Wednesday, Mar 6 03:03pm
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Seven things Adelaide taught us about Supercars ‘19

The season of Supercars got underway at the annual Superloop Adelaide 500 last weekend and didn’t disappoint.


There was plenty to take away from a weekend that was part procession and part pandemonium as the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship competitors shook off the cobwebs.


There was a lot to take in, but here’s was we learned over the four-day festival.




Todd Hazelwood is the real deal


Championship success in the Dunlop Super2 Series back in 2017 put a lot of pressure on Todd Hazelwood to be the wonder kid on his debut last year. He’d beaten the likes of Paul Dumbrell, Anton de Pasquale, Garry Jacobson, Macauley Jones and Jack Le Brocq to the title – so understandably there was an air of expectation.


But with a team new to the Supercars Champion in the form of Matt Stone Racing as well as a new and unfamiliar DJR Team Penske-built Ford Falcon FG X, the team struggled to get to grips. It ultimately ended with the team switching back to the championship-winning Holden Commodore VF midway through the season.


It was welcomed news when the team announced this year that they’d have an ex-Jamie Whincup ZB in their stable. There’s only been two races this season, but already Hazelwood has his two best career finishes.


A 12th in the season opener was admirable for the local man, but it was his performance in qualifying on Sunday morning that snagged everyone’s attention. He sat as high as second and eventually qualified seventh for the afternoon’s race.


His position in the race ebbed and flowed, but ultimately he worked his way back up the order to score his first career top 10 finish. A new chassis and loads of confidence to boot will no doubt give him the platform to build on this season.



Nissan squad are there or thereabouts


Todd and Rick Kelly would no doubt have come away from the season opener scratching their heads. Pace was prominent at times, but unforced errors and circumstances out of their control cost them dearly.


It could’ve been a lot worse for the team though. Simona De Silvestro got sent into a spin in Race 2, an incident that nearly took two of her teammates out. She recovered well for 15th and 16th in the two races – her best start to a Supercars season.


Andre Heimgartner came out the other side of the weekend as the top placed Nissan with two 13th place finishes. He could’ve had a top 10 if not for a spin at the hairpin. It was a similar story for team boss Rick Kelly who should’ve been higher had he not got caught up in the pit lane chaos that unfolded in Race 2.


Race pace is clearly not an issue for the Kelly Racing team. Now without the factory support of Nissan, the team will want to make the most of the platform before it inevitably dies at the end of this year and is replaced.




Regulation change means minnows are mixing it up


Having the likes of Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom firmly inside the top 10 would be a given a few years ago when they were with Ford Performance Racing (Tickford Racing) and Holden Racing Team (Walkinshaw Andretti United). But the state of play now means both are with relatively small outfits.


Davison was the surpise of the field for Tickford Racing satellite outfit 23Red Racing. A fourth and an eighth for the two-year-old team put him ahead of the factory Tickford cars. Meanwhile, Mark Winterbottom in the IRWIN Racing camp managed to scavenge a ninth and a sixth.


Last year the two teams were firm midfielders as best, but now they’re competitive. That’s mostly down to a change to the regulations that means twin-spring set ups are no longer allowed. Extensive research and development from the likes of Triple Eight and DJR Team Penske into the twin-spring set up has always kept the B-grade teams down the order. But the change to a linear spring has closed the gap.


Keep and eye on IRWIN and 23Red Racing this season. A win isn’t out of the question for either.



Triple Eight aren’t comfortable yet


The Red Bull Holden Racing Team have been the king of springs since twin-springs were introduced to the series. That rule change from the twin-spring to a linear spring set up has Triple Eight back at square one.


The top teams spend plenty of research and development and dedicated personnel just to damper development. Triple Eight had the twin-spring sorted, but because of the rule change effectively all of that data is worth very little now.


What’s happened is that the ‘minnow’ teams are finding their way to the front, and teams like Triple Eight and Walkinshaw Andretti United are put on the back foot.


Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup both had average qualifying results at different stages. Qualifying 1 saw Whincup up in P2 and van Gisbergen down in P7, meanwhile, in Qualifying 2 the pair were 10th and 12th in the order.


The end result for the weekend wasn’t too bad with van Gisbergen scoring two third place finishes while Whincup had a high of second place and low of seventh. Triple Eight admitted it’ll take them three or four rounds to get used to the new set up and find the sweet spot, which isn’t surprising. Kiwi driver van Gisbergen himself said the change will take time to get used to.


The second round at the Australian Grand Prix will be a dead rubber for the team with little in the way of extended track time. By Symmons Plains they’ll hopefully be finding their footing, and at round four they’ll have a direct comparison to pre-season testing at Phillip Island when they return to the Grand Prix circuit.




Tickford Racing are back in it, sort of


Tickford Racing seemed to have some of their gremlins gone after the opening few Practice and Qualifying sessions over the weekend. Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert were quick and Lee Holdsworth was in and out of the top 10 – though not surprising for the newcomer. Perhaps most impressive was Will Davison whose 23Red Racing satellite operation were consistently at the fore front.


The once factory-backed Ford outfit struggled with the Falcon FG X of years past, but the arrival of the Mustang has so far proven a positive one. But mistakes cost them dearly.


Chaz Mostert is undoubtedly the quickest within that team and often outperformed the capabilities of the car last year. He’ll be disappointed with finishes of fifth and 15th though considering on both occasions he was in contention for podium finishes. Lock ups and loose moments across the two races meant he was constantly on the back foot and having to make up for lost time.


Cameron Waters should’ve had back-to-back podiums too, but a cool-suit failure in Race 1 meant he had no choice but to be pulled into the pit lane. Second in Race 2 was some consolation, however.



Coulthard could be McLaughlin’s biggest threat …


On the face of things it might have looked like another average start for Fabian Coulthard by the end of the weekend. Finishes of sixth and 20th left him languishing in 11th behind Chaz Mostert.


It was nearly a perfect start though. It was advantage to the Supercars stalwart who took pole position for the opening race, but he squandered that opportunity when he jumped too early and copped a 10-second penalty. It was a strong fight back though to come through to sixth having been at the back end of the field.


Race 2 should’ve been a similar story, but this time it was the team that let him down. The team were set to have McLaughlin on pole position with Coulthard right behind him, but the team were working on the car too late and so his time was scrapped. He should’ve started third but ended up 10th on the grid. Coulthard was running mid-pack late in the race when he tagged Garry Jacobson into a spin, adding insult to injury, he was given a drive-through penalty and eventually finished 20th overall.


Even DJR Team Penske’s Ryan Story took to Twitter; “We let him down. He’s fast and the car is fast. We’ll bounce back and iron out the bugs.”


It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Coulthard bounces back. His pace in practice was quick, though he admitted he needed the confidence boost. What’s for sure is that the Ford Mustang isn’t a one trick pony, and McLaughlin proved that with back-to-back wins. It seems only a matter of time before Coulthard gets some of the spoils too.



… But the reigning champion is still the man to beat


Without question, Scott McLaughlin is a man looking to take all the major scalps this season, and he’ll let nothing stand in his way.


With back-to-back wins in the season opener the Kiwi signaled his intentions to keep his status as the reigning champion. He ticked off one major box with an Adelaide 500 round win, something he’s never had before. More major scalp await.


Come October, the Bathurst 1000 will be full attack for the Kiwi. The fastest pole position lap on The Mountain is one thing, but winning it would be wonderful for the bright spark.


With a future in NASCAR beckoning, McLaughlin will want to mark some major milestones. Not of the scale of say Jamie Whincup and his seven titles, but just the big ones.


Supercars Championship, tick. Adelaide, tick. Win on home soil, tick. Bathurst 1000 win? Surely not far away. Back-to-back champion? A title we’re sure he wouldn’t mind.