley is one of his favourite tracks to run the nimble #18 Torana against the bigger-engined competition. This time last year he was making his first appearance back since his serious Winton accident and still feeling the effects, but this time around he is fighting fit and leading the championship.

Hidden Valley is where he won the first TCM round held at the track back in 2008 and since then has amassed a great record of poles and wins, particularly in his Mustang in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Last year, he posted fastest time in practice one and second fastest in practice two in the Torana. He qualified second and as the first race was a reverse grid was next to his strongest rival, Steve Johnson in the Mustang at the tail end. The race did not go well for John as his car suffered a gearbox failure that put him out for the day. However, his team worked hard into the night to put him back on the track for Sunday’s two races where he placed second and first to the delight of the fans.

This weekend JB’s competition will come from several drivers, including Steve Johnson in the Mustang, Jim Richards who returns to the series in his Ford Falcon Sprint and strong front-runners, Adam Bressington in the Chevrolet Camaro and Jason Gomersall in his Torana.

This round will continue the four-race format that has proven to be extremely popular with drivers and fans, with the first race a reverse grid for the Dometic Trophy and the remaining three for the championship.

The Touring Car Masters field of 20 cars take to the track on Friday for one 20 minute practice session then qualifying in the afternoon. Race one and two are on Saturday. Sunday has them back again to excite the fans with two more action-packed 10 lappers.

Bill Smith 0412 446 058